Whether you and your former spouse were able to resolve your divorce amiably through mediation or whether it was a war to end all wars, there are a few things to do once the ink dries on the agreement or court order. The actual “to do” list may be longer or shorter, depending on the specific terms of your divorce. In any case, there are usually a number of items to attend to after the divorce has been granted. For the purpose of this article, I am going to use the word “order” even if you and your ex basically had an agreement on these terms.
Here we go!
- If you and your ex owned real estate, chances are real estate-related issues to be handled. That may mean transferring the real estate from one party to the other by way of a deed or refinancing the current mortgage to get the other side off the obligation. Sometimes one party must buy out the other, meaning the loan on the real estate is refinanced to take out more than is owed (the “equity”) as well as to remove one party from the mortgage obligation. It is very important to get this done correctly and finally. It is not a good thing to first transfer the property by deed without attending to the refinancing piece. Otherwise, one party will be left with no legal interest in the home, but a legal obligation on the mortgage.
- If one party opted to resume a former last name, make sure that is part of the divorce order. Depending on your state’s law, you may need to produce a copy of the court order, so that the state motor vehicles department and the U S Social Security Admin can verify the name change and amend their records.
- Do you have life insurance? Life insurance can be a marital asset to be awarded to one party. If that was done as part of your divorce, make sure you change the beneficiary. Otherwise, if your ex-spouse is listed as the beneficiary, in most cases, upon the death of the insured party, the listed beneficiary will be awarded the life insurance benefit, regardless of what was ordered as part of the divorce.
- Co-parenting: Unfortunately many divorced parents have difficulty cooperatively raising their children, more familiarly called “co-parenting.” It may be helpful to look into parenting classes in the community for you and the ex to attend. Classes can focus on positive communication and without putting the kids in the middle of the conversation. Even if your ex is not interested, such a class may be helpful for you to learn a few ways to talk or text with the other parent amicably and neutrally. The bottom line is that cooperative co-parenting mostly benefits the kids, who usually have no say in how the parents work or don’t work together.
- Health insurance: As part of your divorce, the court may have ordered that each party is responsible for his or her own health insurance. If that is the case, notify your employer. Your employer may have penalties for failure to inform the health insurance carrier and/or the employer as to this change in your marital status.
- Bank accounts: If you share a joint account with your former spouse and that account is to be divided, contact the bank as soon as possible to learn the institution’s process to divide this asset. If one side “raids” the account, it could be very difficult and expensive to pursue a claim against the wrong doer.
- Retirement accounts: In most states, one party’s retirement account is considered to be a marital asset, subject to division. Depending on what type of retirement account it is, additional documents may need to be drawn up and approved by the court. The most common document is called a qualified domestic relations order or QDRO. There may also be significant income tax consequences if money is actually taken out of the retirement account instead of rolled over into the recipient’s separate retirement account. It’s best to consult with a certified public accountant for advice about your specific situation.
- Debts: Aside from the mortgage on the house, many folks have loans on cars and credit card debt. Any joint credit cards should be closed so they cannot be used by anyone. If there is a joint loan on a motor vehicle, that debt will continue to show up on both parties’ credit reports until it’s paid off or refinanced. Make sure you follow up on what each side is supposed to do. The creditor does not care what the divorce order states; they want to be paid by one or both of you regardless.
- Personal property: This could be the furniture, pictures in the attic or the family dog. Whatever the case, if you are supposed to get these items, try to agree on a time and date to pick up your stuff or take your pet. The preference is to do this when the kids are not around to witness this. This sounds like common sense, but sometimes otherwise considerate parents don’t see how Dad moving his stuff out of the family home impacts the kids.
- The overall agreement or court order: Once you have made a written agreement with your ex, a judge or magistrate usually approves it, which makes it an enforceable court order. Before it gets to the judge’s desk, read it carefully before you sign. If you do not understand what the terms of the agreement mean, consult with a licensed family law attorney in your state. Do not assume the language means what it says under the law. It is better to pay for legal advice rather than guess at what you think the language means. Also if there is a problem in the future that lands the parties back in court, a judge is most likely to enforce the actual court order and not any verbal side agreements, as there can be disagreements as to what the verbal agreement is. A judge or magistrate is more likely to follow the written order rather than try to figure out who is telling the truth.
As mentioned above, your particular situation could call for more or less follow-up. The important take-away is to actually follow up or you may be prevented from doing so if too much time has gone by.
This post is general information and should not be considered as legal advice nor does it create an attorney-client relationship. Consult a licensed attorney in your state for specific advice about your situation.