PROTECTING YOURSELF AFTER A DIVORCE
By Attorney Jeana Vogel
“Divorce = Rebirth: forget the past, replan your life, improve your appearance & REJUVENATE!” –life coach Rossana Condeleo. Your divorce is finally over! You are ready to start the next chapter of your life. Ensure that you embark on this next chapter while not leaving any loose ends from your divorce that will thwart your efforts. After your divorce is finalized, there are still important steps for you to take to protect your rights and interests.
Store and Update Documents
There are many documents from your divorce that are important for you to keep easily accessible and in a safe place. These documents include, but are not limited to: Marital Settlement Agreement, Parenting Plan, all Financial Affidavits filed by you and your spouse, Child Support Guidelines, Income Withholding Order, Qualified Domestic Relations Order(s), Quit Claim Deed(s),andFinal Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage. Having a copy of these documents easily accessible will help in the event you encounter an issue and need to go back to court. It is also very useful to have these documents for easy reference in case you are not able to remember all your rights and obligations buried within those documents. If you lose these documents it is possible to get a copy from the Clerk of Court in the County that handled your divorce, however, there is usually a cost associated with obtaining copies.
While you may not want to look at anything pertaining to your divorce again, read through your Marital Settlement Agreement and Final Judgment logging the progress you make on any obligation you have to carry out as delegated within those documents. You may also want to keep a log of your ex-spouse’s obligations and to his/her efforts, accomplishments and timeframes for completing those tasks. This will be especially helpful if you find yourself back in court over an issue related to those tasks. If you have to exchange personal items, bring a neutral person with you. This will hopefully help to deter any arguments and provide you with a witness if an incident does arise.
Update your end of life documents such as your Trust, Will, Health Care Surrogate, Power of Attorney, and Life Insurance Beneficiary. Oftentimes people designate their spouse to be their Health Care Surrogate, Power of Attorney and/or Beneficiary of assets. Now that you are no longer married, you likely will not want your ex-spouse handling those affairs for you and/or reaping the benefits of the assets you were able to maintain after the divorce. While the Marital Settlement Agreement usually has a provision that neither party shall be able to inherit from the other, the Marital Settlement Agreement does not have control over things such as beneficiaries under a Life Insurance Policies and Retirement Accounts. Updating those documents will protect not only you but your desired beneficiaries. However, ensure that any updates you do make cover any obligation you undertook within the Marital Settlement Agreement.
Secure All Your Accounts
Make sure all joint accounts are closed and things are divided pursuant to the Marital Settlement Agreement and/or Final Judgment. This includes, but is not limited to: bank accounts, credit cards, credit accounts, insurance policies, and joint outstanding checks or debts to be paid. Ensure that you establish credit accounts in your name only. Usually there is a provision in the Marital Settlement Agreement that neither party shall incur any debt or liability in the other party’s name. However, in the even your ex-spouse breaches this requirement, it is time consuming and can be expensive ensuring you are not held liable for your ex-spouse through a joint account that was not timely closed and/or liquidated.
Check that all of your accounts (bank, bills, memberships, health insurance, auto insurance, life insurance, etc.) have the right name, address and personal information for you to access. You will also want to change any passwords that your ex-spouse know and/or could figure out. It is best to be on the offensive then the defensive with these matters.
Change the locks on your doors if you have not already done so after separating from your ex-spouse. If nothing else, this will help you sleep better at night.
If you and your ex-spouse acquired vehicles in your joint names, it is likely that you will have to transfer automobiles pursuant to your Marital Settlement Agreement and/or Final Judgment. This process will include obtaining updated title, registration and tags. If you are transferring title to an ex-spouse, ensure they update title, registration and tags into their own names within a reasonable period of time. If not, insist this be done either through communicating with your ex-spouse, attorneys and/or seek the court’s assistance. Marital Settlement Agreements usually have a provision that protects you from ultimate responsibility in the event of an accident. However, this is another matter that could cost you money and time to rectify.
If you are changing your name pursuant to the Final Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage you will have to obtain a Certified Copy of the Final Judgment from the Clerk of the Court in the County that your divorce was granted. The charge is usually $1.00 per page of your Final Judgment and $2.00 to certify each copy you get. It is recommended that you retain at least, three (3) certified copies of your Final Judgment if you are changing our name. Department of Motor Vehicles will need a copy in order to update your Driver’s License. Social Security Administration will need a copy in order to provide you with a new Social Security Card. Sometimes these agencies do not retain your Certified Final Judgment but it is best to ensure you have a copy for yourself in case you have a need for it later. Some credit card companies and other account holders may also require to see a copy of your Final Judgment to update your account information. Most of them, however, do not require a certified copy.
You may find it very beneficial to keep record of time sharing schedules and support payments. A lot of issues that arise after a divorce where children and/or alimony are involved stem around these two issues. It is hard to remember specific details at a later date when an issue arises. Being able to provide exact notes will ensure you have your facts straight and will help you to seem more credible to the court if court intervention becomes necessary.
Anytime you pay money to your ex-spouse, make sure to specify what the money is for on the subject line of the check. If you are paying support directly to your ex-spouse via check, make sure to put the words “child support” and/or “alimony” on the subject line. If you are paying medical expenses, on the subject line you would put things such as “dentist,” “braces,” “doctor appointment,” etc. If you are paying for activities, you would put things such as “soccer,” “karate,” “summer camp,” etc. This will help you to obtain credit for the things you pay to your ex-spouse if a conflict arises.
Remember with any agreements and/or orders from the court regarding children, the court hopes you and your ex-spouse can work together to modify those agreements as may be necessary to accommodate your needs, the needs of your ex-spouse, and especially the needs of your child(ren). Think of the parenting plan as a back-up plan, in the event you and your spouse cannot agree to modify the provisions, then you fall back on the Parenting Agreement that was agreed to or ordered by the court.
This list is by no means absolute, so take time to evaluate your needs and interests and expound on these tasks as is necessary for your unique circumstances. Crossing your T’s and dotting your I’s after a divorce will allow for a much a happier journey through this change in life. As wisely stated by life coach Rossana Condeoleo, “Divorce is the start point for a brand new life. Don’t lose the chance to redesign it upon your dreams!”
Quick Reference Task List:
o Keep a copy of important documents from your divorce
o Complete tasks you are required to do pursuant to the Marital Settlement Agreement and/or Final Judgment; keep a log of your efforts
o Bring a neutral third party with you to exchange personal items
o Update your end of life documents
o Close and divide all joint accounts
o Check that just your name, personal information and address is on all your accounts
o Change passwords
o Change the locks on your doors
o Transfer automobiles and update title, registration and tags
o Change your name- with the Department of Motor Vehicles, Social Security Administration and all your accounts; obtain a Certified copy of your Final Judgment
o Keep a journal on time sharing and support payments
o When paying money to your ex-spouse, specify what is for on the subject line of the check
o Treat the parenting plan agreement as a back-up plan in the event you and your ex-spouse cannot agree otherwise
o Evaluate your needs and interest to add on to this task list
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