It is commonly believed that once a settlement is reached in a divorce case and the divorce decree is issued that the divorce case is finalized. Unfortunately, 99 percent of the time, that is a misconception.
Usually, after a divorce settlement or trial, there is a host of housekeeping issues to complete and those are sometimes the most important tasks in the case that need to be taken care of. Failing to address these items can result in problems down the road.
If you have an attorney, they should be going over these issues and providing you a list of what you’re responsible for completing as well as a list of items they are responsible for as your lawyer. The two of you should work together to make sure each item is completed to avoid future complications.
Here are some examples of post-divorce tasks you will need to complete:
Receiving your divorce decree
The most obvious task is making sure you receive your decree.
Not every jurisdiction automatically issues a divorce decree at the time they decide your property distribution or alimony claims. Some jurisdictions require additional paperwork to be filed in order to get an official divorce decree from the court
If a piece of property in the divorce is being transferred, the title needs to be transferred as well.
That means someone is responsible for preparation of the deed. It will need to be signed and filed with the appropriate recording office of the jurisdiction where the property lies.
The same is true of car titles. If someone is awarded a vehicle and that title is not in that person’s name, it needs to be transferred. The parties in the divorce need to go to a notary to take care of that paperwork.
Beneficiaries will likely to be changed on life insurance policies and retirement assets. You will likely want to rewrite any trusts or estates you have set up for your family so that your children, or other relatives, are the beneficiaries of what you’ve worked hard to build.
You’ve likely done a lot of work to protect your assets from your ex-wife throughout the divorce process so it would be a real shame for her to receive a payout from your life insurance policy when you intended for it to go to your kids.
Closing joint accounts
If you and your wife have any outstanding joint accounts open, they will need to be closed immediately after divorce. Ideally, these accounts will be handled during the division of property, but if any remain open they will need to be shut down as soon as possible.
Any personal property such as furniture, furnishings, clothing, etc. will need to be distributed.
There might be provisions in your divorce decree that require these items to be distributed in some fashion. That will need to be taken care of within the period of time set forth in your settlement agreement or court order.
Typically, once you divorce you no longer cover your spouse on your health insurance.
However, if you don’t actually send a copy of your divorce decree to your benefits office, they don’t know you’re divorced and won’t be able to remove your spouse from your health insurance policy. It doesn’t happen automatically.
A qualified domestic relations order (QDRO) is what is used to transfer retirement assets between spouses entered into a divorce.
You might have a settlement agreement or a decision from a judge that says your spouse gets a portion of your pension or 401k plan. If a QDRO is not actually prepared, signed by a judge, filed with the court, and sent to the plan administrator for your retirement asset, then the actual transfer never occurs.
QDROs are one of the most common post-divorce housekeeping items that are not completed. This can be extremely detrimental if you are the spouse receiving the assets.
Following divorce, a lot of people overlook the fact that they need to come up with a new estate plan.
If you don’t have a will, you need to get one. If you have a will, you’ll need to amend it so that your spouse is no longer listed as a beneficiary.
There may also be other estate planning to do based on the fact that you’re now a single individual. It is a good idea to see an estate planning attorney or someone who works with wills so they can properly advise you on how to take care of these issues.
Remember, until all of these housekeeping issues are completed (and possibly a few others), your case is not over. Your attorney should be reminding you of these types of issues. If they don’t and you know there are certain things that need to be addressed, then it is your responsibility to follow up with your lawyer to check on the status of these issues.