A Post-Divorce To-Do List to Prepare You For Your Next Chapter
It's over. Officially. Goodbye, divorce – hello, next chapter! So, now what? First off, give yourself some credit for completing the divorce process. The legal process can feel grueling, emotional, and overwhelming. Even so, you've completed it!
Now it's time to break down some of the major (yet sometimes overlooked) things we need to think about to tie up loose ends and set us up for an awesome future.
When the divorce judgment is finally granted, it can feel all at once like an incredible burden has been lifted – but also like a thick cloud of fog has settled in. So, now what? Where do you go from here? How do you start your life after divorce on the best foot? We’ve got lots of ways to empower and prepare you.
Your post-divorce checklist
You've probably figured out our MO here at Hello Divorce. We like action plans. It helps us feel in control. I don't know about you but I always feel much more comfortable during times of transition when I've got a strategy in place and can take things one task at a time. That's why we created this post-divorce checklist as your go-to source of truth so you can move on with confidence and peace of mind. Because who doesn't want to feel good about the decisions we are making and the steps we are taking towards a secure financial and emotional future?
So, let's help you put your best foot forward as you move forward. Download your post-divorce checklist here and read the tips below.
1. Wrap up the legal stuff
It's a good idea to read over the terms of your divorce agreement to see what still needs to be completed. Sometimes your divorce paperwork will require you or your ex to proactively do something like transfer ownership of a vehicle or refinance your home loan.
If your divorce judgment or marital settlement agreement included a term that requires you to divide, distribute or equalize a retirement plan (e.g. 401k or Pension), you'll likely have to prepare, file (have the judge sign), and send it to the retirement plan a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO). Without a QDRO you and/or your ex-spouse may not receive any retirement benefit now or in the future. If the QDRO is not done before a participant's death or retirement and the parties are divorced, the ex-spouse (non-member) may not receive any funds. A QDRO ensures that any orders or agreements relating to your retirement plans (IRA's excluded) are actually effectuated and do not lead to unnecessary tax penalties. This is why it is so important not to delay getting your QDRO done.
2. Review your life insurance beneficiaries
In most cases, you need to proactively make changes to your beneficiaries on things like life insurance, retirement plans and pay-on-death bank accounts. This way, your benefits or funds go to the intended recipient. Assuming your divorce judgment doesn't contain a term that requires you to keep your (ex) spouse as a beneficiary, you'll likely want to remove them and add someone new.
3. Reassess (and rebuild) your finances
Jennifer Taylor, a CPA and certified divorce financial analyst, reminds clients that during a divorce, cash, assets, and records that have been around for years sometimes start "magically disappearing." This stems from fear and panic over the property division process. Now that you're at the close of your divorce, you should know exactly where you stand with your ex financially. So, it's a good time to reassess your finances and plan your budget for at least the next year. Jennifer shares more tips in her 10-Step Quick Guide for Tackling Divorce Financial Issues, including a helpful template you can download and use to compare your pre-divorce and post-divorce expenses.
Quick financial tips: Pay off joint accounts with marital assets to the extent possible, close joint accounts if you don't want to keep them or cannot remove one spouse, consider memberships, clubs, associations and determine who will remain on each or what you will do with them. You also will want to figure out your tax situation: Decide how you will file taxes for the year in which you were still married and determine who will claim your children as tax dependents.
Going from a joint income to one can cause financial strain. Here are some of the things you can do to rebuild your finances: (1) Rebuild your credit; create a post-divorce budget that reflects your post-divorce assets, debts, expenses and income; (2) recruit a cosigner for future loans debts, expenses and income; (3) Meet with a financial advisor if you need help. CDFA's can help after divorce too!
4. Ensure that you and your dependents are insured
After divorce, you may need to find new health, dental, vision, car or other forms of insurance - this especially applies if you are on your former spouse's health insurance plan(s) through their employment. You usually have 30 days from the date the divorce is final.
5. Revise or create your will, estate plan and medical directives
After divorce, you may need to set up a will or trust or change your estate plan to reflect the changes in your life. Left unchanged, your estate plan or will could end up allocating your assets and property to the wrong people.
6. Do something for yourself
I cannot stress the importance of self-care during and after divorce enough. When you make time for yourself – at least one hour a week –you'll feel more at peace, more grounded. They experience more clarity throughout the divorce process. Checking out from the demands of your day-to-day life to do something just for you will help you mentally and physically.
Not sure where to start? My friend Annie Wright, of Annie Wright Psychotherapy, compiled a list of 101 Self-Care ideas. And if you can't find a good idea there, you might try working through this self-care worksheet she and I created, which will help you commit to a time and activity. (Because let's face it: Too often, if it doesn't get scheduled, it won't get done.)
If self-care isn’t quite enough, consider joining a support group. There are lots of free or low-cost options, both in person and online.
Whatever works for you, take care of your mental health as you do your physical health. The best way to set yourself up for success in your new relationships is to take care of yourself.
7. Update your records
Will you be changing your name post-divorce? (See our guide here.) This is not a requirement of divorce. However, legally restoring your maiden name is easier to do along with all your other divorce paperwork than after your divorce is final. If you haven't already done so, now is the time to update auto, home, and insurance policies to remove your ex's name or update your own.
You may also want to update utilities, phone plans, IRAs and brokerage accounts, checks, credit cards, social media and other online accounts, address labels, voter registration, United Staes Postal Service and clubs or memberships. The same goes for your will, medical insurance, credit cards, driver's license, and emergency contact info at work. You may also want to notify creditors and credit reporting agencies of your change of address.
Other agencies that you'll want to alert include the IRS, Social Security, veteran's benefits, your employer, immigration, driver's license and vehicle registration.
8. Review (or finalize) your co-parenting plan
If you and your ex-partner have kids, it's important to start on the right foot when it comes to implementing your co-parenting plan. This blog post I wrote has tips on how to plan, communicate, and co-parent your children by age. Or, check out these five co-parenting hacks.
Your kid’s well-being is your top priority, and you’ll nurture that best by working as a team – even if it’s a very distant one. Revisit your co-parenting plan yearly or whenever there’s a major change, such as the introduction of a new partner or if one of you moves.
9. Prep a stash of feel-good quotes and mantras
Some days you'll need them more than others, but having a go-to list of inspiring, affirming quotes will help refocus you on the positive when you need a pick-me-up. Here are a few of my favorite uplifting quotes to help you get started on your path to divorce recovery. You can also join our community on Instagram. It’s a bright new world out there.
10. Bookmark our free post-divorce resources
Our team at Hello Divorce has compiled a thoughtful list of resources for life after separation. From co-parenting resources to advice on dating after divorce to traveling with kids as a single parent to redecorating, this list will quickly become your go-to. And don't forget to download our fillable post-divorce checklist so you can track your journey and take it one step at a time.
11. Crush your post-divorce goals with this worksheet
And speaking of goals, let's talk #relationshipgoals (when you're ready). This worksheet will help you prepare to introduce your new significant other to your kids ... and your ex. More than any tip on this post-separation checklist,
I want you to remember: You got this. No matter what happens, you’ll be okay. Take things day by day, and it will get easier. Every day, you'll grow a little bit more into a new and even more amazing version of yourself. You will soon have the validation, respect, and love you deserve. I promise.