The Ultimate New York Divorce Checklist
- Why a checklist is helpful
- Personal information
- Marital property
- Legal documents and forms
- Special considerations
As you prepare for a divorce, decide how you want to approach it and if an amicable solution like mediation would work for you. Ideally, the two of you can work together to iron out the details, saving time, money, and stress in the process.
Here are some things to consider as you prepare for divorce in New York.
What things should you consider when preparing for divorce?
What you want
Make a detailed list of what you want in a divorce agreement. Prioritize the items on your list so you can clearly see the most important issues for you. No one gets everything they want in a divorce settlement, so it’s helpful to see what your musts are.
For example, do you want to keep your own retirement accounts and divide responsibility for marital debt down the middle? Do you want to stay in the house and buy out your spouse? Do you want the dog to live with you? How do you want to handle child custody arrangements, visitation schedules, and monthly payments for spousal support (alimony) or child support?
Decide what you want before beginning discussions with your spouse.
Type of divorce
In New York, you have two main options for divorce: no-fault divorce and fault-based divorce.
- No-fault divorce: Your divorce petition can be filed based on an "irretrievable breakdown of marriage.” This grounds for divorce places no blame on either party, which can make for less contentious proceedings.
- Fault-based divorce: Filing for divorce on specific fault-based grounds (such as adultery, abandonment, or cruelty) generally requires you to provide more evidence, and it’s a more adversarial process.
Mediation vs. litigation
Mediation gives you a safe space to discuss the issues pertinent to the dissolution of your marriage. The advantage: You work with a neutral third party (a mediator) who can help the two of you talk through your challenges calmly. Mediators are trained in conflict resolution. They usually charge an affordable hourly rate and require only a few sessions to help you reach a resolution with your ex.
Litigation involves hiring divorce attorneys and going to court. It’s the more expensive and time-consuming route to divorce. In litigation, you and your ex would likely only speak through your lawyers. Your disagreements may escalate into a combative situation that requires a hearing in front of a judge. Additionally, both of you will pay high hourly rates that may begin with multi-thousand dollar attorney retainers. And the retainer you pay could be used up within the first few weeks of discussions, leading to further charges.
Why is a New York divorce checklist so important to have?
Divorces involve extensive paperwork, deadlines, proof, and documentation. Missing or misplaced documents can result in lost time and expenses. You might also lose out on things you deserve in your settlement.
A New York divorce checklist helps you to avoid those stressors.
A divorce checklist can be an invaluable tool for gathering all the required data in advance. It can help you organize your documents so they are easy to find and file in accordance with state law.
Personal information needed for divorce
As part of your legal proceedings for divorce, you should be prepared with your personal information.
This information is needed for you and your spouse
- Birth certificate, passport, or ID card with full legal name
- Social Security number
- Proof of state residence documents (such as tax filings)
- Current address with supporting documents (such as a power bill, lease, or mortgage document)
- Employment details (such as a pay stub with income and employer's address)
If you have children together, provide these documents:
- Birth certificates of your children
- Current custody arrangements, including signed documents outlining your plans
- Childcare and health insurance bills for the children
Additionally, the courts will require information about your marriage. Locate your marriage certificate, preferably a certified copy, as part of your divorce preparations.
Marital property and divorce in New York
In New York, marital property typically means any and all assets and debts acquired by either spouse during the marriage. New York follows the principle of equitable distribution. This means that everything is divided fairly between spouses in a divorce settlement.
It’s important to note that “fair” may not mean “equal.” In deciding who owes what and who keeps what, the court may consider the duration of the marriage, each spouse's financial standing, and what agreements they made during the marriage regarding certain debts and investments, if any.
What legal documents and forms will you need for divorce in New York?
While the specific forms required for a divorce in New York can vary based on the circumstances of your case, you will likely need many of the following:
- Summons With Notice
- Verified Complaint
- Affidavit of Service
- Sworn Statement of Removal of Barriers to Remarriage
- Affirmation (Affidavit) of Regularity
- Affidavit of Plaintiff
- Affidavit of Defendant
- Annual Income Worksheet
- Maintenance Guidelines Worksheet
- Support Collection Unit Information Sheet
- Note of Issue
- Findings of Fact/Conclusions of Law
- Judgment of Divorce
- Part 130 Certification
- Request for Judicial Intervention("RJI")
- Notice of Entry
- Affidavit of Service of Judgment of Divorce
What documents and forms will you need if children are involved?
