Many clients are relieved, for a variety of reasons (stress, financially, emotionally), to be done with their divorce, but the entry of a final judgment of divorce is not necessarily the end of the inquiry. Instead, there are often “to do’s” at the conclusion of a divorce and it is critical that you follow through.
All too often, clients are exhausted by the process and do not want to spend more time or money even thinking about their former spouse. Many do not want or cannot afford to pay counsel to continue to represent them, but following up and finalizing all outstanding issues is critical to your long-term success.
- Read and reread your settlement agreement or judgment of divorce to ensure that you have an accurate timeline for any issues that require follow up. Many agreements indicate that certain events are to occur within certain timelines. Are the timelines implemented from the date of signing or the date of divorce? Be certain and create a system to ensure that you and/or your attorney follow up accordingly.
- Change the beneficiary of your retirement assets and other accounts (assets) as permitted by the terms of your agreement or court order. Even if under the terms of a settlement agreement, a former spouse has waived any claims to retirement assets, it is still critical that beneficiary designations are changed immediately. A United States Supreme Court case[i] has held that the waiver itself, without the change of beneficiary designations, is not sufficient to eliminate potential claims against these assets by a former spouse.
- Change your medical proxy/power of attorney.
- Change or create your will[ii].
- Stay off social media. If you cannot resist, at least be careful about what you say.[iii]
- Do not sit on your rights. You likely spent a substantial amount of time and money negotiating the terms of your divorce agreement or agonizing through a trial, so it is critical that you follow through to ensure the terms are completed. One example is the division of retirement accounts. Clients are often reluctant to complete this process as they are exhausted from the underlying divorce. Sometimes clients think that retirement is so far in the future they have time to worry about this, but that may not be true. Follow through. Make sure your retirement assets are divided according to your specific agreement or court order, and do so in a timely manner. There have been cases where litigants were barred from receiving retirement assets because they waited too long to assert their rights to same even though they were entitled to receive same. This is called laches. Laches is the unreasonable delay in pursuing a right or claim in a way that prejudices the other party.
Diana Fredericks, Esq., is a partner with Gebhardt & Kiefer, PC and devotes her practice solely to family law matters. She is a Certified Matrimonial Law Attorney and was named to the NJ Super Lawyers Rising Stars list in the practice of family law by Thomson Reuters in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019, and to the New Leaders of the Bar list by the New Jersey Law Journal in 2015. Contact Ms. Fredericks for a consultation at 908-735-5161 or via email.
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