Few experiences in life are as emotionally challenging as divorce. It is not surprising that clients may focus on the issuance of the Divorce Decree as the end of a very painful chapter in their lives. After all, as of the signing of the Divorce Decree, the parties are divorced, and the work is over. Unfortunately, in most cases, there is still important work to be accomplished even after the judge signs the Divorce Decree. Family law clients will have an easier time accepting this reality if they know in advance that the Divorce Decree is not the last step in their case.
There are many important matters that may remain outstanding when a Divorce Decree is issued, and some of the key factors are discussed here. Most divorce clients resolve the division of their assets by entering into a settlement agreement, or a judge issues an order resolving all claims related to the marriage. Those assets are then typically divided after the Divorce Decree is issued. Bank accounts are divided and closed. If there are retirement accounts to be transferred, there are very specific and time consuming rules to follow to transfer the retirement assets from one spouse or ex-spouse to the other. The retirement assets can take many months to divide which is understandably frustrating for clients. Mortgages on real estate may have to be refinanced and deeds transferred. While these procedures can be time consuming and frustrating to complete, clearly, they are critical to the future financial well-being of the parties involved, so perseverance and patience will pay off in the long run.
After those issues relating to marital property, claims and assets are resolved, there are still some items that we suggest clients accomplish after the Divorce Decree to ensure that they have all the legal documentation completed to address their needs post-divorce. A spouse may want to retake her maiden name. Also, we suggest that Wills and Powers of Attorney be updated so that the ex-spouse is no longer included in the Will or has Power of Attorney. Beneficiary designations should be updated for life insurance policies, retirement accounts and other assets as well. These are merely some of the items that may have to be accomplished post-Divorce Decree.
In order to have realistic expectations of the divorce process, it is important to understand from the start that everything is not finished when the judge signs the Divorce Decree. There is usually more work to be accomplished before the case is completed.