Ten Must-Dos After Your Divorce

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Divorce must-do list by Nancy Stassinopoulos, Certified Family Law Specialist
Nancy Stassinopoulos, APC

Many couples think their case is over on the date they sign their Marital Settlement San Diego divorce attorney Nancy StassinopoulosAgreement. This is a momentous occasion, especially in a collaborative case where the entire team usually meets in a conference room to review and sign the final documents. Emotions can run high, ranging from tears to smiles of happiness that a divorce has been concluded with dignity and respect.

But wait, before you break out the champagne to celebrate with your friends, there’s more to be done. Here are ten important reminders:

  • Finish your QDROs. If your Marital Settlement Agreement provides for retirement accounts and pension plans to be divided by a Qualified Domestic Relations Order, you should start working with the QDRO attorney or QDRO preparation service recommended by your collaborative attorney. In fact, most collaborative attorneys recommend that the couple start the QDRO drafting process before the Marital Settlement Agreement is signed, so that the QDROs can be signed and submitted to the court with the Judgment. Then, you need to make sure that the QDRO is served on the Plan.
  • Divide Your IRAs. The division of Individual Retirement Accounts is usually spelled out in the Marital Settlement Agreement, either as a formula (one-half to each spouse) or a dollar amount to one spouse. The division of IRAs does not require a QDRO. However, you need to contact the custodian of the IRA to request forms for the transfer of the funds, which can be rolled over into the transferee’s IRA without tax consequences. Your Collaborative Attorney or Financial Specialist will assist you if you need help.
  • Change your estate plan. You should make an appointment with an estate planning attorney. If you and your spouse had an estate plan, such as a family trust or wills, be aware that the divorce will automatically revoke any wills or trusts that were in existence on the date of the divorce. Thus, you will need to make a new estate plan. If you fail to do so, and then pass away, the laws of the State of California will decide how to distribute your assets. Also, probate fees for those who die “intestate” (without a will) are costly.   You can leave more money to your heirs with a good estate plan.
  • Check your life insurance. You should review and change the beneficiaries on your life insurance policies, to conform to the Marital Settlement Agreement. Remember, life insurance is not controlled by a will or trust. All beneficiary changes must be made in writing.
  • Change retirement plan beneficiaries. You will need to change the beneficiaries on your Individual Retirement Accounts, 401(k) Plans, and pension plans, to conform to the Marital Settlement Agreement. If these accounts will be divided between you and your spouse, you will need to get that done before you can change the beneficiaries. All beneficiary changes must be made in writing, usually on a form provided by the company.
  • Change your powers of attorney. During marriage, you might have given your spouse a financial power of attorney, or a power of attorney for health care. Be sure to revoke those documents and create new ones. Your estate planning attorney can assist you.
  • Close all joint credit card accounts. Remember, on a true joint credit account, both you and your spouse remain liable for any future charges, even after your divorce is final. If you are not sure whether an account is a true joint account, as opposed to one on which your spouse is an authorized user, call the card issuer and ask.
  • Close all joint bank and financial accounts. Most banks and financial institutions will require both account holders to authorize the account closure.
  • Copy your family photos and videos. Usually the Marital Settlement Agreement will provide that family photos and videos will be copied, with the expense to be shared. Be sure to make these arrangements as soon as possible.
  • Change the passwords on all accounts. If your spouse had access to your online financial or credit card accounts, you will have to change your passwords. Remember, your ex-spouse may be able to answer security questions such as your mother’s maiden name, and obtain access to your accounts after the divorce.

This list may seem overwhelming. It is a lot of work to address these important details. But think about how much work you have already done, to get to this point in the divorce process. Don’t let it all unravel because an important detail was not addressed.

Here’s a tip: Start with the tasks you can accomplish quickly. Tackle the tasks one at a time, check them off as you complete them, and move on to the next one. You will have all this work done in no time. Then you’ll be able to relax, knowing that your future, and your family’s future, will be secure.

 

Kids In The Courtroom: Good Idea Or Not?

 Children  often  want to be heard  when their parents separate and divorce.  How can children have a voice without  exposing them to courtroom battles?

by Nancy Stassinopoulos, Attorney and Certified Family Law Specialist,
Stassinopoulos & Schweitzer, LLP, San Diego, CA

Nancy Stassinopoulos

The traditional Family Court system, which is based on litigation with attorneys for each parent, tries to help families with children to resolve child-sharing disputes, but with mixed results.  Although mediation at Family Court Services (now called “child custody recommending counseling”) is required before a judge makes decisions on child custody and visitation, by the time parents walk into the court mediator’s office, they are often entrenched in their positions and unable to agree on a parenting plan.  So they end up in the courtroom, where the adversary process causes more acrimony between the parents, and where the children suffer from the toxic fallout.

The Family Court judge has the option to appoint an attorney for the children, called “minor’s counsel.”  This attorney will interview the children and represent their interests in court hearings. Usually, the court appoints minor’s counsel only in high-conflict cases, where the children need their own advocate.

The California Family Code requires the judge to consider the wishes of the child if the child is of “sufficient age and capacity to reason so as to form an intelligent preference as to custody or visitation.” Recently, the California Legislature has decided to give children more of a role in the legal process. If a child who has reached the age of 14 wishes to address the court regarding custody or visitation, the child shall be permitted to do so unless the judge determines that it is not in the child’s best interests. The judge can even permit a child younger than 14 to testify in certain circumstances.

Many family law attorneys think this new law is a bad idea, because it puts the child in the middle of the conflict and exposes him or her to the highly charged atmosphere of the courtroom. A parent who wants his or her child to testify in court may not be thinking of how harmful that could be for the child. The child may not realize that he or she will have to be placed under oath, sit in the witness box and be questioned by the attorneys for the parents, usually with the parents present in the courtroom.

The collaborative divorce process gives the children a voice in the decisions about where they will live, and how much time they will spend with each parent, while protecting them from the conflict of the courtroom.

In a collaborative divorce, the parents, together with their collaborative attorneys and coaches, may decide to use a “child specialist” as part of their Collaborative team. The role of the child specialist is to work with the parents and the children to provide each child with the opportunity to express their concerns, to give the parents information that will help their children through the divorce process, and to assist the Collaborative team in developing an effective co-parenting plan.

The goal of the collaborative divorce process is to help the family during their transition from one home to two homes. Children need to participate in the decisions made by the family, in a manner that is appropriate to their age.  They may have concerns about their pets, their bicycles, and their friends, and they may find it hard to share these concerns with their parents. The child specialist in the Collaborative team can listen to the children and make sure their questions are answered and their needs are met.

Collaborative divorce allows children to have a say in their own future and the future of their family, without feeling pressure to “choose sides” and without the intimidation of the courtroom setting – a healthier outcome for everyone.