Sometimes, getting to the final step in a process doesn't mean the work is over. For example, sending out your resume, interviewing and accepting a job offer doesn't mean your journey is over. A divorce is no different.
After you finally get a final a divorce order or decree, you still have work to do, like making sure the decree is followed, changing the decree when necessary and moving on with your new single life.
Read the Divorce Decree
Although you've probably read the divorce decree several times, it's important to read the judge's final order to make sure you understand the contents and to ensure there are no mistakes.
As you read through the decree, make a list of things you have to do (things ordered by the court) and the deadlines for completing them.
You'll also want to be on the lookout for mistakes in the decree. In particular, look for typos and items that are unenforceable because the details are incorrect. Your attorney should easily be able to get these mistakes corrected.
Changing the Divorce Decree
It may be more difficult to change the substantial pieces of the divorce decree, particularly if your former spouse objects to the changes.
It's not impossible, though. You may be able to argue that the decree should be modified, for example, if you were under duress, meaning you were forced or threatened, when you agreed to something in the decree, like child custody or alimony. Your lawyer can file a motion for a new hearing with the original judge. In most states, you'll have to request this hearing within 30 days of the final divorce order.
Even when you and your ex-spouse agree to modify the divorce decree, your lawyers will have to file a request with the courts to modify the order. To be enforceable, a judge will have to approve the changes. Usually there is no time limit to file such a request.
Appeals: Asking a Court to Look at the Case Again
You can also appeal a final divorce degree if you think the original judge made a legal error during your divorce action. An appeal is a request that a higher court review the original case to see if errors were made. You can't introduce new evidence at an appeal.
There are two possible outcomes of an appeal:
- The court agrees a mistake was made - the case may be remanded, meaning it's is sent back to the original divorce court with specific instructions about the mistakes that must be corrected
- The court denies the appeal - the original decree is "affirmed," meaning it stands "as is" with no changes
Appeals are Rare
Courts rarely grant appeals in divorce cases because it's presumed that the divorce or family court judge, who's an expert in divorce matters, got the case right. Also, your appeal won't be granted unless you can point to a specific legal mistake that was made during the divorce action. This isn't always easy to do.
You can't appeal simply because you're upset with the outcome of your case.
Appeals are Costly, Too
Because appeals are expensive and can take months or years to resolve, you should think carefully about whether it's worth the emotional and financial investment to appeal. On an appeal, you'll have to pay:
- Additional lawyers' fees
- Court fees to file the appeal
- The cost of providing a trial transcript to the appeals court
- Your former spouse's appeals fees, too, if the appeals court feels that your appeal was frivolous
Obey the Divorce Order
Assuming you're satisfied with the divorce order, and see no reason to appeal, it's then important to follow through on the actions required by your divorce order. These may include:
- Paying child support
- Transferring complete ownership of assets (such as a house or a car) to your former spouse
- Transferring interest in a retirement plan to your former spouse
- Making loan or bill payments
In many cases, there will be a deadline to perform these actions. Don't "put them off until tomorrow." Make sure to allow sufficient time to complete each responsibility.
Life as a Single Person
Now that you're single, it's important to review legal and financial documents unrelated to your marriage. In many cases, you may need to update records to reflect the fact that you're now single. For example, you'll want to draft a new will. It's also important to check your credit report to make sure that it correctly reflects the status of any loans and credit accounts that were jointly held with your former spouse.
Your divorce probably wasn't fast or easy, but you've made it through. Now it's time to make sure your post-divorce life goes as smoothly as possible.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Do I need a special lawyer to handle my appeal in my divorce, or can the same lawyer I had for the divorce handle the appeal? Can I represent myself on appeal?
- How do I get copies of the final divorce decree and court order?
- What can I do if my ex-spouse isn't living up to our final divorce decree?