When children are involved in a divorce in New York, several additional documents and forms are typically required to address matters regarding child custody, child support, and visitation. These include the following:
- Child Support Worksheets
- Qualified Medical Child Support Order
- IWO Child Support or Combined Child and Spousal Support LDSS-5037
- Child Support Summary Form
- Application for Child Support Services
The importance of getting your finances in order
Sifting through finances is one of the most complex parts of a divorce. If big items are forgotten, it can mean financial devastation for years for either or both spouses. The sooner you can organize your financial affairs, the sooner you can begin closing down accounts, coming up with a pay-off plan, and starting your own independent financial life.
Prepare copies of recent pay stubs, income tax returns, and any other documentation that reflects side income. This is important for determining spousal support (alimony) and child support as well as establishing your financial standing.
Gather recent bank statements for all your accounts, including checking, savings, and investment accounts. These may need to be used to pay off marital debt.
Create a comprehensive list of assets you and your spouse own jointly or separately, including real estate, vehicles, jewelry, and valuable personal property. These may be sold to pay off debt, or they may be given in full to one party or the other.
Compile statements for any retirement and pension accounts, such as 401(k), IRA, and employer-sponsored plans. While it is usually the case that people keep their own retirement accounts and do not liquidate them to pay off debt, they will be factored into the big picture.
Review all insurance policies, including health, life, and disability insurance. Determine which policies will need adjustments after divorce, especially if they cover your spouse or children.
Begin separating your lives
Beginning to separate your life from your spouse means making some pretty big changes. These changes may not feel comfortable at first, but the earlier you begin the process, the easier it will become.
Separate bank accounts
The sooner you stop using marital accounts, the easier it will be to accurately determine how much money is in those accounts. Ask your spouse to do the same, and change direct deposit and automatic bill pay to your new account.
Determine whether one or both parties will remain in the marital home or if both will move out. Because the home is such a large financial asset, and often neither spouse can afford it alone, it is generally the case that both parties move out. The house is then sold to pay off debt and fund both spouses’ new lives.
New rituals and routines
Marriage creates daily routines that become rituals. Losing those can be disorienting. Create meaningful rituals and routines of your own by starting workout regimens, joining clubs or groups, volunteering, or exploring new hobbies.
Stability for children
Prioritizing the well-being of your children during this transition is of utmost importance. Maintaining stability, open communication, and their routine can assist children in transitioning more easily into the new normal. Work with your spouse to make sure both parents have time and opportunity to be with and support the kids.
Free downloadable worksheet: Create Your Parenting Plan
Special considerations before divorce
Before proceeding with a divorce, it’s important to note that certain situations require special consideration and may alter the usual course through the courts. These situations require special attention:
Military divorces can typically be filed in one of three places:
- State in which the U.S. military member claims legal residency
- State where the spouse legally resides or has legal residency
- State in which a U.S. service member is stationed
New York recognizes same-sex marriages and provides the same rights and privileges that heterosexual couples receive. However, one consideration may be the custody of children adopted into the marriage when only one parent is on the paperwork.
When dealing with significant assets, you are advised to work with a financial specialist experienced in handling high-asset divorces. This can help you protect your interests, especially if your high net worth is based on your income or family inheritance.
Special needs family members
If you have a special needs child, their needs may alter the custodial split considerably in order to maintain stability for the child.
ReferencesFamily and Divorce Mediation. New York State Unified Court System.
The Evolution of Equitable Distribution in New York. (April 2007). NYU Annual Survey of American Law.
Introduction to Uncontested Divorce Instructions. (March 2022). New York State Unified Court System.
Temporary Spousal Maintenance Guidelines Calculator (Includes Low Income Adjustment). New York State Unified Court System.
Divorce. Office of the New York State Comptroller.
Servicemembers' Civil Relief Act (SCRA) | United States Courts. United States Courts.
Military Divorce: Why Where You File Matters. (2023). Military.com.
Divorce Information & Frequently Asked Questions. New York State Unified Court System.