When your Judgment of Dissolution (which used to be called a divorce decree) is final, signed by a judge, and entered into the record, people often think that everything is done.
Often this is not the case.
Often there are things that need to be done after the divorce.
One thing that can be overlooked is the division of retirement assets like 401Ks, IRAs, and pensions.
These assets often need to be divided by a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO).
The QDRO is often drafted by a lawyer who focuses his or her practice on QDROs. Often the QDRO is not drafted by the lawyers who represented you or your spouse in the divorce. Nonetheless, this QDRO needs to be drafted and put into place, and the retirement asset(s) need to be divided.
If this is not completed, the issue can come back to bite you years or even decades later.
It can be very difficult to find the information needed to resolve these issues properly after the passage of time. It can even sometimes be impossible to get this information. Getting the information and drafting the QDRO can cost a very great deal more years later than it would have cost if completed at the time. Your retirement plan itself may even be derailed, with what you thought you had saved for your own retirement being involuntarily shared with a former spouse long after it is too late for you to take steps to protect your retirement, or to ensure that your net retirement income after the QDRO will be what you expected before the issue of the QDRO was raised.
Other things that may need to be done after a divorce can include the sale or transfer of assets such as a car or a house.
It is crucial that the divorce judgment specify exactly when an asset is to be sold or transferred. If this is not done, it can be very difficult, and sometimes impossible, to later enforce the judgment. This means that you may not get the assets you expect, or it may mean that you are not removed from a mortgage, or that you are otherwise negatively impacted - and it may mean that there is very little that you can do about it at that point.
It is also crucial to set out in the divorce judgment how things will be handled if things do not go as planned in the divorce. For example, even if a refinance is expected to remove one spouse from the mortgage, there needs to be a provision in the judgment requiring the sale of the home if the home is not refinanced by the other spouse within a certain period.
Some of these issues can be taken care of in advance, by actually incorporating VIN numbers of cars or legal descriptions of real estate into the Judgment of Dissolution. Even when this is done properly, however, it can be very helpful to actually get a new deed and to record that new deed, or by having the other spouse sign off on a title, or the like.
In short, just because you have in your hand a signed and recorded Judgment of Dissolution, you may not be done. Failing to take care of the things that remain to be done after the divorce itself is finished can cause significant problems at some point in the future.
Steven A. Heinrich
Divorce & Custody
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