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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 completed it!

Now it's time to break down some of the major (yet sometimes overlooked) things you need to think about to tie up loose ends and set yourself 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. 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 they make and the steps they take toward a secure financial and emotional future? 

So, let's help you put your best foot forward as you move forward. 

 

Essential next steps

In the aftermath of a divorce, it's crucial to take certain legal steps to make sure you're fully prepared for your next chapter. This part of the process can often feel overwhelming, but by breaking it down into manageable tasks, it becomes more achievable.

1. Finalize divorce paperwork

If you haven’t done so already, make sure all your divorce paperwork is correctly filled out, signed, and filed. This includes property settlement agreements, child custody arrangements, and alimony orders. Each document must be carefully reviewed to avoid errors or omissions that could lead to complications in the future. 

If you're uncertain about any aspect of these documents, consider talking with a family law attorney to make sure you're on the right track.

2. Obtain a certified copy of your divorce decree

Once your divorce has been finalized, it is essential to obtain a certified copy of your divorce decree. This document serves as proof of your divorce and can be required for various purposes, such as changing your name or reverting to your former name

You can obtain a certified copy from the court that granted your divorce. Keep this document safe and accessible, as you may need it in the future. You may also need multiple copies.

Helpful: What Is a QDRO? by Louise Nixon, QDRO Expert

3. 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, or 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.

Understanding and managing QDROs

A Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) is a court order that grants a person a right to a portion of the retirement benefits their former spouse earned through an employer-sponsored retirement plan. Securing your QDRO is a critical step post-divorce.

To manage your QDRO, you'll need to communicate with the plan administrator to make sure they have received the order. Furthermore, you should confirm that the order meets the plan's requirements and that it accurately reflects the agreement made during the divorce proceedings. If there are any discrepancies, it's important to rectify them as soon as possible.

Need help with your QDRO? Our trusted partner, SimpleQDRO, can help.

4. 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. 

5. 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, and associations, and determine who will remain on each or what you will do with them. 

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 loan debts and expenses.
  3.  Meet with a financial advisor if you need help. CDFAs can help after divorce, too!

Tax considerations

Post-divorce, your tax filing status will change. If your divorce is finalized by the last day of the tax year, you'll file as single or head of household, not married, unless you've agreed to a different scenario in your settlement agreement. This change can impact your tax bracket and the amount of tax you owe. Consult with a tax professional to understand the implications fully.

If you have children, the IRS Form 8332 becomes significant. This form allows the non-custodial parent to claim the child tax credit and other child-related tax benefits, provided the custodial parent releases their claim to these benefits. Understanding this form is crucial to ensure you're maximizing your tax benefits.

6. Insure yourself and your dependents 

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 to find a new plan.

7. 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.

8. 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, the United States 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, and the DMV (regarding your driver's license and vehicle registration).

9. 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 kids’ 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.

10. 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. 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. 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.

11. 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.

12. 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.

13. 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.

Re-entering the social scene

And what about your social life? Rebuilding this aspect of yourself post-divorce starts with small steps. Begin by reconnecting with friends and family who provide support and positivity. Engage in social activities that you enjoy such as book clubs, fitness classes, or community events. Remember, it's okay to take your time and move at your own pace.

When it comes to dating, there's no one-size-fits-all timeline. The key is to ensure you're emotionally ready to start a new relationship. Consider seeking advice from a therapist or counselor to navigate this new chapter. Take it slow, be open to new experiences, and remember, it's okay to be selective.

Read: Dating after Divorce: Everything You Need to Know by Relationship Specialist Stella Harris.

Long-term considerations

Your financial landscape changes post-divorce, and so should your retirement planning. It's essential to reassess your savings goals and strategies. You may need to increase your savings rate or adjust your investment strategy to stay on track for retirement. A financial advisor can provide valuable guidance in this area.

Over time, circumstances may change, necessitating modifications to your divorce decree. This could include changes to child custody, alimony, or property division arrangements. It's important to know that courts usually require a significant change in circumstances to justify a modification. Consult with a family law attorney if you believe a modification is necessary.

Conclusion

Your journey ahead, though daunting, is a path to personal growth and a fresh start. Remember, you're not alone in this process. Rely on your support network, and seek professional advice when needed.

Focus on reassessing and rebuilding your finances and being aware of tax considerations. When ready, re-enter the social scene, engage socially, and consider new relationships.

Each step you take is progress. For more tailored advice, consult with a financial advisor, tax professional, or family law attorney. Stay positive and keep moving forward. This is your journey, and you are equipped to navigate it successfully.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Founder, CEO & Certified Family Law Specialist
Mediation, Divorce Strategy, Divorce Insights, Legal Insights
After over a decade of experience as a Certified Family Law Specialist, Mediator and law firm owner, Erin was fed up with the inefficient and adversarial “divorce corp” industry and set out to transform how consumers navigate divorce - starting with the legal process. By automating the court bureaucracy and integrating expert support along the way, Hello Divorce levels the playing field between spouses so that they can sort things out fairly and avoid missteps. Her access to justice work has been recognized by the legal industry and beyond, with awards and recognition from the likes of Women Founders Network, TechCrunch, Vice, Forbes, American Bar Association and the Pro Bono Leadership award from Congresswoman Barbara Lee. Erin lives in California with her husband and two children, and is famously terrible at board games.