Going through a divorce is like running a marathon with a load of bricks strapped to your back. By the time your divorce is final you are exhausted! You don’t want to talk to another attorney, or dig up one more stupid financial document, for a long, long time! But, even though the judge has pronounced you divorced, you’re not really done after your divorce until you’ve made sure that you and your spouse have separated everything.
What many people don’t realize is that, even though your divorce judgment says who gets what after your divorce, the judgment alone doesn’t automatically divide everything up. You have to do that yourself.
You have to separate your bank accounts and divide up your stuff. You have to cancel credit cards and do all the paperwork to change your name. Your divorce judgment says what is supposed to happen, but you have to make it happen.
What Are You Supposed To Do?
Unless you’ve been through a divorce before, it’s not instantly obvious what you’re supposed to do after your divorce is done to make sure everything is separated properly. The judge doesn’t give you a checklist along with your divorce judgment and tell you, “Make sure you do these things … now!” While your attorney may tell you a few of the things you’re supposed to do, most attorneys are not going to give you a post-divorce checklist either.
What makes things even more complicated is that there isn’t just one place you can go and take care of all of the picky details involved in separating your life from your ex’s life. You have to tromp around to multiple offices, visit multiple websites, and fill out mountains of forms in order to divide your finances, change your name, and do whatever else it takes to re-establish yourself as a separate entity.
To make things a little easier, here is a list of some of the most important things you are going to need to do after your divorce is done, to make sure you can move into your new life with confidence.
12 Things You Still Have to Do After Your Divorce is Final
- Go through your divorce judgment and put deadlines in your calendar for any important dates now! It’s way too easy to forget important deadlines once your divorce is over. If you are supposed to refinance your house, or get your stuff out of your spouse’s house, or do anything else after your divorce, put the date in your calendar now!
- Secure your own health insurance (or remove your spouse from your health insurance policy). There are very rigid deadlines for when you can obtain your own health insurance policy after divorce. Blowing the deadline could mean spending months without health insurance. If you have been on your spouse’s health insurance, make sure to make getting your own health insurance your top priority. If your spouse has been on your health insurance, make sure you notify your insurance carrier of your change in marital status, and get your spouse taken off your policy.
- Separate all of your bank and investment accounts. You need to separate your bank accounts the day you get divorced, or as soon afterwards as it is humanly possible for you to do! The longer you wait, the more the bank balance changes, and the more work you will have to figure out how much money you and your spouse is each supposed to get from the account. Of course, before you close an account, make sure you have re-directed any automatic debits or credits to or from that account!
- Close all joint credit cards and remove your spouse’s name as an authorized user from all of your credit cards. Closing all of your joint credit cards after your divorce is a no-brainer. But don’t forget to make sure that you also remove your spouse as an authorized user on all of your credit cards. The last thing you need is for your spouse to use one of your credit cards without your knowledge after your divorce! (You also want to make sure your ex removes you as an authorized user on his/her credit cards, too. That way your ex’s failure to pay a bill won’t affect your credit.)
- Make sure that any money that is supposed to be transferred from a retirement account actually gets transferred. Money from retirement accounts does not automatically get transferred simply because you got divorced. Someone has to actually make the transfer happen. Most times, you will need a special court order called a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) to transfer money from one retirement account to another. Check with your attorney about getting this Order entered. Then make sure to keep following up until the transfer occurs.
- Refinance the mortgage on the marital home, and get a quit claim deed to re-title your property. Even if your divorce judgment gives you time to refinance your home, it doesn’t hurt to check with a mortgage broker as soon as you can and find out what you need to do to qualify for a loan. If your spouse is supposed to sign a quit claim deed, make sure to have that drawn up as soon as possible. As long as your spouse’s name is still on the house, s/he is still technically a part owner of it, no matter what your divorce judgment says.
- Re-title your automobile(s) to be in separate names. Cars, trucks, boats, trailers and motorcycles all may need to be retitled. You can get the necessary forms from your local Department of Motor Vehicles or Secretary of State’s office. It’s a pain in the behind to do, but not something you want to put off.
- Change the beneficiary designations on your life insurance, 401(k)s, and any other financial instrument that has a designated beneficiary. Lots of people forget that they have named beneficiaries for certain financial instruments. When you die, your life insurance company or 401(k) plan will pay the benefits from the policy or the plan to the person who you named as the beneficiary – even if that person happens to now be your ex! If you don’t want your ex to get those benefits, do yourself a favor and change the beneficiary now, before you forget!
- Make a new Will and powers of attorney for property and healthcare. No one likes to think about what will happen when they get seriously ill or die. But, unless you want your ex to be in charge of deciding whether to pull the plug if you are in the hospital and unable to make your own medical decisions, you’d better change your powers of attorney now! You also want to revisit the terms of any Will you made before, and change them now to reflect what you want now that you’re divorced.
- Make sure you and your spouse are both listed as contacts with your kids’ schools and any activity they are enrolled in. Even if you and your ex get along well (and especially if you don’t!) having to make copies of every document you get from your kids’ school or activities for your ex is still a hassle. It’s way easier if you can arrange to have your child’s school and all of their activity providers send duplicate copies of everything to you and your ex. Then both you and your ex will know what’s going on. Neither one of you will feel burdened by having to make sure the other is kept in the loop.
- Set up a joint calendar with your spouse to keep track of their activities. It’s hard enough to keep track of what your kids are doing when everyone lives in the same household. Once you live separately, life gets even more challenging. Having a joint calendar that both you and your ex can access anytime will make managing your kids’ schedules way easier. If you and your ex get along, you can use a joint Google calendar. If not, there are a ton of parenting apps that will let you and your ex keep track of your kids activities and expenses.
- If you haven’t already done so, change all of your passwords. After your divorce, you want your private life to be private. To make sure that your digital life remains your own, change all of your passwords – and don’t use passwords you have ever used before! It doesn’t do you any good to change your passwords if your ex can guess the new one!
BONUS TIP: If you are changing your name, get a certified copy of your divorce judgment immediately! You will need it. Also, remember to change your name everywhere! That includes on your driver’s license, your social security card, all of your credit cards, all of your bank and investment accounts, and everywhere else your name is listed. (Yes. It’s a process!)
Karen Covy is a divorce adviser, attorney, mediator, coach and the author of When Happily Ever After Ends: How to Survive Your Divorce Emotionally, Financially, and Legally. Karen’s divorce articles have been featured on The Huffington Post, Divorced Moms, Divorce Force, GUYVORCE, The Good Men Project, and Your Tango. If you want to know more about how you can get through your divorce without ruining your life, visit Karen at www.karencovy.com.