Some spouses are so anxious to be divorced that they skip right over the realities of getting divorced.
People often are shocked to learn about the obligations and restrictions that apply during divorce proceedings. Here are some commonly unknown or overlooked considerations.
Wait, what? The rules of divorce may catch you by surprise.
Here are five things to know or consider at the beginning of the divorce process:
- Financial accounts – Filing for divorce triggers an automatic stay to prevent financial abuse. You can’t withdraw all the money from a joint account, even to prevent a spouse from draining the account for vindictive purposes. Likewise, you can’t squirrel away money in personal accounts or run up the credit cards.
- Debts – You may be living apart, but your spouse’s debts and financial obligations are still sticky to both of you. If creditors are coming after your spouse, you may likewise be subject to liens, garnishment, repossession and other legal actions. You are both on the hook for mortgage payments, loans, credit cards, regardless of whose name is on the account and regardless of informal agreements.
- Assets – All property is considered marital property until proven otherwise. You can get in trouble for liquidating property, retitling assets, selling a business or similar transactions without the consent of your spouse or a judge. This presumption extends to separate property (property you owned before marriage) and assets specified in a prenuptial agreement. Only the court or a negotiated agreement can declare that an asset is “yours.”
- Insurance – Until you are officially divorced, you can’t remove your spouse from your health insurance, auto insurance or life insurance policy. If they are on your employer-sponsored medical plan, you may be on the hook for that coverage for the duration of divorce proceedings.
- Traveling with children – You probably know that you can’t simply relocate your kids to another state or county. But even taking a vacation with children can be tricky if you cross state lines. International travel may be forbidden outright, especially if one parent has citizenship or family ties in the destination country. At a minimum, notify the other parent so they don’t panic about a custody kidnapping. It may also be prudent to get court permission.
What can you do in light of these rules?
The rules may seem unfair or unnecessary, but they are meant to protect both spouses. If you are on speaking terms, you can hopefully come to an interim agreement on financial matters, co-parenting and other logistics of this limbo period. Communication and civility goes a long way.
It may be necessary to go to court to hash out temporary court orders (custody, parenting time, child support and/or spousal support) that will govern while divorce proceedings play out. Resolving these pressing issues can provide valuable breathing room to negotiate a fair and sensible divorce settlement agreement.
When in doubt, consult your lawyer before making any rash moves that may get you dragged into court or otherwise come back to haunt you.