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Youíre Not Finished Yet - Fifteen Post-Divorce Tasks You Canít Blow Off
What does it mean to get a final judgment of divorce. It means that you have a legal document that says that you are no longer married. Moreover, it means that there is a bunch of details to attend to make sure that the terms of the judgment of divorce are carried out. Finally, it also means that you need to know what to do if there are problems with a shared parenting plan, child support, alimony, and the distribution of any marital property.
As you many recall during the divorce process, after attending all of the court dates, mediation sessions, and the ESP conferences, you had to make lists and divide all of your assets. Well, splitting those assets and debts involves massive amounts of paperwork, and this is the time to make certain that all of that paperwork is in order, all transfers have been accomplished, and all of your ownership documents have been changed to reflect that you are no longer married. There are some other things that you should take care of too. These include updating your will, insurance coverages, and beneficiary designations.
Review the Court Order and Fix Any Mistakes
Once the divorce is over and you have a copy of your judgment of divorce and the PSA (Property Settlement Agreement), you should take some time and review the entire judgment of divorce to make sure that it says what you expected and that you understand it all. Then go through it once again, and make sure that you have taken care of everything.
What should you do if you should find a mistake in the judgment of divorce? If the problem is merely a typo that doesn't change the meaning of any of the major terms, then it is probably best to just leave it alone, no matter if you are a stickler for accuracy. However, if a provision was left out, something was included that you didn't agree to, or if an agreement you did make is stated incorrectly, then you need to take immediate action. You should immediately contact your lawyer to alert him of any errors or mistakes in the judgment of divorce or the PSA.
If the divorce was uncontested, then you should contact your ex-spouse and ascertain if he or she is in agreement about the error. If so, then you can ask the court to remedy the mistake, by simply submitting an amended judgment of divorce to the court.
The court will sign an amended judgment of divorce if both parties agree to the terms of the amended judgment of divorce. The courts' main role is to enforce the settlement agreements of the litigants. If there is a mistake in the original judgment of divorce, then the court will certainly sign an amended judgment of divorce to correct any mistakes.
If there is a mistake in the judgment of divorce, and if the other spouse does not consent to an amended judgment of divorce, then you have to file a motion with the court. The motion will have to request that the court correct the judgment of divorce. It may be very helpful to order the transcript of the final divorce hearing. At the final divorce hearing both spouses stated on the record that they agreed to the terms of the divorce settlement and that they believed the settlement to be fair and reasonable. In many final divorce hearings the lawyers will recite the major terms of the property settlement agreement on the record. A copy of the transcript for the final divorce hearing may help assist a litigant prove that the judgment of divorce has a mistake(s) in it, and that it should be corrected. The judgment of divorce may not conform to the terms that were placed on the record at the final divorce hearing. The cost to obtain a transcript of the final divorce hearing is typically around $300.
Get a Certified Copy of Your Judgment of Divorce
After the divorce process is finished, the court will provide each party with a copy of the judgment of divorce that the judge has signed. The judgment of divorce basically specifies that you are no longer married, and that you must comply with the terms of your property settlement agreement. The judgment of divorce will also be stamped with the date that it was filed in the court. The court will also provide each party with a sealed judgment of divorce. The cost to obtain an additional sealed copy of the judgment of divorce is $5 per copy. The sealed copy will also be certified by the court.
It is very advisable for a person to obtain at least five certified and sealed copies of his judgment of divorces. A litigant will need a certified judgment of divorce when you ask an insurance plan administrator, banker or real estate agent to do something that is required by the PSA. The term certified means that it is the official seal of approval from the clerk of court that proves that the document is accurate and it is an official copy.
If you want to advise the Social Security Agency that you changed your name, then you must give them a certified and sealed judgment of divorce. If you want to change the name of your license, registration, or title, then you must provide New Jersey Motor Vehicle Services with a certified and sealed copy of your judgment of divorce. If you want to effectuate a QDRO of your pension or retirement plan, then you must provide the plan administrator with a certified and sealed copy of the judgment of divorce.
In summary, many divorce litigants simply do not realize that the divorce process is only one half complete after the final hearing is finished. In most cases the newly divorced parties have much work to do to split up their assets and to pay off their debts. The parties must submit certified and sealed copies of their judgment of divorce to accomplish many of the post-judgment tasks that are required as per their PSA.
