I Am Divorced, So Now What?
As a family law attorney, my time is spent helping people navigate the court system and understanding the nuts and bolts involved in a divorce. As mentioned in previous blogs, this process varies greatly person to person. Some couples are able to un-couple rather amicably, whereas others end up in long and continuous court battles. A recent trend on social media websites like Facebook and Instagram caught my attention. Apparently, people have started taking divorce selfies, appropriately tagging it as #DivorceSelfie. The pictures range from noticeably awkward and boastful to candid and bittersweet accounts of people that still care for one another but cannot remain married. I have provided the link to one of the articles below:
The pictures and captions caused me to think more about what happens post-divorce. I am not a social worker, nor a financial advisor, but I do know divorcing takes an emotional and financial toll. Most people spend all available energy and time on the process of getting divorced, so little thought is given to the emotions and financial landscape once the divorce is final. It really doesn’t matter if the divorce took years or 61 days. Life is different. There are a few logistic areas to tackle, and maybe even some emotional baggage to unpack. The following list includes a few areas that may need to be considered once your divorce is final.
- Counseling and/or Support Groups
For those of you with children, it is important to remember that you, as the parent, probably had more time to adjust to the idea of co-parenting and living in separate households than your kids. Perhaps a lot of your time has been spent dealing with your own emotions and just the process of the divorce. It may really be time to start helping your children process and adjust to the “new normal.” There are ample resources available in Pima County that offer support groups and counseling for both you and your children as you adjust. Grieving the end of a relationship is not that different from the grief we experience after losing a loved one. There are stages and we all move through those stages at different speeds. Having a professional to talk to or a group to relate to can be invaluable as you move to the next page of life.
- The House
Before the divorce was final, the judge made an order that froze your financial situation until the final divorce order or agreement was signed. This was called the Preliminary Injunction. Now that the divorce decree is in place, it’s time to put the plan found within the decree into action.
- Are you moving? You may need to hire movers and stop utilities. You may also need to find a new place to live.
- Are you selling the house? You need to prepare the house for the market and find a good realtor. If your decree had a specific listing price or deadline, be sure you are in compliance.
- Are you staying in the house? You may need to get your former spouse off of the lease. Or, you may need to refinance the mortgage so the house is solely in your name. This can be a lengthy process and must be undertaken promptly. What about the deed to the property? Are the utilities in the correct name? What about the homeowner’s insurance policy? Is all of the information up-to-date?
- The Car
Were you awarded one of the vehicles through the divorce? Are you still making payments on that vehicle? Now that you are divorced, you need to refinance the debt into your name only. If you cannot afford the vehicle, you are free to sell it (presumably paying off the debt) and purchase a car that fits your new budget. These were actions you were unable to do because of the Preliminary Injunction mentioned above, but now that the divorce is final, you are free to take control of your finances as a single person. You also may need to shop for new car insurance, if you and your former spouse had a joint policy.
- The Credit Cards
Did you split your credit card debt in the divorce? Were you each assigned an amount to pay? Are those accounts still open? Is your former spouse still an authorized user on the accounts? These accounts need your attention. The ultimate goal is to pay the joint credit cards off, so you can close the accounts. You may also wish to open new credit cards in your name only. Remember that creditors are not parties to your divorce. What this means is that the credit card company is not bound to any agreement you reached with your former spouse regarding repayment. The creditor can still go after you for what is owed to them even though it was your former spouse’s portion of the debt to pay.
- The Cell Phone Plan
As trivial as this may sound, many cell phone companies require speaking with both parties prior to separating out a family plan. When the divorce has been friendly, such undertakings are not a problem, but it is easy to imagine the case where even this simple task becomes needlessly complex. Plan ahead and be prepared that this may take some time to accomplish.
- New Insurance Plans
Depending on the terms of your divorce, one spouse will need to start looking for a new health insurance plan and possibly a new life insurance policy. This can take some legwork, especially if a doctor’s exam is required prior to approval. Try to start your research early, maybe even before the divorce is final. That way, the cost of finding insurance is something you can keep in mind as you negotiate the other parts of your divorce.
- The Taxes
Please note that tax law is a highly specialized field, and I am not a tax expert. That said, divorcing and the financial changes that can accompany a divorce such as paying or receiving spousal maintenance, selling a home, or cashing out retirement plans can have major tax consequences that must be considered. It really is worth the time to sit down with an accountant to talk about your taxes moving forward. You may be losing the ability to claim dependents and you would be wise to know what the tax implications can be. You may need to adjust your withholding at work to avoid incurring a fine on your tax bill in the future. The accountant may also have some advice regarding managing a lump sum from the divorce or how to best anticipate the tax effect of receiving spousal maintenance.
- The Finances
Please note that I am not a financial advisor and cannot give you financial advice. However, depending on how the divorce settlement is structured, you may be looking at a large settlement that you need help managing. Or, you may be walking away with significant debt and need assistance managing the debt moving forward. Divorce changes each party’s financial landscape and it may be new territory that requires some professional guidance. Seeking advice early from a financial expert could really save you heartache in the long run.
- The Decree/Agreement
What happens if your former spouse is not holding up to his or her part of the bargain? Well, you do have legal tools available to enforce the orders in the decree. However, it is important to act quickly to enforce your orders. There are statutes of limitations that may affect parts of your decree. For example, unpaid spousal maintenance does have a statute of limitations and will require something called a monetary judgment. This judgment is an order issued by the family court stating that you are owed a certain amount of money. The decree or agreement alone will not be enough to collect this money if you wait too long. The monetary judgment will also need to be renewed every five years in order to be enforceable. If you have questions about this process, call Family Law Legal Consulting (FLLC) at 907-750-2410. We will be happy to guide you through the process.
Other areas that may need your attention include:
- Executing a name change.
- Changing other beneficiary designations (retirement plans, life insurance, wills, powers of attorney, trusts).
- Future modifications of child support or the parenting plan as your children get older and financial situations change.
- Re-marrying and the effect this will have on orders in the decree.
Again, if you have questions about this process, call FLLC at 907-750-2410, and we will be happy to assist you.