Legal Steps to Take After the Divorce
Unfortunately, the entry of a Decree of Dissolution does mean that there are not final matters to “wrap up”. There are several common legal issues that continue even after the divorce is decided upon. Tying up the loose ends can be categorized into three major areas: transfers of property, change in name, and insurance & estate issues.
I. Property Transfers
Usually, the Separation Agreement or Permanent Orders entered by the Court require some division of assets or transfer of property between the parties. This can include bank accounts that should be split, investment accounts, and even retirement accounts, as well as personal property. All joint accounts should be closed, and new accounts should be opened in each party’s individual names. When making these transfers or dividing these accounts, you and your former spouse should keep a copy of the final statement, or check for the asset, in order to create a “paper trail”, should a question later arise as to whether the transfer was correct.
When retirement assets are to be split as part of the property settlement, it may be necessary for a separate Order to be prepared in order to effectuate same, called a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO). These orders should be prepared by an expert, using the guidelines from the particular retirement plan. While some of the requirements may appear to be tedious, they must comply not only with the federal ERISA laws, but also with the rules of each particular plan. The time and money necessary for the preparation, qualification and processing of a QDRO is certainly well-spent.
If one party is receiving real estate, a Deed will need to be prepared, signed and recorded with the County Clerk. If vehicles are being transferred, titles should be signed and registered with the State Motor Vehicle Division. It is important to make certain that these documents, once signed, are filed with the appropriate government agency, in order to complete the transfer, as well as to obviate liability issues down the road.
As to personal property, you and your former spouse should both be present when the property is divided, unless there is a Restraining Order in place. A neutral third party may be helpful during this process, and it may be advisable to make a list of the property that each of you will be keeping, in order to avoid problems in the future. Some parties find it helpful to take a video recording or photographs at the time of the allocation of the property, in order to verify the condition of certain property, and to avoid a claim of damage at a later date.
II. Name Change
In the event that the former Wife has changed her name at the time of the entry of the Decree, it is necessary to obtain a certified copy of the Decree permitting the change of name from the Clerk’s office. You will be providing copies of the Certified Decree to numerous agencies, offices, and companies, in order to change your name in every aspect of your life. While not exhaustive, listed below are some of the more common matters involving a name change.
- Professional Licenses & Associations
- Drivers License & Car Registration
- Social Security Office
- Internal Revenue Service
- Insurance Providers (Life, Homeowners, Auto)
- Banks and Other Financial Institutions
- Credit card companies, including Store Cards
- Other creditors, such as mortgage company, auto loans, student loans
- Library card
- Automobile Club
- Alumni Associations and Other Clubs
III. Insurance & Estate Issues
As part of your Permanent Orders, whether reached by Agreement, or entered by the Court after hearing, it is likely that changes to insurance are necessary.
In the event that one party has been covering the other on medical insurance through employment, it will be necessary to obtain the paperwork for continuation of the benefits through a federal law known as COBRA. The payment for the monthly premium for same should be allocated to one party or the other in the final dissolution documents. Both parties should cooperate in this process, as a termination of benefits may occur if a deadline is missed, and this could result in a lack of medical coverage for catastrophic or routine medical expenses.
Changes may be required regarding the ownership and designation of beneficiary for life insurance policies, as well, whether privately owned, or obtained as a benefit of employment. Allocation of the payment of premiums should be addressed in the Agreement or Permanent Orders, as well. In the event there is an ongoing life insurance obligation for support (either spousal or child), both parties should have access to the policy information while the obligation to carry insurance exists.
Many times the conclusion of a dissolution proceeding leads to a relocation of one or both parties. This raises the issue of obtaining adequate homeowners or renters insurance for the new residence. Make certain you discuss the advisability of certain riders for special personal property, such as jewelry, collections, firearms, etc.
As with any transition in life (marriage, baby, divorce), you should now reassess your estate planning. You and your former spouse most likely had each other named as beneficiaries on your will and other assets. You will want to meet with your estate planner, in order to revise your Will, Trust documents, Power of Attorney, and Living Will, as well as review the terms of any beneficiary designation on assets allocated to you in the dissolution process.
You will also want to consult with a tax planner or preparer regarding the various tax consequences of the transfers of property, payment or receipt of support, and various other related tax issues involved in your dissolution.
While the entry of the Decree signals the formal end of the legal marital relationship, this article outlines the transfers and additional important issues that must be addressed, in order to finalize the distribution of assets and provide closure to all involved.