If a person runs out of sealed judgment of divorces, then he can simply take a trip to the local court house, and request that the clerk certify and seal the additional copies. The clerk of court will certify and seal each additional copy of the judgment of divorce for $5.
Make New Deeds for any Real Estate
It is very important to make sure that you have done all of the paperwork to transfer the family home to the person who is keeping it. In my experience, in many cases the parties are so exhausted by the divorce process that they put off or forget to transfer title of the marital home or any other real properties as specified in the PSA. It is important to emphasize that there are no tax consequences to a real estate transfer it is related to a divorce, so it is important that you make the transfer soon after the divorce.
Don't blow off transferring title to any real estate that was owned during the marriage. I was involved in one divorce case wherein the ex-wife owned the marital home for 15 years after the divorce was finalized. As part of the divorce settlement, the wife was permitted to reside in the marital home with the children. The parties agreed to co-own the marital home, and they agreed that it would be sold once the children graduated from high school. After the husband died, the ex-wife realized that her ex-husband had eighteen judgments filed against him. Moreover, the marital home also had the ex-husband's tax liens, sales tax liens, and a worker compensation lien attached to the title. The title to marital home was destroyed by the ex-husband's financial judgments and liens. As a consequence, the ex-wife could not sell her home, and she is basically stuck living in this home. The marital home is so encumbered with judgments and liens that it can't be sold.
In summary, after the divorce process is finished, go on a short trip and take a month off from thinking about it. After the month is over with, then make sure that you follow up and transfer title to the marital home, the vacation home, and any investment properties. If your ex-spouse obtains any judgments against him, then his liens will attach to any real estate that is titled in his name. Even if the PSA provides that title to the marital home will be transferred to your name solely, if your ex-spouse obtains a judgment against him, and if title is held by both spouses, then the judgment lien will attach against the title to the marital home. This type of scenario can be an ultimate disaster. If a judgment lien attaches to the marital home, then the lien ultimately will have to be paid at any closing or the refinancing of the real property. Alternatively, arrangements will have to be made to settle the case with the judgment creditor. In the worst case scenario, a very aggressive judgment creditor can even foreclose on the marital home.
Transfer Title of Your Vehicle
Make sure that all of the vehicles that you owned together are transferred as per the provisions in the PSA. You can accomplish this by getting the forms from the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Services. These forms are also available on the Motor Vehicle Services website. The person who is giving up ownership to the vehicle will have to sign over the title. After the ownership forms are signed, then you can either send or take them in to be processed at the Motor Vehicle Services. If you have a car loan, then you will also have to make sure that the spouse who is giving up the vehicle is no longer legally responsible for that loan. The best way to accomplish this is for the person keeping the vehicle to get a new loan.
Follow Up and Obtain Assurances that any Car Loan Has Been Refinanced
One of the themes of my web site is to emphasize that a divorcing couple's problems are not over once the divorce process is finalized. In my experience the "real divorce" entails enforcing the terms of the judgment of divorce. Collecting child support and alimony can be a tireless and a daunting task. Many former wives are flooded with unending motions to reduce or terminate alimony. Forcing the sale of the marital home can take years. Forcing a former spouse to pay a credit card debt can be similar to trying to find peace in the Middle East. Many divorced couples can't wait to be separated. They are thrilled with the prospect of not having to deal with their ex-spouse anymore.
Unfortunately, joint financial obligations often make this goal unreachable. Joint car loans often tie disgruntled spouses together for years even after the divorce is finalized. It is always important to pay particular detail to any joint car loans in any divorce case. The payment of joint car loans should be addressed with particular detail in any property settlement agreement.
The best course of action is to try to sell the vehicle. If possible make sure that the sure that the vehicle is sold before the divorce is finalized. If you just have an agreement to sell, you are still responsible for the payments and your credit is in jeopardy. If the vehicle still has payments due, then it is better to sell the car at a loss than risk ruining your credit. Unfortunately, selling the vehicle is not always a feasible option in a divorce case. If a vehicle is sold then how are the kids going to be taken to the baseball practice, their karate classes, or to their ballet cases. Unfortunately, the best and most practical solution in most divorce cases are not feasible given the high cost of living in the "Garden State." How can people survive here when it costs $10 just to get onto the beach!
