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My Divorce Was Just Finalized. What’s Next?

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By Amy Silberstein, Divorce and Family Law Attorney

You just received your Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage. What now? Before you throw it in a filing cabinet never to be looked at again, it’s important to prepare a few additional things first. Although negotiations have ended and you and your ex-spouse have (hopefully) amicably parted ways, there may be additional outstanding obligations detailed in your Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA) that still need to be completed. Your MSA will also often include specific timelines for the completion of each remaining step.

To help avoid confusion down the road—as well as any future lawsuits for not following through with an obligation—we suggest making sure all outstanding items are taken care of within any timelines detailed in your Judgment and MSA. When you work with any of the attorneys at Stern Perkoski Mendez, we partner with you to ensure you fully understand the ramifications of your Judgment and MSA.

What do I do after divorce?

Specific items that may still be outstanding following the finalization of your divorce include, but are not limited to:

  1. Division of Bank Accounts
    Your MSA will detail how bank accounts are to be divided, including both the account itself and any balances remaining.

    • If you had a joint account, the person who is keeping the account will have to help facilitate the removal of the other person’s name from the account.
    • If any account balances are to be divided or equalized, you and your ex-spouse will have to work together to remove any necessary funds from the account or accounts.
    • If a joint account needs to be closed, you and your ex-spouse will have to work together to close that account.
  2. Division of Retirement Accounts or Assets
    Your MSA will also detail how retirement accounts and assets are to be divided. If a qualified order is necessary to divide the account or asset, make sure to double-check your MSA. A qualified order is a special court order that grants you the right to a portion of your former spouse’s retirement benefits. You’ll want to confirm whether an outside attorney has been appointed to draft the qualified order, how the costs are to be split, and if there is a timeframe in which the outside attorney must be contacted.
  3. Division of Investment or Brokerage Accounts
    If investment or brokerage accounts are being divided, your MSA will detail how that should happen. Depending on the account, the account holder may need a letter of direction to transfer funds into a similar account in the name of the other person. If this is the case, we can help draft the letter.
  4. Allocation or Sale of the Marital Home
    If you and your ex-spouse owned a home during your marriage, your MSA should also detail how the house is to be divided—for example, if one person is keeping the house, or the terms of a sale and the division of the proceeds if the house is being sold.

    • If one person is keeping the house and the house was jointly titled, a quit claim deed will have to be executed to transfer the home from being jointly owned to being individually owned.
    • If there is a mortgage on the house under both parties’ names and one person is keeping the house, the mortgage will have to be refinanced to be in the one individual’s name. There will also likely be terms detailing how the party retaining the house is buying out the other’s interest.
    • If the house is being sold, the MSA will detail the arrangements surrounding the sale, including how a real estate broker is to be selected and how the proceeds from the sale of the house are to be split.

    The MSA should also detail how certain household expenses, including the mortgage, utilities and any repairs, are to be paid before the house is sold—so be sure to follow that plan for payment of expenses.

  5. Allocation of Child Savings Accounts
    If you and your spouse maintained any child savings account(s) during your marriage, including 529 accounts, your MSA likely details how those accounts are to be divided.

    • If an account is staying intact as marital property?, it is important to make sure that—if there are specific rules detailing how the account should be maintained—you and your former spouse follow these rules.
    • Specific rules often include ceasing contributing to the account following the date of divorce or, alternatively, detailing how much each parent is to contribute on a monthly or annual basis.
    • If, as of the date of divorce, the rule is that the parents should stop contributing to the marital account(s) and instead open their own account(s) for the benefit of a child or children, it is important to actually stop contributing to any marital accounts.

    If you wish to continue saving for your child’s future, you can create your own account or accounts for the benefit of your child.

  6. Name Changes
    Your Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage will give one or both of you the option to resume use of a prior name, if applicable. If you wish to do this, please make sure to take the additional step to get your Judgment certified after it has been entered.

    There are also certain rules surrounding the timing of changing your name, so be sure to look into those rules. It is usually easier to change your name closer to the date of divorce than further down the road, so we recommend doing it as soon as possible.

  7. Vehicle Title
    If a vehicle is jointly titled during the marriage, or if the person whose name is not on the title is keeping the vehicle, you should also make sure the vehicle title is signed over to the individual keeping the vehicle. Along the same lines, the person keeping the vehicle should also make sure they have their own car insurance. The MSA should also provide these details and a certain timeframe for the transfer of the vehicle title.
  8. Changes to Health Insurance
    If both you and your ex-spouse are on the same health insurance policy prior to the finalization of your divorce, the individual not staying on the policy will have to make sure they obtain their own health insurance. If that person is electing to have a temporary COBRA policy through the other’s employer or a different means of obtaining COBRA, you and your ex-spouse will have to work together to get COBRA set up. A divorce is considered a qualifying event, so a divorced couple cannot stay on the same health insurance policy.
  9. Life Insurance
    Your MSA will additionally detail if either or both individuals have an obligation to obtain a life insurance policy. If you do not currently have a life insurance policy and are only getting one after your divorce is final, we recommend considering the duration of time that you will need the policy to make sure it is as cost-effective and affordable as possible. Some policies increase their monthly premium rates after a certain number of years, so keep that in mind when selecting a policy.

The above list covers just some of the obligations that may be outstanding after a divorce is finalized, and it includes some of the obligations that typically have to be completed in the weeks or months following the divorce. It does not include every possible scenario that may be outstanding following a divorce, nor does it include obligations that may come up years later.

I always recommend reading your settlement agreement very carefully prior to signing it, and then again following its entry to be sure you are aware of what obligations are still outstanding and when they need to be completed.

Contact Our Family Law Firm in Evanston, Chicago and Lake Forest

Dissolving a marriage—and then tying up all the loose ends after your divorce is finalized—can be challenging and overwhelming. At Stern Perkoski Mendez, we’re here to support you during every step of the process.

Request a free consultation or call us at (847) 868-9584. We will happily meet with you in our offices in Evanston, Chicago and Lake Forest, or at another location.

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For a free consultation, call Stern Perkoski Mendez at (847) 868-9584 or contact us.