“She wouldn’t give me access to any of the money from our joint account.”
“I went to pick the kids up at the normal time and he called the police. The police wouldn’t do anything to help me because this was ‘a matter for family court’ – even though I had the custody order in my hand.”
“He was late picking her up from school six times in the last two weeks and I had to leave work to go get her each time.”
“She hasn’t done ANY of their schoolwork with them since we separated. They come to my house and we spend most of the time catching up on what they didn’t finish.”
Not uncommonly, a response to any of these statements will involve some version of “did you document it?” Although you might get tired of this question, remembering to document for your divorce is arguably one of the most important things you can do as you are moving through a contested divorce.
Why Document For Your Divorce?
Documenting every incident and interaction can feel overwhelming and maybe hopeless. The last thing you want to do after a traumatic child custody exchange or another blast of abuse from your spouse is sit down and write about it. Yet, the best way to fight for your children and their rights, or for yourself, is by documenting anything that seems pertinent.
Over the course of the next few months, many things can happen. Should you be forced to file for a restraining order, documentation will give you a reference as you fill out your paperwork. Should an emergency occur, requiring you to file for immediate custody, you’ll have patterns and instances documented already.
In a way, we are lucky to be living in the digital age because many communications between you and the other party are easily documented, can easily be kept private, and easily admissible in court.
What to Document
Depending on where you are in the dissolution process, and depending on your specific issues, here are some things you’ll consider documenting:
- Patterns present in your marriage that may help establish financial, psychological, or physical abuse.
- Incidents that may help you show a specific issue relating to your case.
- Financial records
- Social media posts
- Phone call records – these may be used to establish harassment or a pattern of missed calls.
- Text threads
- Police or child protective services reports/interactions
Time stamps are often invaluable, make sure you learn how to reveal time stamps on texts and phone calls before you take screenshots
Be sure to ask your divorce attorney if there are any other things you should be documenting.
Tools For Documenting
If you are still in the same house, you may want to try to protect your documentation. There are several online tools you can use, and you have the option of syncing to other devices.
Great free online tools include
- Evernote: this is a great spot to make a note of an incident and add photos and screenshots of text threads – the free version can be used on two devices.
- Google Drive: Create a folder for each incident/area of conflict and add supporting documents. These can be screenshots of texts or emails, images and a description on a Google Doc with a timeline. Screenshots of text threads can be labeled according to the incident, like the following: “refusal to communicate 1”, “refusal to communicate 2”, etc, so that it’s easy to read them in order.
- A potential benefit to Google Drive is the ability to share with your attorney’s office so they can easily reference and print out for exhibits. You could also share with your therapist, if desired.
- A journal: it can be therapeutic and helpful to write down some things that happen. If you’re still in the same house, please be sure to keep it tucked away where it won’t be found
- “Notes” apps on your phone can be a place to quickly type in things as they happen
- Voice Recorder: if you’re pressed for time, and need to note something to later type down, you can take a quick recording of what happened so you can remember later.
- Video: Taking a video of incidents can be helpful even if you don’t use it in court later:
- It may help you feel validated when you play it back and see the situation play out once more.
- Your attorney may be able to use it as evidence, or it might help your attorney see what incidents look like.
- You can use the video as a reference to describe the incident for attorneys or for your own healing.
Something to remember is that print communication is usually admissible in court. The more communicating you do via email or text message, the better it will be for your attorney. You may also personally benefit by having time to respond after initial emotional reactions.