Divorce Law

What to Do After a Divorce

Getting a divorce is a major life change. If you were together with your ex for years, it can take time to adjust to life without a spouse. Finalizing your divorce may supply much-needed emotional relief. All the stressful negotiations might be over, but even after you finalize your divorce, there may still be steps you need to take to move on.

You may need a period of time to take care of financial changes, lifestyle changes, moving to a new city, or starting a new job. You should be aware of these steps and your options so you can make the best decisions for yourself, your family, and your future.

Will You Change Your Last Name?

There is no requirement to change your name after a divorce. But having your ex-spouse's last name could be a reminder of an unhappy relationship. Many people who go through a divorce change their names back to their maiden name or a family name. Some people may even want to opt for a new name altogether after a divorce.

Many parents keep their married name after a divorce because they want to have the same last name as their children. Those who do decide to revert to the last name they had before marriage or to some other last name should let their divorce attorney know before the divorce is final. Your divorce orders may be able to include your name change so you don't have to go through a separate legal process.

If you decide later that you want to make a name change, you can always petition the court for a name change. If you do change your name at any point, you will need to update your records with the Social Security Administration, the DMV for a new license, your insurance company, employer, bank, and financial lenders, among others. If you have any questions about a name change during or after a divorce, ask your divorce lawyer for legal advice.

Division of Retirement Assets

As part of the divorce, you may have had to negotiate property division, including dividing marital property while keeping separate property. Retirement benefits could be another large asset to divide. As part of the divorce settlement, you may have decided who will get certain retirement benefits. However, you may need to follow through after you sign the divorce papers to make sure the asset division happens how you and your spouse agreed.

Changing Beneficiaries

After the division of assets, you may be the sole name on your financial accounts and legal accounts. However, a divorce decree does not automatically remove your spouse as a beneficiary. Review all your financial accounts to update your beneficiaries. Common assets that will require a change of beneficiary include:

  • Pension plans
  • Retirement accounts
  • Bank accounts
  • Life insurance
  • Health savings accounts

Generally speaking, removing your former spouse as a beneficiary is not required, but for many it is desired. Reviewing your financial documents allows you to consider your options. If you decide to move forward with any beneficiary changes, there may be some limitations to when you can make changes and when those changes go into effect.

You may want to speak with your financial adviser about your designated beneficiaries and when you would be able to make any desired changes. Sometimes naming your ex as a beneficiary is required as part of a divorce decree, especially when spousal support or child support obligations remain in effect.

There may be joint accounts, joint credit cards, or other shared assets that you forgot about. It may be helpful to get a credit report to identify all your open and existing credit accounts to make sure you update your beneficiaries. However, making a number of changes to your financial accounts can impact your credit score. Talk to your financial planner about your options and how to keep your financial plan up-to-date.

Getting New Insurance Policies

Do you and your former spouse have any joint accounts for insurance coverage? If so, you may need to get new policies in place after your divorce. Check with your policy provider for their coverage and policy requirements. In addition to car, health, and homeowner's insurance, you may have other policies to replace. You should review your insurance policies and get guidance from your attorney.

Tax Implications of Single Filing Status

There are tax implications of filing your taxes as a single person after jointly filing with your spouse. There are possible "marriage penalties" and benefits of filing jointly, depending on your individual tax situation. You may also have to change your withholdings based on a change of exemptions as a single filer. Generally, your marital status for tax purposes is based on your status on the last day of the tax year. If your divorce is finalized on December 31st, you are considered unmarried for filing for that entire tax year.

Managing Ongoing Communication

A simple divorce with no children or financial support payments could mean truly separate paths for you and your ex-spouse. If so, there may not be a need for future communication. In a bitter divorce, a permanent end to communication can be a welcome relief.

However, many divorces involve one spouse paying spousal support or alimony to their ex, the payment of child support, or shared custody of children. In these cases, ongoing communication may be necessary. Especially when children are involved, consider how you will manage that communication.

Going through a divorce can be a difficult time. However, taking the steps necessary and right for you could help you move forward in your new life as a single person.

Address Problems Early On

The reality of divorce is that it may not permanently separate your life from your former spouse. If you have children together, are receiving alimony, or have shared business assets, you may be required to continue interacting with your ex. If there are problems, it is important to address them immediately. This includes late payments for support, failing to follow the child custody schedule, or harassing phone calls or social media contact.