Post-Divorce Wrap-up

So now you’re divorced. Of course you’re sick of this. This has been incredibly painful, and the last thing you want to do is to spend more time messing with your divorce. But hang in there. You’ll be much better off down the road if you spend a few minutes right now to make sure your order is in order!

Read It

There’s just no substitute for carefully reading your divorce court order, from beginning to end. Ideally, you already did this before the judge signed the order. Even if you did, though, read it again. Don’t rely on the judge, or even your lawyer. You’re the one who’s going to have to live with it, so you need to make sure you understand it thoroughly.

You might want to make a copy of your order and give it to a trusted friend to read. “Fresh eyes” may help spot something you meant to cover but forgot to mention. It may be too late to bring it up now, but the sooner you know about it, the more likely you can deal with it effectively.

Change It If Necessary

Divorced spouses are notorious for keeping the fight going after the judge has signed the divorce court order. As a result, it’s tough to change a divorce court judgment after it’s signed. But there may be some changes you can make:

Appeal It If You Must

Appealing a divorce court judgment is usually a lousy use of your money. Something like 90% of divorce court judgments are sustained on appeal. The nature of divorce court judgments, which tend to include resolution of several issues at once, makes appellate courts reluctant to upset the discretion of the trial court.

Appeals are expensive. You’ll pay several hundred dollars for a trial transcript. You’ll pay for your lawyer to digest the transcript, research the issues, and prepare a brief. You’ll pay your lawyer to evaluate the brief of your spouse’s lawyer and prepare a reply brief. You may pay your lawyer to attend oral argument on your behalf. You may pay for your spouse’s lawyer to do all the same things. Whatever you spent on your trial, figure that much again as a rough guess of the cost of an appeal.

Is that really what you want to do with your money?

If you must appeal, think carefully about which lawyer is the right person to handle it. The nature of the appeal process is that it seldom requires your attorney to spend much time with you, and it may not require the attorney to leave his or her office. Many appeals of domestic court judgements are handled entirely on paper, with no oral argument at all.

So what does this mean? It means there may be no real advantage to finding somebody close to you, or even close to the appellate court. Instead, you may want to find someone who has considerable appellate experience, ideally considerable appellate experience dealing with the issues you expect to be the focus of your appeal.

How do you find such a person? Your first choice, of course, is to ask your attorney. Most attorneys will be honest with you and tell you if they think someone else would be a better choice for handling an appeal. You could also call your local bar association, and it never hurts to ask your friends. Just remember that the skills needed to handle an appeal successfully (excellent writing ability, legal knowledge, familiarity with appellate procedures) are different from those needed in a trial.

Abide By It

One of the mistakes divorced people make most frequently is to forget to do the things their divorce court order requires. For example, your order may provide that one of you is to assign your rights to the house or other real estate to the other by quitclaim deed (or in some other way). Make sure you actually do it.

Did you end up with a QDRO in connection with one of your retirement plans? Make sure you follow through.

Did you agree to pay child support? Make sure you actually pay it to the recipient by check and that you keep your cancelled checks. Never, never, never pay cash for child support.

Does the order require you to close a checking account? To pay off a bill? Do it.

Does the order require that your spouse do something by some date certain, like remove your name from the loan on the house? Set up a reliable tickler system so you’ll remember to check at that time and make sure it was done.

Now, about your children. If you and your spouse are still fighting, I recommend that you devote at least the first couple of months to following the court-ordered schedule exactly without ever asking for a deviation. If your spouse asks for one, be as flexible as possible, but you don’t ask for one for the first couple of months.

Just follow the order. This is a critical time for everyone to get accustomed to your new life as co-parents. Stick to the order. There’ll be plenty of time later to ask for flexibility.

If this has been a cooperative divorce (and remember, most divorces are), you and your spouse may immediately begin deviating from the court-ordered schedule. That’s cool. Just remember that if you start fighting about something, it’s the schedule in the order that’s probably going to get enforced.

By the way, if you’re getting to the point at which you’re finished with your divorce and moving on with your life, it’s time to think about executing a new will.