It’s been months or even years, but you finally have a divorce decree in your hands.
You’re feeling a complicated jumble of emotions from grief to relief—but mostly, you feel exhausted. And you do need to set aside time to rest, restore, and take care of yourself.
But you’re not done just yet! The immediate days and weeks after your divorce are crucial for completing specific practical and financial tasks. Several items are very time-sensitive, and you will save yourself many headaches by handling them right away.
First, make a list. Sit down and review your divorce decree (make sure you have a certified copy on hand). Go over everything carefully, making sure you know who needs to do what and when. Make a checklist and get things in your calendar, prioritizing the most time-sensitive items.
Cancel joint accounts and create new, independent ones. Don’t leave yourself vulnerable to overdrafts or credit card bills run up by your ex-spouse. Close joint bank accounts immediately, and open your own. Remember to change any automatic payments from the current account. You’ll want to cancel any shared credit cards and protect your credit by making sure to pay off any loans and bills. Remove your ex as an authorized user on your cards. Choose new and secure passwords.
Update your Insurance. If your spouse was on your health insurance policy through your employer or the other way around, you must contact HR for removal. You have several options to choose from, from private insurance to the Affordable Care Act; if you were on your spouse’s plan, you might be able to use a COBRA health plan for up to 36 months after your divorce. But it’s important to know that there is usually a strict window following your divorce to set up COBRA or a new plan.
Your divorce settlement should establish whose policy will cover the children.
For car, home, life insurance, and so forth, you may be able to simplify by obtaining your policies from the same company you were already using together.
Tackle insurance matters right away—you don’t want to find yourself with huge bills because you had an emergency while coverage lapsed.
Create a new estate plan. You’ll need to update your will, as well as any trusts, power of attorney directives, proxies, and so forth. Doing so prevents your former spouse from receiving your estate if anything were to happen to you and keeps family members, a judge, or even your ex-spouse from having to make big decisions on your behalf.
Handle house, mortgage, titles, and deeds. Transfer deeds and titles to your assets (home, cars, boat) to align with the property division outlined in your divorce settlement. In some cases, you will need a quitclaim deed, which transfers property without a sale. If you have a mortgage, the spouse who is not keeping the house must be removed from that as well—the quitclaim alone does not accomplish this. You will need expert help to refinance; if neither you nor your spouse keeps the house, ready it for sale.
Change your name. You’ll need to fill out a “request for name change” or “request to restore maiden name” on your divorce forms. Once you have permission to restore your maiden name, you still need to make the actual change with Social Security on all official documents and accounts. That includes banks and credit cards, passport, insurance, driver’s license, your place of employment, utilities, your children’s schools, etc. Make sure the final decree includes your name change. You will need a certified copy of the divorce decree as proof of the change and a government-issued ID such as a passport or valid driver’s license. The list of places you need to contact is long, and the process is time-consuming, but there are name change services that can help.
Get help with taxes. If you did not previously have your own tax preparer or accountant, now is an excellent time to hire one. Taxes can be very complicated the year you divorced, so it’s better not to go it alone.
Split retirement and pensions. Did you and your spouse divide a retirement account, pension, or 401K? These are also time-sensitive. IRAs and savings accounts can be divided without a court order, but a 401K or pensions will require a QDRO (Qualified Domestic Retirement Order) to make the transfer. This can be a complicated process, and it is in your best interest to have it done by an attorney—the financial consequences of a mistake can be enormous.
Change your beneficiaries. This area can easily get overlooked, from insurance to retirement and pension to investments and bank accounts. If your ex was your primary beneficiary on these, you should change it to your children or relatives.
Set up systems for positive co-parenting. Your divorce settlement established custody, visitation, support, and so forth, but day-to-day co-parenting has many moving parts. Spare yourself the need to remember to write a check every month, set up auto-pay on support payments. If you and your ex cooperate, a shared calendar can be beneficial; some will even help you track expenses. If you are not on good terms, some apps can smooth the way.
Especially with the complex and time-sensitive financial issues following your divorce, it is vital to have an experienced attorney guiding you through the process.
While a marital dissolution ends the financial relationship between spouses, difficulties often arise after the final judgment is entered and spouses become divorced. Because of our vast experience in and dedication to family law, the Schoenberg Family Law Group, PC, offers representation in San Francisco and the Bay Area for former clients, as well as new clients, in all California post-divorce matters.