By the time the court issues your divorce decree, you’ll probably want to leave the whole process behind. In fact, you might be tempted to destroy all the evidence. But before you get out the paper shredder, we need to caution you about holding onto critical documents you might need in the future. Here are just a few of the documents you should keep at your fingertips after your divorce is finalized.
- The decree — Your final divorce judgment is the central document in your divorce. It not only serves as proof that your marriage is legally dissolved, but it also states the terms on which your divorce has been granted. It’s an official order signed by a judge and is proof that your marriage is legally over. It will also contain the final disposition of all your divorce-related issues, which may include:
- Your parenting time plan
- Child support order
- Spousal support order
- Terms for the division of assets and debts
You should be sure to get at least one copy of your divorce decree with the court seal as proof of authenticity. If you are planning to resume using your former name, you may have to submit a sealed copy to government agencies, such as the Social Security Administration or the Department of Motor Vehicles.
- QDRO — If your property settlement requires you to divide a spouse’s retirement account, such as an IRA or 401(k), the court will issue a qualified domestic relations order, which splits the account without penalties and tax consequences. You should retain a copy of the order to ensure the retirement fund is properly divided at the appropriate time.
- Property appraisals — If you received appraisals on property while negotiating the division of your marital estate, you should hold onto them. It’s possible that mistakes might be made in the allocation of assets, and you’ll need documentary support to get corrections made.
- Copies of checks — Whether you are paying or receiving child support and/or alimony, you need copies of payments for your records. If payments are made in cash, signed receipts should be issued. You should also maintain a ledger of these payments.
- Personal financial documents — Keeping track of your monthly expenses, financial statements, and tax returns can come in handy if you or your ex ever decide to file a motion for a modification of child support or alimony. The party making the motion must be able to demonstrate a substantial change in circumstances to justify any adjustment. This may require as much as three years’ worth of documentation.
- Marriage license — You might want to consign your marriage to the past, but holding onto a copy of your marriage license can be important for certain benefits. For example, if you were married for more than 10 years, you may be entitled to a portion of your ex-spouse's Social Security payments upon retirement.
Unfortunately, as time passes, documents have a way of disappearing, especially if you’ve moved. So, you might wonder, “How do I get a copy of my child support order?” Or my QDRO? Or my parenting plan? Those documents are part of the permanent record of your divorce case. You can obtain a copy by requesting it from the court clerk where your case was heard.
And while we’re on the subject of documents, there are some papers you’ll want to update after your divorce is finalized. These might include your Last Will and Testament and other instruments in your estate plan. You might also want to change the beneficiaries on your life insurance. Of course, any changes could be subject to the terms of your divorce decree, so be sure to consult your attorney before making modifications. Finally, for tax purposes, you should update your W-4 with your employer to ensure the proper amount of withholdings.
Divorce can send an avalanche of documents your way. Filing and organizing these documents as they come in can help you keep them at the ready should you ever need to rely on them.