The second best option is to have one spouse refinance the car in his or her own name. If one spouse is to keep the car after the divorce, before you get divorced, then insist that your soon-to-be-ex obtain new financing in his or her own name. You can't just call up the car finance company and ask for one or the other to be removed from the loan. Your bank is going to insist on having him or her go through the formal loan process to qualify. If he or she is not able to qualify for financing on his or her own, maybe his or her relative can cosign for them.
Don't take your name off the title. If you take your name off of title, then you are removing ownership but not loan responsibility, and you will place yourself in a very dangerous situation. Yes, this means that you will not be able to split the equity in the car at the present time. Place a limit on how long your ex-spouse can have possession of the car before it has to be sold or refinanced. Also notify the car finance company of your change of address and have all statements sent to your new address. At the very least, inform them that you wish to be notified if the payments get in arrears. In this way, if your ex is late on payments, you will be notified and you can get the chance to make up the payments.
In my experience it is also very difficult to refinance a car loan in a divorce situation. The processes of effectuating an auto refinance loan requires that the parties have to cooperate. In most instances it is impossible even to have the divorcing spouses stay in the same room together without an incident of domestic violence occurring.
The most practical solution is to use a setoff arrangement to insure that the car loan is paid off. This type of arrangement can also protect your credit rating. If a divorced husband has to pay both alimony and child support, and if he and his former spouse have a joint car loan, then the husband should try to work out an agreement wherein he pays the car loan payment in lieu of his support payments. Basically, the husband can pay the car loan payment directly, and he can receive a credit toward his support obligations.
Obtain Adequate Assurances that the Mortgage Has Been Refinanced
If one spouse receives the marital home as per the PSA, then also make sure that she refinances the mortgage. You should obtain in writing from the bank that you have been legally removed from the mortgage, and that you are no longer responsible for the mortgage loan. The bank must also file a discharge of a mortgage with the County Deed Registry to remove your name from the mortgage. You should obtain a copy of any discharge of a mortgage for your records. It can really turn into disaster if you remain on the mortgage with your ex-spouse on the marital home. Don't trust your ex-spouse, and simply expect that she will pay the mortgage payments on time forever. If your ex-spouse pays the mortgage late, then this will show up as a bad mark on your credit report.
Moreover, if your ex-spouse is irresponsible, and if the home goes into foreclosure, then you also will be sued as a party to any foreclosure lawsuit. Additionally, the foreclosure lawsuit will show up on your credit report. If a foreclosure lawsuit is filed against you then this will absolutely "nuke" your credit report. It routinely takes people years if not decades to clean up and repair their credit report if a foreclosure lawsuit is filed against them. The worst mark on your credit report is a bankruptcy. The second worst mark on your credit report is a foreclosure. It will be very difficult for you to purchase a new home if your credit report is destroyed by a negative foreclosure entry on your credit report.
In summary, make sure that your ex-spouse refinances the mortgage, and that she takes off your name from the mortgage. This can be accomplished by either two ways. First, the marital home can be refinanced. The wife will obtain a new mortgage, and she can pay off the old mortgage. Alternatively, in some cases, the bank may permit one spouse to assume all legal responsibilities of the mortgage, and then release the other spouse from any financial obligations for the mortgage. In my experience, it is increasingly difficult to convince a bank to permit one spouse to assume all of the responsibility of a mortgage. In this day and age, refinancing is much more prevalent then it was in the 70's and 80's. Therefore, most banks will reject any requests for one spouse to assume all responsibility for a mortgage. The bank will simply insist that the divorcing couple refinance the mortgage loan.
Update any Life Insurance Coverage and Beneficiaries
It is very easy for a person who is recently divorced to overlook his insurance policies. However, after the divorce it is extremely important to review all of your insurance policies and to get them in order. If one insurance agent helps you with all of your coverage, then schedule a meeting to go over all of your policies.
If you own life insurance, then you may want to change the beneficiary from your former spouse to someone else. If your spouse is designated as a beneficiary on the life insurance before the divorce then make sure that you fill out the forms to remove her. However, if you want your ex-spouse to get the benefits because she would be raising the kids alone in the event of your death, then you will need to fill out a new beneficiary designation form after the divorce is final to make it clear that you still want your ex to be the beneficiary.
