Breaking up is even harder to do than you think.
When Sima, who declined to give her last name, split with her husband late last year, she was frustrated to find that she still had to keep him on her health insurance for the five months that it took for their divorce to be finalized. And she’s an attorney who’s worked on family court cases dealing with divorce.
“Even as a lawyer, it’s still a surprise when it affects you,” Sima, 34, told Moneyish. She paid $1,000 for his insurance during that period — and they still had to live together for the first month. After he moved out, she was on the hook for their apartment’s rent and utilities (another $2,200 a month) until she got a roommate to split the expenses a couple of months later.
“People decide that they want to be divorced — and in their minds, it’s done. It’s over,” she said. “The reality is, the system takes a while. And it still takes awhile to figure out the logistics, which can be very awkward.”
Angelina Jolie learned that the hard way. The “Maleficent” star, who split from husband Brad Pitt in 2016, is reportedly frustrated that she can’t take their six kids to London with her while she films “Maleficent 2” as their custody battle drags on. “They are figuring out how it would work, but she is not happy,” a Hollywood source familiar with the proceedings told Page Six, which is owned by Moneyish’s parent company News Corp. “She wants to take the kids to London with her while she’s shooting — and she’s frustrated with the process. They’re talking about how it would work.”
Turns out, there are a ton of rules and restrictions on finances and parenting once divorce proceedings begin that most people don’t realize until they try to untie the knot. “Most people are really taken off guard by some of these restrictions, especially the travel issue (with children),” Morghan Leia Richardson, a family lawyer and partner at Davidoff, Hutcher & Citron LLP in Manhattan, told Moneyish. “Taking the kids overseas many times becomes a restriction, especially if one party is from another country or has family ties to another country because the courts want to avoid situations where parents withhold their kids in other countries.”
Richardson has also been divorced and understands the confusion that couples feel firsthand. “You just want to travel with your child and to plan things in advance and that becomes super difficult when you’re in the middle of a custody debate or contested divorce,” she said.
In states such as New York and California, once a petition for divorce has been filed and served, there are a number of immediate restrictions that are placed on your finances and parenting rights. So Richardson and Chloe Wolman, a divorce attorney in Los Angeles, walked Moneyish through the most common snags that hang up divorcing couples. The laws vary by state, but here are some general rules of thumb:
You can’t transfer or dispose of property
Neither one of you can empty the bank accounts — even to cover legal fees. You can’t sell the house or the car, or use the credit cards to go on a shopping spree or try removing your ex’s access from these accounts. And you’re protected from this happening to you, as well. “Parties are allowed to use funds for basic ‘necessaries of life’ [buying groceries, getting the kids new school clothes, putting gas in the car] but if your post-filing spending looks fishy, you could be responsible for reimbursing your spouse for your excess expenditures,” Wolman told Moneyish. “Even if you believe an asset is entirely yours — say, a coin collection you inherited from your grandparents before your marriage — you are still not allowed to sell or transfer it without your spouse’s consent or without a court order!”
“These are put in place so that one spouse doesn’t retaliate against the other. The intent is to effectively ‘pause’ everything so that all issues can be worked out fairly and legally,” explained Richardson. “They keep the parties from draining bank accounts, moving or hiding money and assets and attempt to force everyone to keep the financial standard of the marriage.”
You can’t cancel your spouse’s insurance
You have to stick to the status quo while your divorce is being finalized. So similar to the above rule where you can’t sell off your assets, you also can’t kick your former flame off of your health insurance, life insurance, car insurance. “It’s a logical concept used to avoid a situation in which one spouse cuts the other off from health insurance and the other has the misfortune of having a medical incident,” Wolman explained. “Since health care can be so ruinously expensive without insurance, the courts want to know that both spouses are protected until such time as both parties know they’ll need to find their own insurance. Similarly, a divorcing party can’t cancel their spouse’s auto insurance. If an accident were to occur, a spouse unwittingly driving without insurance can be in serious legal trouble. It’s simply not fair if that spouse had no warning that they needed to get their own plan.”
Your kids can’t leave the state
“Even if it’s just a day trip, or to visit grandma or to go to summer camp,” warned Wolman. “Unless you have a written agreement with your spouse or a court order, this could really blow up. If you do take your child out of state against the ATRO [automatic temporary restraining order], police or US Marshals can be involved to find you and take your child back to the other parent. A court might also make an order that you cannot even see your child without professional supervision after that, because of the perceived risk that you may take off with the child. Courts take this deadly seriously.”
The bottom line
Once the divorce process starts rolling, you need to clear everything with your lawyer. “Talk to your attorney before you make any moves; before you terminate anything or change accounts. And your attorney will then talk to the other side to come to an agreement,” said Richardson. “If you need money for legal fees or rent or food — or your shared investment is losing money, maybe and you both agree you should sell the stock right away — we can temporarily lift those restrictive orders to move some things around and come to a quick agreement. But before you do anything, talk to your attorney.”
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