The Risk Manager, Spring 2005
At long last that nasty divorce representation is over. Everything is settled and agreed. You can now put that unhappy experience behind you and get on with less stressful work. Not so fast there – it is crucial to recognize that the conclusion of a divorce case does not carry with it the same finality typical of other concluded matters. A final divorce is not the end of the matter for the client -- rather a new beginning. Post-divorce consequences will reveal any negligence by a lawyer with a vengeance. Long after a divorce is final lawyers can be accused of malpractice for not adequately counseling clients on actions they should take to implement the divorce order and protect their interest by amending official documents and important papers. The firm of Crawford & Baxter, Carrolton, Kentucky uses the following instruction sheet to inform clients of actions they should take post-divorce. It serves the purpose of the client well and documents the file conclusively that a client was properly counseled. Our thanks to Crawford & Baxter for allowing us to share it with you.
Information for Divorced Clients
Our law firm recently represented you when you were divorced from your spouse. While the Court recognizes that you are no longer husband and wife, you are responsible to notify other people that you are divorced, and you should take steps to change your official records and important papers. The following checklist is not exhaustive of all persons to notify, but can be used as a guide:
- Employer: Notify your employer to change your company records and the beneficiaries on your group life insurance, health and hospitalization insurance, or disability plan, as well as your retirement benefits, including any profit sharing, 401-K, pension, retirement or deferred compensation benefits or your ex-spouse may receive benefits you do not want him or her to have. If you are receiving a share of your spouse's retirement, pension, or 401-K benefits, make sure you receive a copy of the Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) awarding you those benefits.
- Banks/Investment Clubs: Notify banks, investment clubs and credit unions of marital status changes and close out joint accounts. Change beneficiary on savings, IRA, KEOGH plans, money market or mutual fund accounts. Destroy old joint checks.
- Life/Disability Insurance: Contact all companies with whom you have insurance of any kind. Change names of "insured" and "beneficiaries" to reflect your new marital status. Make sure your health, hospitalization and life insurance at work is changed.
- Health/Hospitalization Insurance: If you are carrying family members on your policy that you no longer are required to carry after your divorce, notify your company and send it a copy of your divorce papers so you will not be charged an extra premium. If you are carried on your spouse's health and hospitalization insurance and you want to continue the coverage at your own expense, contact your ex-spouse's employer or insurance carrier and ask about COBRA rights that entitle you to purchase insurance through them for additional months at your own cost.
- Tax Preparer: Contact your tax preparer to discuss new tax status, right to claim exemptions, necessity of changes in withholding on paychecks, and effect on your taxes for the year.
- Charge/Credit/Debit Cards, Accounts and Creditors: Notify companies of marital status changes, and close out joint accounts or have them transferred to your name alone. Verify ending balances and destroy joint credit cards.
- Important Documents: Review all deeds to real estate, titles to motor vehicles, bills of sale to personal property, stock certificates, bonds, treasury notes, certificates of deposit, checking accounts and savings accounts to verify correct names on the documents and accounts and the proper ownership after divorce. Make arrangements to transfer items or change them as necessary.
- Will: A divorce does not automatically change your will. Discuss the legal effect of your divorce upon your will with an attorney. Make the necessary changes to update your will to reflect your divorce and child custody arrangements.
- Power of Attorney: If you gave your spouse a power of attorney over your legal affairs, health care or other matters, you need to revoke that power of attorney in writing. Discuss with an attorney what you need to do.
- Name Change: If you changed your name as a part of your divorce, you are required to notify the following people to change the listed items:
- Circuit Court Clerk - driver's license;
- Social Security Administration - social security card;
- Employer - W-2;
- Bank/Financial Institution - W-4; accounts; and,
- Credit Cards/Charge Accounts – cards and accounts.
- Social Security Benefits: If you were married ten (10) or more years, you have the right upon retirement to claim your ex-spouse's social security benefits. Keep a copy of your marriage license and your divorce papers and contact the Social Security Administration when you are eligible to file. If your ex-spouse dies while paying child support to you for your children, you can file with Social Security for benefits for yourself and your children until they reach the age of 18 years.
- Child Support: If you are awarded child support, make sure the County Attorney's Office has your correct address and social security number so that wage assignment payments will come to you. Keep an accurate list of the dates and amounts of each child support check. You are entitled to receive child support until the child reaches the age of 18 years or graduates from high school, whichever last occurs. If you have a disabled child your right to collect child support continues past this time period throughout the child's disability. If your ex-spouse fails to pay the child support, medical bills or other required expenses by court order, you can contact the County Attorney's Office for assistance with collection of those monies, or contact our office to assist you with collection of these amounts. Make sure you have followed the terms of your Agreement to give your ex-spouse written notice of the failure to pay, and copies of any medical bills you are requesting to be reimbursed, together with the statement from the insurance company showing what was or was not paid.
If you are required to pay child support, make sure the wage assignment is in place at your place of employment, and the child support is being taken out of your paycheck so you have an accurate record of what was paid. If you change jobs, it is your responsibility to put a new wage assignment into place at your new place of employment. This can be done by calling the County Attorney's Office or contacting our law firm. If you have to pay your spouse directly until the wage assignment goes into effect, then obtain receipts for all payments so that your permanent payment records will reflect the amount you actually paid.
Child support can change until your child reaches 18 or graduates from high school, whichever last occurs. You can request a change in the child support anytime there is a change of circumstances. Examples of changes of circumstances include: 1.) Either spouse receiving more or less money; 2.) Either spouse is no longer able to work due to injury, disability, lay off or firing; 3.) The amount of your health and hospitalization insurance premium changes; or 4.) Day care expenses change up or down. To be legally entitled to a change in the child support you are receiving or paying, the child support must increase or decrease at leasttwenty-five percent (25%) during the first year after the child support order, or at least fifteen percent (15%) in years thereafter based upon the new information. The County Attorney's Office can review your child support with you, or you can contact our office for a review.
Conclusion: Keep a copy of your divorce papers in a secure location with other valuable papers as you will need a copy of them in the years to come. You can obtain another copy of your divorce papers from the Circuit Court Clerk's Office in the courthouse where you were divorced if your divorce papers are lost, destroyed or damaged.
The above list is not intended to include all possible persons and companies to contact, but to make suggestions as to persons who typically should be contacted. If you have any questions or concerns, or have a specific problem that needs to be discussed, feel free to contact us.