If you’re in the middle of a divorce, you’re probably ready to move on and establish your place as a single person. Hashing out things like finances, custody, and living arrangements can make it feel like your life is in limbo.
It’s best to just barge ahead and start taking charge of your money and your life as soon as possible, right?
Not so fast.
Unfortunately, the court has the final say on when and how things get done. Feel like you’re at a standstill? That’s not just a feeling—that’s reality. Until your divorce order has been signed, you’re at the mercy of the court, and you’re prevented from making a number of major money and life decisions.
Obviously, you can’t do anything drastic while your divorce is pending, like get remarried or move your kids to another country.
But did you know you’re prevented from doing seemingly minor things, like changing your insurance policy? My clients are often shocked to find this out. People are even more shocked when they break a rule out of ignorance and wind up with a harsh penalty from the judge.
To finalize your case as quickly and painlessly as possible, it’s best to stick to the court’s guidelines.
Make sure you don’t make any of these missteps while you’re getting divorced.
1. Leave the state with the kids.
If you cross state lines without getting explicit permission from your spouse, don’t be surprised when police come knocking on your door. From the court’s perspective, leaving the state or country with children is basically kidnapping—and your judge probably won’t write it off as a simple misunderstanding.
This may prompt the court to issue an automatic temporary restraining order, which can jeopardize your chances of getting custody and could even prevent you from visiting your kids unsupervised. It doesn’t matter if grandma in Palm Beach really wants to see little Timmy or if your fabulous ski trip in the Alps has been in the works for months.
If your spouse and the court have not given you the go-ahead to travel with your kids, you can’t go.
2. Change or cancel your insurance.
Whether you’re desperate to get your spouse out of your life or you’re just the proactive type, you cannot cancel your insurance or remove your spouse from your policy until the judge says so.
And that means all insurance: health, auto, life, and any other policies that have your spouse’s name on them. Your spouse can’t stay on your insurance after the divorce is finalized, but until then, the court won’t allow you to leave your spouse high and dry—you never know when a medical emergency or car accident will happen.
On the flip side, your spouse can’t kick you off their insurance, either, which is beneficial if you don’t have your own coverage.
3. Dispose of or hide assets.
Planning on moving money out of a joint account or selling property while your divorce is still pending? Thinking about buying a car before your spouse can lay claim to your money? Think again.
You can’t undertake any major financial transactions while your divorce is ongoing. Beyond the “necessaries of life” (like your child’s tuition, groceries, and transportation), the court will be suspicious of any other unusual costs.
If you’re spending money like mad or liquidating assets in an attempt to keep cash away from your spouse, the court may order you to reimburse them for their portion. Even personal property and accounts you believe belong 100% to you cannot be touched until the court determines if and how they will be divided.
Some states will bar you from making any major financial moves by issuing a restraining order at the outset of your divorce, but even if you can make a big purchase, that doesn’t mean you should.
4. Air out your dirty laundry.
This is more of a shouldn’t than a can’t, but complaining or blabbing about the details of your divorce could land you in some hot water. Be cautious about who you share sensitive legal and financial information with—you never know if it will get back to your spouse and work against you in your divorce proceeding.
This goes double for social media.
Never talk badly about your spouse, complain about your kids (hey, they drive us all nuts sometimes) or speak negatively about your judge online. Anything you post about your divorce or family, even if you’re only joking, may be taken into consideration by the court and could vaporize your chances of a positive outcome.
Stay on the safe side and avoid sharing anything online until your divorce is finalized (and even then, it’s best to keep it neutral).
Dror Bikel is a Manhattan-based divorce and child custody lawyer. He founded and leads Bikel and Schanfield, New York’s best known firm for high-conflict matrimonial disputes. To connect with Dror: [hidden email]