It’s finally over. You went to court and the judge signed your Judgment of Divorce. In most cases, your divorce agreement – the final product of lengthy ongoing negotiations – is annexed to your Judgment of Divorce and becomes a binding Order.
You leave the courtroom with your attorney as you wonder “Now what?” Here are some practical ways that you can protect yourself in light of your now-binding divorce agreement which will essentially govern your future relationship with your ex.
1. You should immediately obtain a “certified” copy of your Judgment of Divorce (with gold seal affixed), if you have not already done so. You should keep your Judgment of Divorce with divorce agreement in a safe and secure place should you need to refer to them in the future. Along with these documents, your attorney should include a detailed description of the significant provisions of your Agreement and highlight any immediate action for each provision.
2. Make sure that you comply with your divorce agreement. If you and your ex agree to deviate from the terms of your divorce agreement, you should put these new terms in writing signed by both of you. If later there is a significant change in your economic circumstances which prevents or hinders your ability to pay child support and/or alimony, you should contact an attorney immediately. Your attorney can help you seek modification of your divorce agreement with the court if your income has been significantly reduced or eliminated or your expenses or needs of your children have significantly increased. Also, if you or your ex plans to move any significant distance with the children, you should contact an attorney immediately.
3. Revise your current Last Will and Testament in the event that it leaves property to your ex /or appoints him or her as Executor or Trustee.
4. Close any joint bank accounts. Change the name on credit cards, utilities, and other accounts. If your former household bills were primarily in your ex’s name, you should immediately begin to establish new accounts in order to build credit in your own name. To determine if any accounts remain in joint names, obtain a copy of your credit report.
5. Transfer title of automobiles to reflect ownership in each of your names. If title is changed to your name, you should immediately contact the Motor Vehicle Commission to update this information.
6. Change beneficiaries on insurance policies and the name of the insured where necessary. Obtain new coverage where necessary.
7. Keep copies of all checks received from or mailed to your ex and document the reason for payment of funds. Keep complete records and invoices of expenses paid by you and for which your ex is responsible. List all property and money given to or received from your former spouse. Where your home is to be divided at a later date, keep complete records of repairs and payments.
8. Consult with your tax advisor to review the tax consequences of your divorce agreement (which ideally you should do before your divorce agreement becomes binding). For instance, payment of alimony generally results in tax liability to the receiver and a deduction to the payer. Therefore, if you are receiving alimony, you should set aside funds for payment of taxes. You should also confirm with your tax advisor the circumstances under which you may file as married. Also, you should make sure that the appropriate forms are executed so that you and your ex properly allocate the dependency exemptions according to your divorce agreement. You should advise your employer if the number of your dependents has changed. Finally, your tax advisor should be able to advise you if you are able to claim all or part of your attorney fees as an income tax deduction.
9. Divide any personal property as soon as possible. Advise your ex in writing that all personal property has been divided and that he or she is to notify you by a certain date with any objections.
10. Last but certainly not least, be good to your children and to yourself. Take a short inexpensive vacation, if possible. Also, remember that the other parent should see the children regularly and on time. Respect the other parent of your children and strive for mutual cooperation to benefit your children. Respect yourself. Do not hesitate to seek counseling or a support group to help you during this transition.
Please call my office to set up a consultation to review your situation or forward this post to others who might find it useful.