Ending a marriage is never an easy process. It can take weeks or months to come to a settlement agreement with your ex before you sign the divorce papers. For example, it could take several days of negotiation for you to decide what to do with your home. It might take even longer to reach a decision about the child custody arrangement and the co-parenting agreement.

Dividing assets and debts and working out a custody schedule are complicated and often stressful processes. Due to this complexity, it is extremely important to stay organized so that you can ensure your needs and those of your children are being met.

By starting off your divorce on the right foot, you might have an advantage when it comes time to sit down at the negotiating table. Here are some examples of the documents you should bring to your first divorce consultation.

Prior year tax returns

If you are not sure about the extent of your and your spouse’s assets, a good place to start is with prior year tax returns. Be sure to obtain copies of your individual tax return as well as any business tax returns dating back three-to-five years.

This should give you a good idea of what will be included in the property division process. Also, you can gather more detailed documents based on these returns. For example, if your spouse has an investment account, you should be able to see interest and dividend income as well as proceeds from stock sales on your tax return. The return will include detailed schedules and statements that should also list the sources of the investment income.

Proof of income

Gather up the last several months of both your and your spouse’s check stubs or proof of other sources of income. This information will be important when it comes time to negotiate for your fair share of the marital property.

For example, if your spouse substantially earns more than you do, you might be able to successfully argue that you should receive more of the marital property or that he should pay alimony.

Monthly bills and recurring expenses

In addition to information about income and assets that you own, you should bring in details about your monthly expenses and debts. This might include the mortgages on your primary residence and your vacation home as well as credit card statements and utility bills. Your living expenses and debt will also be part of the divorce settlement.

If you are considering divorce, it is crucial to take the time to prepare. By bringing the above documents to your first divorce consultation, you will be ready for the next step in the process and increase your chances of walking away with a beneficial settlement.