A service of Cordell & Cordell, P.C.

Finally getting to the end of a divorce proceeding can be overwhelming. The emotional and mental toll that divorce takes on an individual can distract you from making sure you clearly understand what is expected post-divorce.

Your attorney should explain the final decree in detail to make sure you completely understand what is expected of you as you move on with your life and what you need to watch for in the future. This will ensure that you can enforce the decree’s provisions down the line. Laws vary from state to state, so make sure to consult with a local family law attorney to understand the laws in your jurisdiction.

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Here are the top 5 things you should know about your divorce decree as it relates to child custody and support payments:

1. Custody

If you and your ex-spouse have children together, you need to understand the custody situation laid out in your decree. There are two types of custody you need to know — legal custody and physical custody — and these terms are often mixed up. Physical custody deals with when and how often your children are in your physical care and when they are with your ex-spouse. Legal custody deals with who should make the major decisions for your children (i.e. education, medical, etc.).

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For physical custody and legal custody, there are varying arrangements. You could be awarded sole, joint or split custody. Each presents different circumstances, which you need to know. The kind of custody you have will dictate how much your child support will be, what decisions you get to make for your children and what additional expenses you may need to pay, among other issues. You should know what your custody situation will mean to you over the long-term and under what conditions custody can be modified.

2. Parent-time

This is where the rubber hits the road as it relates to your custody award, as your parent-time schedule dictates when you get to see your children. You should know exactly when and where you will be picking up your children or dropping them off for exchanges. You should know what holidays you will get your children and how long you will be able to have them during the summer. Many individuals find it easy to maintain a joint Google calendar to manage the parent-time schedule. There are also commercial programs available to assist with keeping track of your calendar, many of which include additional features designed to simplify accounting for support and reimbursements.

3. Child support and alimony

First of all, you need to know how much you have been ordered to pay in child support and alimony. Just as important, however, you will need to know how you will pay your child support and alimony. Many find it easiest to use the government agency in their jurisdiction to facilitate the collection and tracking of support payments. But if you choose to pay support yourself, always use a check or automatic transfer through your bank so there is a receipt of your transactions — never pay in cash. Also, be sure to label your payments, including the month and type of support.

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4. Child reimbursements

Many jurisdictions have statutory language dictating a procedure for the reimbursement of child-care expenses, medical premiums, medical expenses, extracurricular expenses, etc. You should know what your decree states as it relates to these reimbursements, and the process by which you can request a reimbursement or must reimburse your ex-spouse. Some jurisdictions provide a finite amount of time in which you can request a reimbursement. Other jurisdictions will only provide for a reimbursement of a certain percentage of the expense. Check with your attorney to get jurisdiction-specific information about your decree.

5. Dependent exemptions

This is a big issue when tax season comes around. You should know how your decree divides your children’s dependent exemptions between you and your spouse. Many times, you are able to claim your children on your taxes in alternating years. Sometimes, your children are evenly divided for tax purposes. If you are claiming your children on your taxes, but they live a majority of time with your spouse, you will need to get a signed release from your spouse in order to claim your children for tax purposes. Make sure you know what your decree says about claiming your children as dependents for tax purposes to avoid conflict at tax season.

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