For New Yorkers in the midst of divorce litigation, reaching the final agreement regarding property and custodial arrangements is a red-letter day that feels like a finish line. The signed divorce decree does set out how things are to be divided, but the court order doesn’t actually complete the plan. The judge gives marching orders, but the parties must carry them out. In order to fully implement the plan and protect oneself financially, there are a few key steps someone must take before reaching the actual divorce finish line.

The first step for many people is to officially change their names and addresses on their drivers’ licenses, passports and other government documents. Keeping a certified copy of the divorce decree handy will make this process much smoother. A critical next step is canceling all joint accounts and beginning the process of establishing personal credit. Many couples in long marriages have never had a credit account fully in their own name and may otherwise end up with limited credit access. Disinheriting the former spouse through will modifications and reconfiguring any other estate planning documents eliminates the possibility of leaving heirs with a confusing probate headache. Changing beneficiaries is also key unless someone is court-ordered to carry life insurance benefitting his or her former spouse.

Prior to finalization, a post-divorce action plan should be put in place that specifically states when and how the court’s decree will be followed. Divorcing couples typically want the assistance of lawyers and financial planners to assist them with complying with the final decree in order to reach the actual marital finish line. When assets have been managed jointly, assembling a new team for financial advice and estate planning is often part of the equation.

Having a qualified family law attorney who looks past the litigation and plans for enforcement of the judge’s decree is extremely beneficial. With foresight, the transition to post-divorce singlehood can be smooth and efficient.