Once you have gone through the divorce process and are formally divorced, there are still many steps that can and should be taken to protect yourself. The following is a list of the top ten (10) actions you should take after your divorce has been finalized:
1. The Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage is the document that formally grants the divorce. Keep this document handy to verify to all pertinent institutions that you are actually divorced. Many places require a certified copy which usually has a special raised seal. Make sure you obtain one as part of your divorce process or ask your attorney to get one for you.
2. Unless otherwise required in your Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage, close all joint credit cards, bank accounts, financial accounts and the like. Additionally, remove your former spouse’s access to any and all accounts in your name. You do not want your former spouse to continue to access accounts, withdraw funds or make charges.
3. Change the beneficiaries on all insurance, bank accounts, retirement accounts, financial accounts, annuities and the like.
4. Update your estate plan and have a new will drafted.
5. Make sure all titles have been timely executed for real estate, automobiles and the like. After they have been executed, make sure the proper documentation is recorded with the appropriate entity concerning ownership (i.e. recorder of deeds, Secretary of State, etc.).
6. If the Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage granted leave to resume the use of your maiden name, you can start using it the day the judgment was entered. For official purposes, however, such as name changes on accounts, you may need to show the certified copy of the divorce decree.
7. With the recent increase in data breaches, you should also consider whether or not you should take additional safeguards to protect your identity and your assets going forward. Keep in mind that your former spouse likely knows all relevant information regarding your identity including but not limited to: birthdate, social security number, present bank/credit/financial account numbers, where accounts are held, prior address information, places you have/had loans with, etc. While it may be unlikely that your former spouse would commit identity theft, as an extra precaution, consider steps you can take to safeguard your assets and identity going forward (i.e. opening new accounts, obtaining a new driver’s license number, changing passwords, etc.).
8. If you are receiving maintenance, consult an accountant about making estimated tax payments for the money you are receiving. If you are paying maintenance, consult an accountant about how much to reduce your withholding to avoid a large tax refund at tax time and/or have more money available to you during the year.
9. Keep records of any financial transactions and agreements between you and your former spouse. This could include payments under the divorce for property, maintenance, child support, child expenses or an agreement to deviate from the terms of the divorce (i.e. an offset for one obligation for another, a non-substantial change in parenting time/terms, etc.). If your divorce agreement calls for a true up, keep your records detailed and orderly so you can easily exchange same. If your agreement calls for splitting of child expenses, keep an ongoing log where you record expenses incurred and back up so that you can to simplify this often complicated transaction with your spouse.
10. If you are served with a motion to amend/modify the terms of the Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage, either from your former spouse or his/her attorney, do not ignore it and contact your attorney right away. If you fail to timely respond or participate in the legal proceedings after you have been served, you could be defaulted, which means that your former spouse will obtain whatever relief that is sought in the papers that were served upon you regardless of their veracity.
While not intended to be all encompassing, the above list contains basic steps that should be taken that are usually not spelled out in your divorce papers. Hopefully, by taking these steps, you should be able to protect yourself and your assets as you start this new chapter in your life.