You've made it through to the other side. Both you and your spouse signed the settlement agreement -- it's got those fancy notary stamps, and every page of every copy was properly initialed. The judge signed the final order or judgment, and the county clerk stamped it. Everything's official.
That darn agreement took months, maybe years, to negotiate and finalize. The court papers? They followed what feels like a lifetime of anguish. Yet, after all that, you're not completely sure you know what you need to do next. The agreement is longer than The Bible, and full of legal gibberish. The court papers have the same problem.
You think of asking your lawyer to distill everything to its comprehensible essence, except you don't want to prolong that relationship or add to the already ridiculously high legal fees, right?
I can't say I blame you.
But after enduring and surviving the nightmare (see my recent blog post, "Divorce Warrior Survival Tips," also published on HuffPost), you do not want to run the risk of violating what cost so much money, so much heartache, and so much energy to finalize. Your head might reeling, but it's still on your neck. So let's keep it there, okay?
Here are ways to sort through the mess, before you heave those nasty papers into your bottom drawer:
- Enter the days and times in your computer/phone calendar as far out as you can.
- If you're not a techie, buy a five-year planner and manually enter the dates.
- The dates should include all "notify by" dates.
- Try color-coding your time versus your spouse's/partner's.
- Include important school and camp dates as soon as they're available (e.g., teacher conferences, plays, due dates for forms, parent events, etc.).
- List every form that still needs to be exchanged, now or in the future. Those could include medical information forms, educational and camp forms, passports, changes of address, insurance, and estate documents.
- List all necessary addresses, telephone numbers and email contacts. Those may include third parties like doctors, therapists, court officials, accountants, real estate brokers, and financial institutions.
- Use your calendar to enter when and what remains to be done. This could include dividing your bank accounts, notifying the human resources department about your pension and insurance information, advising account representatives to change the name on your accounts, working with your real estate broker to list your home, moving your personal property to the agreed-upon location, signing tax returns and tax refund checks, placing orders to exercise stock options, and paying or receiving funds.
- Calendar/list the amount of spousal support to be paid, specifying the starting and ending dates. Same for child support. Same for tuition, extra-curriculars and camp.
- Note the percentages to be paid or received for medical, dental and professional fees.
*You may be unhappy with the award or agreement -- in fact, it could infuriate you -- but until it's changed by court order or agreement, it is binding.
The above is by no means comprehensive, but I hope it provides useful ideas for regaining control over your life.
Your agreement or decree is complicated -- I confess that most of mine have been guilty of both complexity and length. Lawyers on both sides of your case probably insisted on language, or litigated issues, that may still seem ridiculous to you; indeed, they may have been, although only those in the trenches of your case can opine on that.
But you're done now. Really, you are. Don't go back if you can help it. Your sanity -- what's left of it -- depends on it, along with your remaining minuscule funds, and the two or three people who are still speaking to you. If your ex forces your case back to the lawyers and the courts, at least you'll have a better handle on the results of Round One...
If all this is too overwhelming, you may well need to hold your nose and yank out your checkbook (again), to ask your lawyer or other professional for help in organizing the life ahead of you.
And then? Breathe, and live.