7 Steps to Take After A Final Divorce Decree
November 6th, 2023
Your court case may end when a final divorce decree is entered, but that’s not the end of the divorce process. There are practical and emotional concerns, many of which cannot be addressed until after the Absolute Judgment of Divorce is entered. Although there may be others specific to your case, here are 7 steps you should consider taking after the judge declares you are no longer husband or wife.
When is a Divorce Final?
No matter how long you and your spouse have been separated, you are legally married until a Maryland family court judge signs a Judgment of Absolute Divorce. At that point, your divorce is final, the court case may be over, and you are officially single. This may leave you wondering, what happens next? The truth is that, often, the days immediately following the entry of a final divorce decree are some of the busiest in the divorce process.
What to Do After a Divorce is Final
1. Make Space for Strong Feelings After Receiving a Final Decree of Divorce
The entry of a final decree of divorce signals the end of an era. That can cause a variety of intense feelings. You may grieve your lost relationship or lifestyle. You may celebrate the end of a long and painful process. You should be prepared to take time by yourself to feel those strong feelings, whatever they are, and lean on your support system for help if need be.
2. Talk to Your Children About the Future After the Finalized Divorce
Depending on the age of your children, and the discussions you and your ex-spouse have had with your kids along the way, they may or may not have a clear understanding of what divorce means for them or your household. Remind your children that you are still a family, that you love them, and that it is okay for them to love your ex-spouse too. You should invite them to express their opinions and feelings about what is happening and be prepared to listen to what the children have to say. Help the children understand their visitation schedule and what will happen after your divorce is final from their perspective.
3. Separate Personal Property and Titles
Many couples will have already sorted their personal property and sentimental items prior to the divorce. However, you may still need to take possession of items in your ex-spouse’s control. It is wise to plan a “moving day” in advance, giving your spouse plenty of warning. Depending on the level of conflict in your relationship, you may want to bring a friend or arrange a civil standby with the police. Bring a list of items, take only those items that have been agreed upon or court-ordered (if post-divorce), and leave as quickly as you can.
You may also need to sign over titles to vehicles, boats, and other jointly held items. Be sure to get your spouse’s signatures on all those documents before heading to the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) to register the vehicles.
If your final divorce decree awards either spouse a share of the other spouse’s retirement accounts or pension, you may also need to have an attorney prepare a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) or Eligible Domestic Relations Order (EDRO) to control the division of these assets. They are often prepared and entered after the finalized divorce. Ask your attorney if you need one at your wrap-up meeting and be sure it is entered promptly, so you don’t forget.
4. Ensure Financial Security
Your final divorce decree will divide jointly titled assets you and your spouse have, including your home, bank accounts, and debts. However, Maryland law says that creditors have a contractual right to pursue collections from anyone whose name is on an account. For your own financial security, after you’ve finalized your divorce, you should:
- Open separate bank and credit accounts in your name only
- Change pins and passwords on any account you had during the marriage
- Transfer funds and credit balances into solely held accounts
- Close joint accounts entirely, consistent with the agreed upon or court-ordered terms
- Monitor your credit report for unpaid debts by your ex-spouse
- Update the beneficiary designations on your retirement accounts and investments
These steps will help ensure that your ex-spouse cannot affect your financial affairs after the divorce is over.
If you are awarded real property in the divorce, you may only have a short amount of time to refinance the property and remove your spouse’s name from any shared mortgages. Be sure to start getting quotes for new financing right away, so you have enough time to complete the process.
5. Only Share Final Divorce Documents to the Right People (It’s Not Many)
There is no need or reason to share your divorce documents with friends or family members. However, some professionals should be informed once the divorce is over:
- Your children’s school may need to know the children’s access schedule and how to support your children with counseling after the divorce
- You may need to register part of your final divorce documents with the state (often through a separate quit claim deed) to transfer real property between spouses
- Your bank may need to know to remove your spouse’s access to accounts
- Insurance companies should be informed that the marriage is over and may request proof to remove coverage of your spouse
- Your financial advisor should know that the divorce is final, and details about the property distribution related to retirement accounts and financial assets
- You should share your divorce decree with an estate planning attorney to update your will and other estate planning documents
It is a good idea to get several certified copies of your final divorce decree while you are at the courthouse for your final hearing or have your attorney order them on your behalf. That way you can share the relevant documents with the appropriate professionals to help set you up for success moving forward.
6. Set Good Boundaries With Co-Parents After Divorce
If you have children in common with your ex-spouse, you will still need to see and communicate with your co-parent after your divorce is final. The way you communicate in the days just after the divorce is entered can establish a pattern for your behavior going forward. Commit to creating a positive co-parenting relationship by establishing good boundaries for yourself and respecting your co-parent as a person. Avoid rehashing the divorce after it is over and focus on the future from your children’s perspective. If you can get in the habit of healthy co-parenting early, it will make it easier to resolve disputes and stay out of court later on.
7. Get a Name Change Using Your Final Divorce Decree, if You Want
In Maryland, any person may undo a name change that was performed as a result of the marriage as part of the divorce process. If you choose to do so, you will need to file paperwork with several government agencies to formally change your name. Some agencies have short windows for these filings, so ask your attorney to help you gather the necessary information and paperwork as soon as your divorce is final.
At the Law Office of Shelly M. Ingram, our divorce attorneys know how important it is for our clients to follow through after the Maryland divorce process is over. We’ll guide you through who to notify and what needs to be done to make sure your financial future is protected, and you receive everything you were awarded in your final divorce decree. Contact us today or call (301) 658-7354 to schedule a consultation with an attorney.