At a time when so much seems out of your control, one area very much within your control is organizing the paper trail and the record-keeping when going through a divorce or separation. Being able to find what you want when you want it, puts you in charge and in full control, which is key.

Businessman showing a document

Get organized by setting up a filing system that makes sense to you and to your life. You will expand and modify the system as needed. Identify one central location for all documents both active and historical records. Centralizing everything immediately reduces stress, saves time hunting, and saves money spent on replacing something you can’t find. Often there is a tendency to lose or misplace things such as wallets and handbags while going through a divorce. Take a few minutes to list everything in your wallet or handbag that will require action if it is lost. If you already have a file cabinet, empty one drawer completely. If you don’t have or want a file cabinet, use a container that will hold letter-size hanging folders. This may be anything from a heavy-duty cardboard carton to a portable plastic filing tub. These products are readily available at most office supply dealers.

We do suggest you color-code your system using either different colored folders or just different colored plastic title tabs. The color is useful when scanning the files later. Assign each major area of your files its own color green for financial files, red for legal files, yellow for files relating to children, and so on. By assigning a color to each major area of your life and starting with broad title headings, the system can expand easily and sensibly as needed. Keep a small inventory of supplies on hand so your system can be accurately and consistently maintained. Remember to always file all papers as quickly as possible so you can retrieve it easily when you need it.

Keeping track of conversations should also be a top priority, that’s why you have to streamline your Rolodex, card file or address book. Tracking who you talked to, what you told them and when you contacted them can add a level of stability to the transitional process. Make a note right on the Rolodex or card file or in your address book using a colored pen so you see it quickly and easily. Keep your notation simple and yet complete: “6/9/93 – divorce & new address, will help pack; “6/10/93 – divorce & new address — has job lead.” Even if you typically have a good memory, there’s no need to tax it unnecessarily especially now. The calendar is a fantastic tool to use and can be your best friend in this process! Beyond entering appointments, it’s to track events and pace any tasks you need to handle. Set appointments with yourself especially for accomplishing any large projects.

It’s also an excellent idea to keep a running list of questions and ideas for your attorney so that both your phone calls and your appointments will be time and money well spent. After speaking with your attorney, make notes of each conversation, including the date, time, and subject matter. You also want to make sure to mark your calendar with the dates and times of future meetings.

If you typically use an organizer or calendar book product, create two lists each day: “phone calls to be made/answered” and “things to do.” As each activity is completed, highlight the item so you can still read it later. Looking at a highlighted list gives you clear evidence that you are accomplishing things at a time when you might not be so sure. Maintaining these lists also provides a record of what you have already accomplished. The calendar or spiral notebook is also a good place to jot down notes of phone conversations while they are happening. The reliability of noting this information can be very useful later in ways often impossible to anticipate.

If there are other ways that would be more useful to you, we always say to experiment with creating your own. The single rule to guide you is this: ask yourself the question “where would I look to find this information or item?” That question will provide the answer for any organizing task you have. It will tell you where to physically store anything and how to title it.

Being organized and being in control comes down to the ability to find what you want when you want it. You can take charge of this part of the transition simply and economically. It’s also time to not feel so rushed; that’s when things can go wrong, so take a breath and take it slow.