"Take the time to look at all the assets that exist," certified financial planner Zaneilia Harris, president of Harris & Harris Wealth Management, told CNBC.com earlier this year. What you don't know about can't be factored in when negotiating for a fair settlement.
Make a thorough accounting not just of current accounts and noncash assets but future interests, like pensions, business interests or start-up stock options. Don't forget income earned before the divorce filing (usually the cutoff date for asset valuation) but received after, like bonuses and the most recent paycheck's retirement contributions, said Joslin Davis, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.
It helps if you're actively involved in managing the household finances and have a good reckoning, Harris said. Hiring an investigator can help fill in the gaps — and unearth any hidden assets. In a 2014 National Endowment for Financial Education survey, 15 percent of consumers copped to hiding a bank account from their partner, and 14 percent lied about how much they earn.
Dig into the details of each asset. For example, inherited money and goods may be considered marital property or separate property, depending on state law, said Davis, a principal of Allman Spry Davis Leggett & Crumpler, P.A., in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
"Each state has its own tweaks on some of these concepts," she said.
Terms of pensions and investments may also dictate how they are divided — if they can be at all, said Stewart.