Your divorce decree is final. Take a deep breath. Walk outside. Feel the sun on your skin and the breeze in your hair. Listen to the passing cars and the wind.
The hard part is over. Now you can start rebuilding your life. Divorce is never the end. It’s the beginning of something better.
There is still a little work remaining. With most of the work complete, there are a few remaining housekeeping items. Small things, although some of them may merit the assistance of your divorce attorney or estate lawyer. It’s time to push through the final items on your post-divorce checklist.
Getting these seemingly small things out of the way can prevent enormous headaches later. Women, in particular, can deal with paperwork issues for years because of name changes. Get everything done now, so you don’t have to keep revisiting the same issue. Plus, if you wait years, your divorce attorney will no longer have the details of your case fresh in his or her mind if they need to help you with anything.
You should read, and re-read your divorce decree. Highlight any to-do’s. Make a list of the items you must do, and that your spouse must do. You must complete most of these items within 30 days. If you have any questions, a quick call to your divorce lawyer can clear them up.
It is important to read and possibly highlight your divorce order. (If you don’t like the idea of notating your decree, make a copy and write on that one.) Confirm all the details with a thorough reading. Some of them will be what you and your ex-spouse agreed on. Others will be the judge’s orders.
Mark all your to-dos on your calendar or figure out your timetable for completing everything within the 30-day window. The quicker you get it done, the faster it will be over.
Did you request your name to be changed back to your maiden name? If so, you will need to change your name with the Social Security Office first. You shouldn’t need your divorce lawyer for most of this.
This is the starting spot. Check the following list of places to make sure your name is correct with all of them.
If you are changing your name back to your maiden name, then your birth certificate doesn’t need to be changed. You should still get a certified copy of your birth certificate in case an organization wants to see it. Most states have an office of vital statistics where you can order a certified birth certificate.
The Social Security Office requires a certified copy of the decree and identification. You can use your current passport or driver’s license for ID. The divorce decree must show you changed your name back to your maiden name.
Your divorce lawyer can order a certified decree.
After you finish getting all your legal documents and identification in order, you need a new financial plan. Your post-divorce finances will look different from your pre-divorce finances, sometimes drastically so. Whether you handled the family finances before or you let your spouse take care of it, now is the time to take everything in hand and prepare for the future.
First, you will need an accurate analysis of your financial situation. Find all your bank and credit card statements from the past year and look at what you spent money on. Put it into categories like children, groceries, entertainment, etc. Use this data to get a bird’s eye view of your usual spending habits.
Next, look at what has changed. What are you currently paying for housing, insurance, and groceries? Are you going to be paying child support or alimony? Will you receive any child support or alimony? Combined with the above categories, can you afford this on your sole income?
First, if you’re paying child support or alimony, you will have to consider those in your new expenses. Alimony doesn’t last forever, and child support will end when your children reach adulthood. Match your current spending plus these new considerations with your current income.
If you will receive child support/alimony, it would be wise to calculate a few scenarios. The unfortunate reality is that out of the 6.5 million custodial single parents who are owed child support, only 45.6% received all of the child support money. If something happens and you stop receiving all or any child support from your ex, you still need to keep the finances afloat.
Look at your spending versus income including child support and alimony. Then see what would happen if your ex-spouse stopped paying. Hopefully, you will never need a plan for that scenario, but having a plan in place can help ease the stress if it does occur.
Most times you should close any joint accounts and open a new account in your name.
For your checking account order make the first check “800” rather than “1.” That way it won’t be so apparent that it’s a brand-new account.
Open a credit card in your name alone and use it to make a small credit purchase. This will start building your credit score. Buy yourself lunch or take yourself shopping.
Update online accounts like Paypal, Apple Pay, or E-trade. If you already had separate bank accounts, then confirm your spouse isn’t either a signer or a beneficiary. Also, change your name with the bank.
Did you and your spouse divide your IRA’s or 401(k)’s? Contact the broker and start their process.
Most brokers require that you set-up an account before they will transfer the money according to the divorce decree. A 401(k) or pension will need a QDRO (Qualified Domestic Retirement Order) to make the transfer.
A QDRO is not something you can do yourself. Your divorce attorney or a QDRO specialist will need to draft the QDRO. The pension administrator must approve the wording. After that, they file it with the court.
One step often overlooked is the beneficiary. Make sure any retirement plan reflects the proper beneficiary.
You will also need to reevaluate your retirement goals to make sure you are on track to retire as planned. Without your spouse’s income to contribute to those retirement accounts, you may need to adjust your spending or start working on a career change to a more lucrative field.
If your divorce decree calls for a quitclaim deed or transfer of a car title, you should start getting these documents ready.
A quitclaim deed transfers the interest in a property. Your divorce lawyer can draft this document for you and your spouse to sign.
Keep in mind that a quitclaim deed does not transfer the mortgage, only ownership of the property. A mortgage is the debt portion. Taking names off a mortgage is not a standard practice. Most mortgage companies require that you re-qualify or refinance. Call them and see what options they have available.
Car titles are a little more complicated because the title typically connects to the loan. Contact your car loan company and see what they need. By changing the vehicle title, and registration your next step is to change the auto insurance.
For simplicity, most couples have cars, home, and life insurance with the same company and the same agent. You also get discounts for having multiple cars and a home insured with the same company.
With the divorce, you will need to split your policies at the very least. Contact your agent. See what your options are for getting your own insurance policies and any discounts.
Do you have life insurance? Now is a good time to change the beneficiary of your policy.
Your credit cards may have life insurance plans attached too. Make sure to change the beneficiary.
Health insurance or accident plans are something to take a look at as well. If you have children, you and your ex should have already agreed whose insurance plan will cover them. Most of the time this change involves a simple conversation with the HR person at work.
Even if your insurance is not covering your children and you do not need to take your ex’s name off the coverage, this is an excellent time to look at your employee benefits. See if any plans make more sense for your new situation and financial goals.
Do you have a will, trust or health care directive? You should. Reach out to an estate lawyer and have a few documents drafted.
If you already have a will, then you will need to contact your attorney and make some changes.
Contact your tax preparer or accountant. See if they need any particular information to file your taxes in accordance with the divorce decree. Your taxes can get complicated the year of your divorce. A tax professional or financial advisor can help you solve any issues that come up.
If you are providing or receiving either spousal or child support, that can affect your taxes too. Talk to your financial advisor about how to ease any associated tax burden. Most people receive taxable alimony. That means it comes with pre-tax dollars. Come tax season, the payer can deduct the amount from their taxes, while the receiver will need to pay taxes on that income.
Finally, let’s look at making changes to any emails or online accounts. You may have already changed your Facebook status. Good.
Now it’s time to go through all your online accounts and change passwords. It doesn’t matter if your spouse didn’t know them. It’s still a wise idea. Change any contact information you feel is relevant too.
If you’ve already completed everything on your post-divorce checklist, great job! You have saved yourself untold future headaches.
Now you are free to complete the healing process at your own pace.
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Please contact your attorney for any legal questions.
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