Once you and your spouse have signed and the Judgment is filed with the court, you are officially “divorced.” Now what? These are some things to consider:
Don’t ever throw away the Judgment!
Years after your case is over, you may need to provide proof of your divorce (including a copy of the Judgment and Notice of Entry of Judgment). Reasons include remarriage, adoption, home loans, and Social Security benefits. You should also keep copies of the “Disclosure” documents you exchanged with your former spouse, specifically the Schedule of Assets and Debts, and Income and Expense Declaration. In some cases, a spouse will claim that there is an ‘undisclosed asset’. Your ability to prove that you did disclose the asset or debt will be critically important. Since the Schedule of Assets and Debts is NOT filed with the court, you must keep copies on your own. Keep the back up documents as well, such as bank statements, since financial institutions are only required to keep records for 7 years. Keep your tax returns for so long as there is an order for support.
Is there any ‘unfinished business’?
Once the Judgment is filed with the Court, there may still be things to be completed:
Closing of joint bank accounts and credit cards and transferring of funds as required by your agreement.
Notify insurance companies of the divorce. Arrangements need to be made to separate or establish new policies (auto, life, health). Do not ‘cancel’ your spouse’s coverage on your plan! Instead, notify the plan administrator so your spouse may obtain COBRA–(post-divorce) coverage. If you simply cancel their coverage, you may find yourself in trouble, because you have potentially put them in harm’s way.
Change title on vehicles and real property to match your agreement. If there are automobile loans, arrangements should be made to transfer responsibility. If the loan will remain in both names, if possible ask the lender to give you notice of any default by the other party.
Make sure that the documents necessary to divide pension and other retirement plans and IRAs are prepared and processed now. It is a serious mistake to wait a long time on the theory that you are nowhere near retirement age. Get these things divided now, as it will be more complicated and more expensive if you wait.
Change the beneficiaries on accounts and insurance policies to match the terms of your Judgment, and update your estate plan. See an estate planning attorney to talk about your new plans. Failure to do so may in some instances result in your former spouse receiving an unintended windfall.
Keep records of payments
It is much easier to avoid conflicts and misunderstandings later if you are able to show records of what happened. Whether you are the person paying or receiving money, this is equally important. This goes for any payments, including spousal and child support, reimbursements, equalizing payments, payments in connection with division of assets or debts.
You and your former spouse may have agreed to share the children’s medical costs. If so, develop a system now for requesting reimbursement from the other parent. Once a month, make copies of any medical, prescription, dental, vision or other agreed-upon costs you have incurred which were not covered by insurance. Submit copies to the other parent showing what you paid, with a short (polite) cover note requesting reimbursement for their share. Email is a good method for doing this if you have easy access to a scanner. Print out the email or copy the note and put it with your receipts. When you receive reimbursement, make a copy of the payment you receive. If you are the one paying the reimbursement, keep copies of what you have sent. If you don’t receive reimbursement on time (usually 30 days), send a brief (polite) follow up. If you do not request reimbursement and provide copies to your co-parent in a timely fashion, you may not be able to recover those funds later.
Whether you are the person paying or receiving support, it is very important to keep a record of each payment. Years from now, you and your former spouse may disagree on the total amount that was paid. If payment is made by check, keep the cancelled checks (or copies of the checks you receive). If payment is made through a payroll deduction, keep copies of your paystubs or of the checks you receive. If you must pay or receive cash or a money order, make sure there is a signed receipt showing the amount, purpose and date of the payment (child or spousal support, reimbursement for medical expense, shared cost of day care, etc.) It is often impossible to obtain these records from your bank, particularly records beyond the mandatory 7 year mark.
You really are ready to start the next phase of your life. With a little time devoted to organization and planning now, you can more easily move forward with confidence
Deborah Ewing, Esq. is an experienced family law mediator, collaborative attorney and litigation counsel in Southern California