Now what do you do?
The documents are signed, the Judgment is filed with the court, you are officially “divorced.” Now what?
- Don’t throw away the Judgment – ever! Years later, you may need to provide proof of your divorce (including a copy of the Judgment and Notice of Entry of Judgment) for any number of reasons, including remarriage, adoption, home loans, and Social Security benefits. It is also wise to hold on to copies of the “Disclosure” documents you exchanged with your former spouse, particularly the Schedule of Assets and Debts, and Income and Expense Declaration. Don’t throw away your tax returns as long as there is an order for support.
- Is there any unfinished business? Once the Judgment is filed with the Court, there are a number of tasks that may need to be completed:
o Close joint bank accounts and credit cards and transfer any funds required by your agreement.
o Notify insurance companies of the divorce, so that arrangements can be made to separate or establish new policies (auto, life, health).
o Change title on vehicles and real property.
o Make sure that the documents necessary to divide pension and other retirement plans and IRAs are prepared and processed now.
o Make sure to change, if you wish, the beneficiaries on accounts and insurance policies. See an estate planning attorney to talk about your new plans.
- Keep records of payments It is much easier to avoid conflicts and misunderstandings later on if you are able to go back and show records of what happened. Whether you are the person paying or receiving money, this is equally important.
o 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, you may not be able to recover those funds later.
o 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 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 purpose of the payment (child or spousal support, reimbursement for medical expense, shared cost of day care, etc.)
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 put this behind you and move forward with confidence.
Deborah Ewing, Wendy Jones, and Elaine Thompson are all experienced family law attorneys in the Los Angeles area, and are members of A Better Divorce, a Collaborative Family Law Practice Group.