You’re at the Courthouse and your attorney has handed you for your final divorce documents. It may be as a result of a negotiated settlement, or it may be as the result of a judge’s decision, but you are a single, independent person again. But the end of the divorce is not exactly there yet. Various tasks and decisions still remain.
Division of Retirement Accounts: If a retirement plan has been distributed between former spouses, steps need to be taken complete the division of any retirement accounts, particularly pensions, otherwise known as defined benefit plans. Most these types of plans require a specialized order known as a Qualified Domestic Relations Order to divide the account according to the terms of a divorce. Others, including 401(k) plans, or defined contribution plans, may require a domestic relations order, or a specific form from the institution in which the funds are held.
Health Benefits: In the event of an absolute divorce, a former spouse can no longer be a dependent on an individual’s health plan. The non-subscribing spouse typically has a 30 day grace period in which alternate coverage must be obtained. 30 days go quickly however, and it is important to procure coverage. Sometimes, it is wise to take COBRA benefits from the former spouse even for a few months just to make sure there is no gap in coverage if you have not researched other plans.
Beneficiary Designations on Life Insurance, bank accounts, and retirement accounts: Unless you have obligation as a result of the divorce (often the case with some amount of life insurance), be sure to change your beneficiary designations. If you die, the designations on accounts will typically govern who receives the benefit. It may not matter if a judgment of divorce has been granted.
Estate Planning: If it has not already been done, estate planning documents, including wills, health care directives and durable power of attorneys should be changed to reflect current wishes, and, if appropriate, to conform with directives in the divorce documents (trusts for minors, etc.)
Maintaining financial records: In the event that there is a future financial court proceeding concerning finances, it will be important to demonstrate what the financial circumstances were at the time of divorce. Saving a copy of the Cases Information Statements that were filed at the time of divorce is important.
School records: Many times it is appropriate to inform childrens’ schools of a change in status so the records can accurately reflect any limitations in custody agreements. This is particularly true of one parent will be picking children up on certain days. Also, most schools will arrange to have duplicate sets of school notices sent to each parent to avoid confrontation.
Closing out credit cards and other joint accounts: It is helpful to obtain a credit report in order to make sure that all joint credit cards, or cards in which the former spouse is an authorized user have been identified and closed.
Making sure these tasks are attended to sooner, rather than later, will help with a smooth transition into the next chapter!