Stephanie is a family law attorney in Obermayer’s office in Doylestown, PA. She concentrates her practice in all aspects of family law, including divorce, custody, child and spousal support, equitable distribution, adoption,...Read More by Author
I’m Divorced – Now What?
For many people, getting through their divorce is challenging enough. Navigating the financial aspects of divorce can be time-consuming and confusing. Once an individual gets to the finish line, they may think that they can put things behind them but it is important to be mindful of post-divorce considerations.
It is not uncommon for an attorney to send the client’s divorce decree along with a file closing letter and then move on to their next case. But clients, who may have just concluded a litigious and lengthy divorce matter, may be thinking about important next steps. They may not even realize there are important end-of-divorce tasks to review and check off. After all, wasn’t getting to the finish line of the divorce enough?
Many of the following items in this checklist will likely be addressed if the parties entered into a Postnuptial Agreement, Property Settlement Agreement, or Marital Settlement Agreement. But for some cases, an agreement may have been read in open Court and as a result may not be as detailed as a written agreement. The Court will not manage or oversee post-divorce tasks (except as it relates to enforcing agreements). The following checklist is provided to guide individuals in the important next steps following their divorce:
- Do you have an agreement that addresses the resolution of your economic claims? If so, this is an important place to start. While you had reviewed the agreement prior to signing, these agreements are often lengthy in nature and filled with legalese. Returning to your agreement is a good starting place to make sure certain tasks have been completed.
- Does a new deed need to be prepared? If you are retaining real estate that was previously jointly titled with your prior spouse, a new deed will need to be prepared and recorded with the county where the real estate is located. Generally, the person retaining the real estate is responsible for preparing and recording the need. Our real estate department often assists our family law clients with these tasks.
- Have joint accounts been closed? This may seem self-explanatory, but it is not uncommon for individuals to forgetfully leave jointly titled accounts open with nominal balances. It is important to make sure all joint accounts are closed and that any former auto-payments are deducted from the appropriate account
- Have retirement funds been transferred? If your agreement addresses dividing retirement funds and/or accounts, then another instrument may be required to effectuate the transfer. Generally, IRAs do not require a formal court order to divide accounts or transfer funds. However, 401(k)s generally do require the parties to have a Qualified Domestic Relations Order – “QDRO” for short – detailing the transfer. This document is generally prepared by a third-party firm and is filed with the Court after the divorce decree is issued. This is an area where both clients and their attorneys need to be mindful. In some counties, it can take up to 8-10 weeks for a divorce decree to be issued. You do not want to wait until then to get the QDRO drafted and signed as that process can be lengthy as well. It is generally a good rule of thumb to have the QDRO process started prior to the divorce decree being issued, and once an agreement is reached, so that it can be placed in the queue.
- Have you changed your beneficiaries on life insurance policies and retirement accounts? Depending on the agreement reached with your prior spouse, your life insurance beneficiaries will likely need to be updated as well as beneficiary designation on retirement accounts.
- It is important to know your tax filing status for future tax returns. Your marital status as of 12/31 controls. Even if you are separated from your spouse, but a divorce decree has not been issued, then you are still “married” and can file joint returns if you and your spouse agree. If you are divorced by 12/31, then you will file as Head of Household or single and should consult with your accountant.
- Change your passwords to your e-mail accounts, bank accounts, etc.
- Did you and your spouse prepare wills during your marriage? If so, you will want to update trust and estate documents. Our estate department often assists family law clients with this endeavor.
The information contained in this publication should not be construed as legal advice, is not a substitute for legal counsel, and should not be relied on as such. For legal advice or answers to specific questions, please contact one of our attorneys.