Written by Associate Attorney Sarah M. Luetto
Okay. So you’ve filed for divorce, exchanged financial disclosures, and figured out the basic terms you and your spouse have agreed upon. What comes next? The divorce decree! The divorce decree is a written document that details the terms that you and your spouse have agreed upon.
Once your divorce is finalized, the decree will be a Court Order regarding everything from who gets what, to where your kids are supposed to be on Tuesday nights, to who chooses which dentist to take your kids to. The topics included in your decree will depend upon the issues that each of you raised during your divorce. Common topics include:
- Child Custody: If you have children together, this part of your decree will create a framework for your family’s lives going forward. It’s important to think carefully about these terms, because a judge will not want to disrupt them unless there has been a significant change in circumstances. Custody is usually broken down into two sections:
- Physical Custody: This section covers issues such as your day-to-day and holiday parenting schedules, and who is responsible for picking up the kids from school on a given afternoon. Carefully spelling out the details of your custody agreement will help prevent future arguments and confusion.
- Legal Custody: This section covers issues such as whether or not you will have joint legal custody of your children. This means figuring out if you will have shared decision-making regarding issues impacting your child’s health and education, or if just one of you will be making these decisions.
- Child Support: Monthly child support payment amounts are established here. Additionally, a bonus income percentage is paid as well. Allocation for expenses related to medical bills, extracurricular activities, and educational materials for your children are also included here.
- Spousal Support: Monthly spousal support payment amounts and their duration are established here. As with the child support calculation, an additional amount taken from income percentage is added to this amount as well.
Helpful tip! Consider including a “findings” section in your decree where you document your respective income levels at the time of drafting it. This will make any necessary future modifications much easier.
- Division of Property: All of your personal property, bank accounts, IRA’s, brokerage accounts, homes, cars, furniture etc. go in the property section of your decree. While your French bulldog might feel like a child to you, pets belong in the property section. It is important to clearly identify your assets in case either of you need to enforce the terms of your agreement at a later date. Be sure to list the legal descriptions for any property, and include identifying information for financial accounts (i.e. the last 4 digits of account numbers).
- Division of Debts: Whoever is responsible for any debts (i.e. credit cards, mortgages, loans, or tax debt) should be clearly listed in your decree. While your decree won’t be binding on third-party creditors, you can include indemnification language to ensure that your ex’s American Express debt remains their problem.
- Reimbursement Claims and Credits: Did one of you pay off a community debt after you separated using post-separation earnings? You and your spouse may agree to reimburse each other for certain expenditures during marriage and after separation. These types of items will go here.
- Name Change: If you or your spouse want to go back to your maiden names, include this in your Judgment.
- Attorney’s Fees and Costs: If one or both of you used an attorney, you will likely include a section about who is paying for their fees.
Overall, it is important to carefully review your divorce decree and make sure it is complete and accurate. Once you and your spouse have reviewed and signed off on the decree, it will be submitted to the court for review and signature by a judge.
Sarah M. Luetto, Esq. is an Associate Attorney @ Hersh Mannis LLP. Ms. Luetto is engaged in a wide range of Family Law matters, including both high-conflict cases involving contentious litigation, and cases involving solutions focused, negotiated settlements.
In 2018, Ms. Luetto was named among The Los Angeles Business Journal’s 2018 Rising Stars for her significant contribution to the area of Family Law. Each year, The Los Angeles Business Journal profiles younger attorneys who are influencing or setting new standards in the legal field and selected Ms. Luetto for accomplishments, leadership in her community, and pro-bono work through the Harriet Buhai Center of Los Angeles.
Ms. Luetto received her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science at the University of California Los Angeles (where she was also a graduate of the College Honors program), and received a juris doctorate from the University of Southern California, Gould School of Law.