If your spouse agreed as part of your divorce settlement to buy or keep life insurance with you or your children as beneficiaries, then follow up. You property settlement agreement should specify that you are entitled to get information about your ex-spouse's life insurance policy. Your post-divorce task is to follow up with a letter to the insurance company and letting it know that you have this right, and asking to be notified if there's any change in the policy or any problem with premium payments. Also send the insurance company a certified copy of your judgment of divorce with the provision about your access to information that is highlighted. Also advise the insurance company that you will be checking with them on a regular basis to confirm that the policy is being kept up with and that the premiums are being paid.
If your judgment of divorce does not provide with you with the authority to make inquiries about the status of the policy, then ask your former spouse to voluntarily provide yo with the documentation that verifies that the insurance is in place.
Update Any Auto Insurance
Contact your insurance company and make sure the vehicle you are driving is properly insured, and that you are the only owner of the insurance policy. Don't rely on your ex-spouse to pay for your car insurance bill. If you are busted for driving without automobile insurance then there is a one year mandatory license suspension. I handled literally hundreds of cases wherein an ex-spouse was charged with driving without insurance. The unassuming ex-spouse was totally unaware that their auto insurance policy lapsed because of the nonpayment of his insurance premiums. Don't let yourself become a victim. Make sure that your policy is current and that the premiums are paid.
After a divorce is finished, both spouses are usually scattered brained, and they forget to pay many bills. If you forget to pay your car insurance bill, of if your spouse forgets to pay your insurance bill, then you significantly increase your odds of getting busted for driving without insurance. This could ultimately lead to a disaster. Try living in New Jersey for a full year without being able to drive. The mass transportation in the Garden State is the pits. Be smart and don't rely on your ex-spouse to make the payments to keep your car insurance current. Don't let yourself become a victim!
Update Other Beneficiary Designations and Your W-4
Make sure that you consider all of the possible places that you have named your spouse as a beneficiary, and remove her if you if necessary. Think about:
Also ask your human resources department to remove your ex-spouse from any retirement accounts, pensions, or from any health insurance plans.
Furthermore, while you are visiting the human resource department, also check to determine if you need to update your W- If you have been claiming a withholding exemption for your spouse, then you must give your employer a new W-4 within ten days after your divorce is final, and it must show a corrected number of exemptions.
Close any Joint Credit Card Accounts
The issue of outstanding credit card debts is very prevalent in most divorces. Don't trust your ex-spouse. Follow up on him or her. If the judgment of divorce specifies that your ex-spouse is required to make the payments for a joint credit card account, then follow up and make sure that they were made. In many judgment of divorces, the credit card debts will be apportioned between the spouses. For example, the wife will be required to pay the VISA bill, and the husband will be required to pay the American Express. Always call the credit card company and obtain assurances that your ex-spouse has been making the payments. Remember, if your ex-spouse blows off his obligations to pay off joint credit card debt, then this can also hurt your credit report. Don't let joint credit card bills linger on being unpaid. These unpaid accounts can and will ultimately haunt you.
In summary, always double check to make sure that all of your joint credit card accounts are closed. Closing shared credit card accounts is a critical step in the divorce process, and it is one that should not be overlooked. The more you remain connected to your ex-spouse financially, the more you are at risk. Finally, if the PSA apportions the payment of joint credit card debt, then do the best you can to monitor that all of the joint credit card debts are being paid. Don't assume that your ex-spouse will pay the joint credit card debt(s) just because it is provided so in the PSA.
Protect your Retirement Rights
If your judgment of divorce divided any retirement plans or pensions, then you must make sure that you actually divide them. Dividing pensions is often a very tedious, difficult and a lengthy process. Moreover, in many cases the process of dividing the pensions and/or retirement plan can actually take more legal work than the divorce case itself. If the retirement plan was a defined benefit plan, then you will have to obtain a QDRO, or a qualified domestic relations order to split up the pension. Basically, a QDRO requires the plan administrator to split pension payments between you and your ex-spouse when the payments eventually become due.
If it is necessary to obtain a QDRO to split up any pension, then follow up and make sure that it gets done. If you run out of money to pay for the costs to prepare a QDRO, then borrow the money from a relative. You will have to hire an actuary to prepare a QDRO. The two major actuaries that lawyers use in New Jersey is Troyan, Inc. or Pension Appraisers, Inc. The actuary will prepare a draft of the QDRO. If the QDRO is acceptable then it is presented to the court, and the judge will sign it. The fully executed QDRO is then sent to the plan administrator. The QDRO is separate from the judgment of divorce that says that you are divorced. In summary, it is extremely important to make sure that the QDRO gets prepared properly, and that it is signed by the court. If you blow off dividing any pensions or retirement plans, then you risk the possibility of losing your pension rights.
