It’s over. Officially. But, now what?
As a divorce lawyer for the last 15 years, I can tell you that – as crazy as it sounds – sometimes one of the most difficult parts of divorce is the end. After enduring so many months of negotiation, paperwork, deadlines, heartache and perhaps even frustration or anger; when the divorce judgment is finally granted, it can feel all at once like an incredible burden lifted – but also like a thick cloud of fog settling in. So, now what? Where do you go from here?
One of the most popular resources on Hello Divorce is a pre-leaving checklist. It’s a comprehensive list of to-dos and documents to get in order that helps someone planning to begin the divorce process do so thoughtfully and strategically, at an emotionally difficult time. But I realized that it could be just as useful to offer a post-separation checklist that could help those at the end of the divorce process put their best foot forward as they start their next chapter.
So, what now? Well in short, you’ve got a little more ‘house cleaning’ stuff to take care of, and then it’s time to take a seriously huge breath and pause — you did it (!)
1. Make Sure the Legal Stuff is Squared Away
After your judgment is finalized, if there was a retirement account awarded to a former spouse then a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) must be drafted, filed and sent to the retirement plan. Just stating in the divorce documents that one party is awarded the marital or community property does not divide the benefit. For any type of retirement account division, you need a QDRO. The ex-spouse will not receive any retirement benefit now or in the future without a QDRO. If the QDRO is not done before a participant’s death or retirement and the parties are divorced, then the ex-spouse (non-member) may not receive any funds. This is why it is so important not to delay getting your QDRO done!
There is no-one-size-fits-all QDRO. Getting it wrong may lead to permanent loss of survivor benefits. For an accurate and fair division, be sure that your QDRO is prepared based on the facts specific to your case and to your retirement benefits by a qualified expert, like our partners at QDROCounsel.
2. Reassess Your Finances
My colleague, Jennifer Taylor, a CPA and Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, makes a point to remind clients that during a divorce, cash, assets and records that have been around for years sometimes start magically disappearing out of fear and panic of 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 on HelloDivorce.com, including a helpful template you can download and use to compare your pre- and post-divorce expenses.
3. Do Something for You
I cannot stress the importance of self-care during and after divorce enough. My clients who make time for themselves – at least one hour a week – tell me they feel more at peace, more grounded, and 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 that 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.)
4. Update Your Records
Will you be changing your name post-divorce? (See our guide to restoring your maiden name for help.) 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. Same for your will, medical insurance, credit cards, driver’s license, and emergency contact info at work.
5. Review (or Finalize) Your Co-Parenting Plan
If you and your ex have kids, it’s important to set out on the right foot from the beginning 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 child(ren) by age. Or check out these five co-parenting hacks.
6. Prep a Stash of Feel-Good Quotes
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.
7. Bookmark This
Our team at Hello Divorce has compiled a terrific list of resources for life after separation. From co-parenting resources to advice on dating after divorce to travel with kids as a single parent to redecorating, this list will quickly become your new go-to.
8. Divorce Party
We recently came across an article about the divorce journey and how in our society we don’t pull together to support those people we love and celebrated when they married. Time to change that feeling of ‘aloneness’ and pull in the people who you most love and cherish. Maybe you want to go hog wild and stay out until your kiddos wake up. Or, maybe it just means that you spend an evening out with friends that inspire or make you laugh. Either way, you’ve been through a lot and deserve an evening celebrating the end of one chapter and the beginning of a new (better) version of yourself.
More than any tip on this post-separation checklist, I want you to remember: you got this. Take things day by day, and every day will get easier. And every day, you’ll grow a little bit more into a new, even more amazing version of you. I promise.