By Nathan A. Hacker
So you just received the divorce decree from the court. Now what do you do? The obvious answer is read it.
After you have read the decree, ask yourself the following questions:
- Did the judge get it right?
- What remedies do I have?
- Are they worth pursuing financially?
- What does my Last Will and Testament say?
- What do my insurance policies say?
- What else do I need to do under this order?
While I don’t make it a practice to say that judges get things wrong, occasionally there is a different way of looking at the facts that would more closely resemble the intent of your state’s legislature when it comes to the division of assets or child custody.
Just because the judge put it on paper and signed it doesn’t mean that it was done as well as possible.
You do not have to agree with the ruling, but you will have to follow it as best as you can for the time being. Consulting your divorce attorney after you receive the divorce decree is as important as consulting before the decree. You in all likelihood will have to abide by the vast majority of the decree for the rest of your life.
Therefore, you should have a thorough understanding of the terms of your decree and what you are or are not required to do. More than half of my clients come to me post-decree because of a misunderstanding of the terms or requirements.
Depending on your jurisdiction, your remedies may vary. For example, if you are in Indiana and have a mediated divorce settlement approved by the judge, your ability to appeal is severely limited.
However, if you went through a final hearing you can appeal any decision the judge made as a matter of right. That having been said, you should consult your attorney on the issues you think warrant an appeal and do not wait to do so.
In an effort to provide closure at the end of your case, there are time limits on when most post judgment relief can be sought. If you wait 28 days to talk to your lawyer about an appeal and the deadline is Day 30, it is unlikely that your attorney will be willing to take up the issue, as there is not sufficient time to prepare the paperwork and get it filed with the appropriate courts.
If an attorney is willing, expect your delay to cost you significantly in your retainer, as there will be a lot of work to be done in a very short amount of time. It is far cheaper and less stressful to consult your divorce lawyer on the day you receive the decree than to wait.
Additional remedies besides the appeal can be motions to correct error, motions for clarification, motions for relief from judgment, and motions to reconsider. Like appeals, the rules and procedures for filing these motions will vary by jurisdiction so please talk to your lawyer.
Read Related Article:
Should You Appeal?
Various issues may not be financially worth appealing.
Keep this example in mind when considering the possibility of fighting for the correction:
Bob is ordered to pay child support in the amount of $210 per week for his two children. The evidence clearly supported a child support payment of $185 per week, but the judge made an error.
One of his children will be emancipated as a matter of law in two years and his child support should drop from $210 to around $120. The other child will not be emancipated for another five years after that date.
Under the current order Bob will pay $21,840 over the next two years. If the court had made the correct calculation, Bob would have paid $19,240, which is a difference of $2,600 over the course of two years.
Depending on the complexity of the issue and the costs of transcripts, an appeal could easily run to that total or higher with the costs of appellate briefs. Other remedies may be less expensive but that goes back to the point of how hard do you want to fight over a financial claim of error. Divorce lawyers usually recommend taking the emotion out of the equation and look at it from a bottom-line viewpoint.
Now, if the court makes a mistake when it comes to a child custody decision where you are receiving less parenting time than you deserve, then spare no expense and fight the ruling.