If the retirement benefits you split were in the form of IRA's or other assets that don't require a QDRO for distribution, then you still need to make sure that the retirement benefits are divided. You can't just change the title to an IRA account, or have a check written to you for your share of the proceeds in the retirement account. If you do, then you will be taxed on the money, and penalized for withdrawing it early if you're not yet over 59-1/2.
Update your Estate Plan
After the divorce is over with, and after you take six months off to recuperate, then you should update your estate plan. You should make a new will. Any will that you made during your marriage most likely says that you are married and, most likely, leaves your property to your ex-spouse. In New Jersey a divorce voids any provision in your will that leaves property to your ex-spouse. A divorced person should also have a new living will prepared.
Finally, if you gave your ex-spouse a power of attorney, make sure that it is revoked. I have heard of one case wherein an ex-spouse used an old power of attorney to drain more than one million dollars of her ex-husband's assets. The devious ex-spouse doctored up an old power of attorney, and she used this fraudulent document to drain assets from her ex-husband's brokerage accounts. The devious ex-wife used this fraudulent power of attorney more than two years after the divorce was finalized. Don't permit your ex-spouse to retain any original copies of any power of attorneys. If you have reason to believe that your ex-spouse may be unscrupulous, then write a letter to all of your financial institutions or brokerages and advise them that you have revoked any power of attorney that may have been issued to your ex-spouse. This letter should also be sent by certified mail.
Confirm that All Bank Accounts Are Separated
You have probably closed all of your joint bank accounts. However, if there are any left over then close them out. All you need to divide a bank or a brokerage account is to contact the bank, credit union, or brokerage company and instruct them on the terms of your judgment of divorce. Remember all communications must be made in writing and by certified mail.
Follow Up on Any Name Change
If you changed your name as part of the judgment of divorce, then you will need to follow up and make sure that your official documents reflect your new name. You will have to send your divorce judgment that changes your name to the following government agencies and companies;
If You're Not Getting Support Checks, Then Have a Meeting with the Probation Department
If you are entitled to receive child support and if you are not receiving your payments, then you are not alone. New Jersey is filled with thousands of "dead beat" parents who don't pay their child support. Some parents are just immoral people and they don't lead responsible lives. Meanwhile, thousands of good hardworking parents simply can't keep up with New Jersey's strict child support laws. The child support laws in New Jersey are some of the most onerous in the United States.
In my humble opinion, I believe that New Jersey's child support laws can be too harsh. Moreover, in my professional opinion I believe that the New Jersey courts often overuse the concepts of imputing income on many child support payors. As a result, many judges often determine a child support award on what they believe a parent should earn, and not what the parent actually earns. In my estimation, many judges have abused their discretion by overusing and misapplying the concept of imputing income.
If you are not receiving your child support, then you should go to your County Probation Department, and have a meeting with them. At this meeting you can make sure that the County Probation Department has all of the necessary forms to effectuate any garnishment of your ex-spouse's paycheck. You should make sure that the County Probation Department has an updated confidential litigant form. This form provides bio information on your ex-spouse, and it also provides employment information about your spouse. At this meeting you can also provide any employment information that you have on your ex-spouse. The bottom line is that Probation needs current information to effectuate any wage garnishment of your ex-spouse. The best way to make sure that Probation has this information is to have a "sit down" with a casework. All of the County Probation offices are swamped with phone calls. The best way to achieve your goals of "getting paid" is to meet with your Probation caseworker personally.
New Jersey has five types of spousal support. Rehabilitative alimony is a short-term monetary award that allows a spouse to go back to school or obtain training to re-enter the workforce. Limited duration alimony is awarded in cases of a short marriage when rehabilitative alimony doesn't apply. Reimbursement alimony is awarded when one spouse makes a personal sacrifice so that the other spouse could receive professional or career training. Alimony pendente lite is awarded when a divorce is pending so that both parties can maintain their current standard of living until a final judgment is made. Finally, there is permanent alimony which is usually appropriate in long term marriages and typically terminates upon the death of either party or remarriage.
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