Your divorce is over, and while you may be able to breathe a bit easier, it doesn’t mean your work is done. Learn 10 things you need to do after your divorce is final.
1. Review Your Divorce Judgment
The overwhelming majority of divorce cases settle before trial. Often, couples can resolve their issues through mediation and/or attorneys and enter into a divorce settlement agreement. Your lawyer should review and explain the terms of the agreement to you. If you don't have a lawyer, you should consider hiring one just to review the final proposal to ensure your rights are protected before your sign off.
While this period of time may be emotionally draining and a bit of a blur, it's essential you pay attention to the terms in your agreement, because whatever you agree to and sign off on will become part of the court's divorce judgment, which you will be required to follow.
It’s imperative that when the divorce is over, and you’ve had a chance to relax a bit, you sit down and go over each and every item in the divorce decree. Make a list of your responsibilities and your ex-spouse’s, and put them on a calendar to make sure all deadlines are met.
2. Transfer Assets According to the Divorce Judgment
In a divorce involving property, courts will order the spouses to divide their assets. If the property you must divide is held in a joint account, try to close the accounts after distributing the assets. If one of you wants to keep an account open, be sure the other’s name comes off the account.
Pay particular attention to any real estate transfer between you and your spouse, which will require a new deed to reflect the change of ownership. If the divorce judgment calls for you to remove your ex from a mortgage, be careful. Mortgage companies might balk at this. (They aren’t bound by your divorce decree.) You could end up having to refinance the mortgage to remove your ex-spouse’s name. Additionally, even if your ex is staying on the mortgage, check with the mortgage company to make sure changing the title doesn’t violate any of the mortgage terms.
3. Cancel Joint Accounts
It’s likely you and your ex-spouse have joint accounts for which you’re both liable. You should close these as soon as possible.
Credit cards often fall into this category. If your ex is the primary cardholder and wants to keep an account open, contact the company to let them know you’re divorced and that you’ll no longer accept responsibility for charges to that card.
This is not a foolproof way to limit your liability. Responsibility for debts depends on many factors, including what the money was used for, whether the purchase was for the benefit of the spouses/family, whether the debt was the result of wasting of assets, the date of separation, and the laws of the state where the divorce is taking place. Any outstanding debts should be accounted for, characterized, and divided in the settlement agreement and final judgment. It should be very clear who is taking on specific credit card debts.
You should note that credit card companies are not bound by the terms of your divorce judgment. Despite you and your ex's agreements, third party lenders may have the right to go after both spouses for joint credit card debt even after a divorce. So if your ex was ordered to pay off the Visa credit card but then refuses, and Visa insists you pay it off, you may have to do that or face collections. However, you can then make a claim for reimbursement from your ex under the divorce decree.
If you’re no longer in the marital home, notify all relevant utility companies about your move and ask them to revise their records accordingly. The same goes for pay TV and internet services. Review all your bills to determine whether any other joint obligations that exist.
4. Check Your Insurance Policies
Many divorce decrees contain provisions relating to life insurance and disability coverage. If you have a duty to provide coverage to benefit your children and/or your ex, be sure to comply with your obligations in a timely manner. If your ex-spouse has to provide insurance for you, obtain written proof that you’re covered.
For any insurance you have that is not subject to the divorce judgment, be sure to review each policy to see what changes you need to make. For example, if you’re keeping the marital home, you’ll have to change your homeowner’s policy to reflect the fact your ex is no longer on the deed—likewise if you have umbrella coverage.
If you’re retaining an automobile, and the title is being transferred to you, confirm you’re the named insured. And make sure the insurance company removes you from any policy relating to motor vehicles your ex-spouse owns.
5. Inform Your Employer About Your New Status
It’s not unusual for one or more of the terms of your divorce judgment to involve an employer. For example, ex-spouses previously covered under a company’s health plan may want to take advantage of available COBRA coverage once the divorce is finalized. Your employer needs to be aware of this.
Additionally, the divorce may call for the division of your retirement accounts, either presently or in the future. Your employer will need to receive the details, including the court order regarding this division, in order to generate the necessary paperwork and complete the transfer of retirement funds.
Finally, your divorce will impact your tax status, so you'll need to notify the company’s payroll department of the change.
6. Revise Estate Documents
If your most recent will (or trust) leaves your estate to you ex, you’ll probably want to write a new one. Likewise, review any advance health care directives and powers-of-attorney to make sure your ex-spouse has no important decision-making authority over your health or welfare.
7. Change Your Beneficiaries
Unless your divorce judgment instructs otherwise, you may wish to change beneficiaries on various accounts you own. Insurance policies are the most obvious examples of this. But be mindful that many bank, investment, and even 401(k) accounts have a “payable on death” (POD) provision that designates a specific person to receive the account funds in the event of your death. Most spouses designate each other as the beneficiary, and then forget to remove each other after divorce. If you listed your spouse as the beneficiary when you opened the account, you'll need to change this once the divorce is final.
8. Follow Up on a Name Change
Your married name is probably on every piece of identification you have. If you changed your name as part of the divorce, you’ll now have to apprise various agencies of the change.
You’ll certainly want to notify your state’s motor vehicle office, so you can get a new license. You also need to notify the Social Security Administration in order for you to properly file your tax returns. (You can obtain Form SS-5 at the SSA.gov website.) Be sure to contact any other companies (including banks and credit card providers) where you have accounts under your old name.
9. Change Your Usernames and Passwords
If your ex-spouse is aware of your usernames and passwords for different email or other online accounts, consider changing them. This is especially true for any bank accounts in your name. The last thing you want is your ex checking up on you—or worse. In that same vein, you might also want to block your ex from any of your social media sites.
10. Provide New Contact Information
If you have a new phone number or address, make sure you give that information to the appropriate people. Your top priority will likely be your child’s school, but you may also have listed your ex-spouse as your emergency contact at your doctor’s office or at work. Go through your address book or “contacts” list to see where you should be making changes.
For specific advice, consult a local divorce lawyer.