The ink is finally dry on your divorce decree, after months of trying to reach agreement about the important terms of your divorce, and perhaps a trial. Now everything is done, and you can relax, right? Almost. First, you have to take care of a few more things. Your divorce decree tells you how to divide your property, but it doesn’t magically do it for you. Here are the top five post-judgment property issues in North Dakota and how you can make sure none of them trip you up.
You’re starting a new life, and you might be doing so with a new name (or the name you had before you got married). If you intend to change your last name when you divorce, your divorce decree should clearly state the name by you will be known after your marriage ends. If it does not, you will need to file a separate petition for a name change. This involves a six-month residency requirement and a requirement that you publish notice of your name change.
Once your name is legally changed, you will need to notify relevant agencies and organizations. These include the Social Security Administration, the North Dakota Office of Driver and Vehicle Services, banks, credit card companies, employers, retirement plan administrators, and more.
Speaking of retirement plans, if you or your spouse divided retirement plans in your divorce decree, you need to make sure that the companies responsible for administering those plans divide them up in actuality. This takes more than just a certified copy of your divorce decree. You need to have a Qualified Domestic Relations Order, or QDRO (pronounced “quad-row”). A QDRO is a separate court order that specifies what plans are to be divided and how they are to be divided.
Most retirement plan administrators have very specific requirements for QDROs. You will want to make sure your QDROs you file and get approved by the court comply with these requirements before submitting them to the judge for signature. QDROs should be prepared as soon as possible, even if retirement is decades away. Most divorce attorneys have horror stories about clients who neglected to have QDROs prepared, had them prepared incorrectly, or had them signed but never submitted them to the plan administrator. When they tried to access the retirement fund they thought they were entitled to, they couldn’t—in some cases losing out on hundreds of thousands of dollars.
QDROs are possibly the most confusing aspect of a divorce. Many divorce attorneys do not prepare them, instead referring them out to professionals who focus exclusively on QDRO preparation.
A quitclaim deed is a document that indicates the person granting it is giving up any claim they have to a particular piece of real property. They are common in divorce cases when one spouse is taking the marital home or a piece of vacation property in the divorce. The other spouse relinquishes their claim to the property with a quitclaim deed.
If you are receiving a piece of property in the divorce to which the deed currently bears the name of you and your estranged spouse, make sure that you get a quitclaim deed. If you do not, your ex-spouse may retain a legal interest in the property.
If you are the person giving up your legal right to property, make sure that you not only execute a quitclaim deed, but that your ex-spouse refinances any mortgages on the property and removes you from the mortgage. Otherwise, you could end up with financial obligations on a piece of property you no longer own.
Cars, boats, and other vehicles may change hands in a divorce. As with real property, make certain that if you are giving up the right to a vehicle, your name is also removed from the debt for that vehicle, and that you are no longer paying to insure it. If your ex were to get into an accident in a vehicle to which your name was on the title, you could be sued. Even if you were ultimately found not to have liability, it is much better not to go through the process at all.
Likewise, if you are getting a vehicle in the divorce, make sure your ex signs over the title to you, so that he or she will have no legal claim on the vehicle.
Last but not least, don’t forget the logistics of exchanging personal property. If possible, do as much of this as you can between the time you reach agreement on division of property and the finalization of the divorce. You don’t want to have to go back to court and spend thousands of dollars to try to get your ex to give back your baseball card collection or the silver service that was a wedding gift from your late grandmother.
If you don’t want to be in the house when your ex comes to pick up his or her stuff, or don’t want them present when you go to collect yours, see if a friend whom both of you trust is available to be there. Having a trusted third party present can assure the person whose home it is that nothing is being taken that shouldn’t be, and also provide assistance to the person picking up their property.
Post-judgment property issues in North Dakota can be stressful and confusing. If you have more questions about post-judgment property matters, we invite you to contact Fremstad Law to set up a consultation with an experienced North Dakota divorce attorney.
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