The judgment of divorce has just entered and you are now divorced… so now what?

This is actually a very important phase of the divorce process, and if you’re represented by an attorney, you may want to keep your attorney retained to make sure all the loose ends are resolved satisfactorily.  Having an attorney continue to give you advice can avoid a lot of problems and can help guarantee that things are properly taken care of for you.  It is one thing to have the judgment of divorce state who gets what, but the major assets and property all have a title or some other paper work required to give the judgment its full effect.

For example, your judgment of divorce may require the division of a retirement account, such as a 401k or a pension.  Many divorce orders or agreements call for retirement accounts or pensions to be divided.  Because retirement accounts are governed by federal law, the entry of a separate court order, known as a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) is required.  This court order must be drafted and created, signed by the parties, and signed by the court.  The signed court order then must be filed with the court and also sent to the plan administrator for the retirement account.   Some parties procrastinate, and they put off hiring someone to draft the QDRO.  As with many other obligations, procrastination and lack of follow through can have drastic consequences.  Some retirement accounts or pensions have time limits within which QDROs must be entered.  Retirement accounts are valuable assets, and it’s important to take this next step to ensure that they are divided as ordered or as agreed upon, and ensure that your legal rights are preserved.

Regarding marital homes, or real estate, you may have agreed to have your spouse refinance the house and remove your name from the mortgage.  Your wife may be required to pay you your share of the equity.  Or you may be the one required to refinance the mortgage.  If you are the party refinancing — follow through. Failure to follow through can lead to court hearings, attorney fees, and headaches.  Alternatively, if you have agreed to sell real estate and split the proceeds, delay can lead to paying a mortgage longer than necessary.  You will want the advice of an attorney through this part of the process.

At the completion of a divorce, you generally also have to close all joint bank accounts and close all joint credit cards. Failure to timely close these accounts leaves you exposed to additional debt in your name, being cheated out of funds, and credit consequences.  It’s best to take care of all financial matters right away, and get your questions answered by an attorney where necessary.

You may also need to deal with titles to vehicles and other property that need to be transferred, once the divorce is final.  It’s best to take care of this right away to avoid future confusion, liability and problems.

Regarding your children, it is not uncommon for one parent to just let the other parent handle a majority of the school issues or doctor visits. Once a divorce is entered, the parent who wasn’t as involved before is now in a position to step-up and get involved.  If you have joint legal custody, this means that you have access to school and medical records of the minor children.  This also means you share jointly with your ex-wife all important decisions related to the minor children.  Upon the entry of a decree, it’s important for parents to go to their children’s schools, doctors, and care-givers, and let them know who you are and that you want to be included on any communications between them and the parents.  You should make sure you are on the emergency contact list for these care providers.  It’s best to count on these places directly for information, and not rely on your ex-wife or children to provide information.

With school age children, you may also want to review their school calendar.  It’s good to be aware of holidays and days off when you are looking at a parenting time plan.  Your children may have some days off that you were not aware of, and you may want some of those days off as time you can spend with your children.

If you have a will, a trust or a life insurance policy, it will be important to update or amend it so that you have updated your beneficiaries and otherwise done proper planning.  A lot of potential cost and hassle can be avoided by updating these documents right away.  You will want to have an estate planning attorney review and updated your estate plan and give you advice on how to proceed now that you are divorced.

Tax exemptions are another issue that can come up later if not taken care of right after the divorce is completed.  Be sure that you are clear on who is claiming the children as a tax exemption, and that any necessary paper work is completed, signed and filed.

Ultimately, while a Judgment of Divorce can feel like you’ve crossed the finish line, in many respects you are just entering the final stretch. Don’t let the decree lull you into procrastination. Take the final steps and ensure you have the I’s are dotted and T’s are crossed so that your dissolved marriage really is a thing of the past.  If you need help, contact an ADAM attorney to get the job done.

About ADAM (American Divorce Association for Men)

The American Divorce Association for Men (ADAM) is a group of highly qualified attorneys who advocate for men’s rights in divorce, child custody and parenting time, paternity, support, property settlement, post judgment modifications, and other family law matters. Since 1988, ADAM has been aggressive, diligent, and uncompromising when representing their clients. A team of compassionate and skilled family law attorneys, ADAM is dedicated to being Michigan’s leading divorce attorneys for men.