What to Do After the Divorce

Even though the divorce process is filled with what feels like a million steps, often, obtaining the divorce decree doesn’t mean it’s finally over. Usually, all of our clients have a few loose ends to tie up once the divorce is final. While each case is unique, as a general rule we advise our clients to tend to the following details once their divorce is over.

Some clients need to do them all, while others only need to check off a few of them. After you sign off on your divorce and the judge makes it official, ask yourself about the following issues and be sure to address any of the points that apply to you.

Here’s what needs to be reviewed after your divorce is finalized:

1. Carefully evaluate your debts. Are all of your accounts updated? Have you removed your spouse’s name from all joint accounts? Have you closed joint accounts? Have you updated your mailing address? Have you created a new email address? Have you changed all of the passwords? Have you set up new accounts? Have you paid off accounts according to your divorce agreement? Do you know which one of you is responsible for paying any outstanding balances leftover from your marriage?

2. Continuing seeing a counselor. If you have been seeing a counselor or therapist, we recommend continuing seeing him or her until you feel better. Dealing with the emotions of divorce is not easy and it is not something you should do alone. When you feel bitter, sad, or angry about your divorce, it helps to have a professional you can vent your feelings to, one who is a non-biased third party who won’t spread the details of your divorce.

3. Run your credit report. We recommend running your credit report with all three bureaus at the beginning of the divorce and shortly after the divorce is finalized. Once the divorce is official, run your credit report to ensure all accounts have been closed and transferred as agreed in the divorce.

4. Take responsibility for any joint accounts. Ideally, there won’t be any joint accounts left open after the divorce, but if for some reason an auto loan, a credit card, or a mortgage remains in both of your names after the divorce, and your former spouse agrees to pay the debt, you must keep on top of the account. As long as your name remains on the account, you’re legally liable for the debt, regardless of what the divorce decree says. Meaning, if for any reason your former spouse defaults on the loan, you’re on the hook and your credit can take a hit if the payment is more than 30 days late.

Our advice is to ensure that you know the account numbers and passwords so you can watch the account closely. “What do I do if my former spouse defaults on the loan?” If you don’t want your credit score to dip, you’re better off paying the payment and taking your former spouse to court to seek a reimbursement.

5. Update your estate planning documents. If you’re like most people, your spouse was your primary beneficiary on your life insurance policy, your 401(k) or IRA, and your bank accounts. If you have a will or trust, your ex-husband or wife was probably designated to inherit a share of your estate. Now that the divorce is over, you want to update your beneficiary designations on all applicable accounts and policies and write a new will. If you fail to update your estate planning documents and something happens to you, your former spouse could end up with a large share of your estate and that’s probably NOT what you would have wanted.

6. Carefully analyze your income situation. When does spousal support start? When does it end? How will it be paid? Depending on whether you’re the paying spouse or the receiving spouse, you’ll either be deducting spousal support or paying income taxes on it. If child support is a factor, it will not be tax-deductible, nor will it be counted as income.

7. Contact the Social Security Administration about name changes. If you’re going back to your maiden name after the divorce, don’t forget to contact the Social Security Administration and obtain a new Social Security card reflecting your maiden name. If you go back to your maiden name but don’t get a new Social Security card, it can delay your tax refund at tax time. Why? Because, if the name on your tax return does not match Social Security’s records, it will cause a delay in the processing of your refund.

8. Be prepared to go back to court. Just because the divorce is over, it doesn’t mean your days in court have come to an end. When it comes to divorce, it’s very common for the spouses to have to return to court for a post-judgement modification. Whenever there is a significant change in circumstances, either spouse may return to court to modify child custody, child support, or spousal support.

9. Obtaining Social Security benefits on your spouse’s record. If you were married for at least 10 years, when you reach the age of 62, you may be able to obtain Social Security retirement or disability benefits on your former spouse’s work record, even if he or she remarries. To qualify, you must be 62-years-old when you apply, unmarried, and the benefits you’re entitled to receive on your record must be less than your former spouse’s benefits. If you remarry, you won’t be able to receive benefits on your former spouse’s record unless your current marriage ends by annulment, divorce, or death.

If you’re looking for divorce or family law representation in Los Angeles, contact our office to schedule a free case evaluation.