My divorce is final, does that mean I am done? This is a question divorce lawyers often hear. While every divorce is different, generally there is still work to be done post-divorce. The following recommendations should help alleviate some post-divorce stress. Your specific Agreement or Judgment will guide you as to what needs to be done in your particular case.
Review your Agreement or Judgment as soon as possible:
Review your Agreement or Judgment and make a list of all tasks that need to be done and if there is a deadline, note that too. Making a list can ease any stress or overwhelm you are feeling and will help keep you organized.
If you will divide a pension and/or 401K plan, a court must order a Qualified Domestic Relations Order, commonly abbreviated as QDRO. (Note: A QDRO is not necessary to divide an IRA or a SEP. Also, military pensions, federal, state, county and city retirement plans have their own rules regarding division during divorce-be sure to consult your attorney with regard to specific plans.) Often times your divorce lawyer will refer clients to an attorney who specializes in retirement asset division orders. Confirm with your attorney whether or not he/she will be preparing the necessary paperwork or whether you will need to retain an attorney who specializes in this area of the law. Your divorce settlement agreement or Judgment will not necessarily preserve your rights if the proper orders are not signed by the court and submitted to the plan administrator. Follow up with your attorney or QDRO preparer to make sure the plan administrator has pre-approved the Order, the Order has been submitted to the Court for signature, and the Court signed and entered Order has been served on the plan administrator.
Unless you are required to maintain your spouse as beneficiary, update your beneficiary designation on all retirement accounts. If you fail to do this, your former spouse could end up inheriting your retirement upon your death. Also, be sure to check bank, investment, bonds, and other assets that may have beneficiary designations and determine whether those need to be updated.
Update Insurance Policies:
Depending on the terms of your Agreement or Judgment, you may need to update insurance policies:
Health insurance: Revise health insurance coverage for spouse and/or dependents. If insurance is not available through an employer begin COBRA coverage or open a new individual policy.
Life Insurance: Unless you are required to maintain your spouse as beneficiary, change the beneficiary on all life insurance policies.
Other Insurance: Obtain new insurance policies for auto, home, etc. Pay attention to the list of assets scheduled on your homeowner’s policy and confirm that you still own those items.
Review your will and estate documents:
Work with your estate attorney to review, update, and/or create your will, power of attorney for healthcare and finances, a living will, and other documents. If you have any trusts, be sure to review those as well.
If your name changed, update documents:
Contact agencies such as motor vehicle association, social security office, financial institutions, your employer, and any other government agencies to determine what documents you will need to provide in order to change your name or resume your maiden name.
Contact your Accountant:
Review your Judgment or Agreement with an accountant. You may need to change your withholding, pay more or less estimated taxes, and/or change your investment strategy.
Practice Self Care:
While it is important to practice self care during the divorce process, once you are divorced, self care is still very important. Take time to do something that makes you feel good, replenishes your energy, and allows you to tackle issues with a clear head.
Couples over 50 are twice as likely to get divorced as people of that age were twenty years ago. A Bowling Green University study found that the divorce rate for people 50 and older doubled from 1990 to 2010. This trend has been coined, “Grey Divorce”, referring to the demographic trend of an increasing divorce rate for older ("grey-haired") couples in long-lasting marriages. Older divorcees must consider the consequences divorce may have on their retirement. Often couples over 50 have been married for twenty or more years and have substantial assets and debts between them.
A recent Washington Post article points out the unique financial issues couples face when divorcing during their retirement years. The author, Rodney Brooks commented, “divorce is not good for your retirement. That nest egg you worked so hard to accumulate must now be split and support two households instead of one.” If one or both spouses are still working, retirement may not be feasible as early as they may have planned. If already retired, retirement funds may be split leaving both parties unable to maintain their current lifestyle.
Health benefits are another major concern. Once divorced, the dependent spouse may no longer be covered on the other spouse’s plan leaving them to have to find alternate health insurance, sometimes at a high cost. Another issue that often arises is that one spouse handled all of the financial issues during the marriage. When a couple divorces, the less knowledgeable spouse is at a significant disadvantage. According to Kathleen Grace, managing director at United Capital and author of Prince Not So Charming: A Romantic Tale of Financial Independence, “9 out of 10 women will be solely responsible for their finances at some point in their lives.” Because many women choose not to work while they raise children, this statistic is significant.
Regardless of your age, if you are considering divorce, it is important to seek the advice of an experienced Family Law Attorney. Hess Family Law can provide expert advice based on your particular situation and goals.