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In this space, we’ve talked quite a bit about knowing when it’s the right time to divorce, planning for divorce, and getting through divorce. It’s time to devote some attention to the topic of what to do after your divorce is final. In some ways, life immediately after your divorce is something like the day after Christmas...and the moments after an earthquake.

What on earth could a divorce possibly have in common with a festive holiday? It’s like the day after Christmas in the sense that you’ve spent months planning for it and obsessing over details that might (or might not) matter, and now it’s over. You’ve focused all your attention on one thing for so long that you may find yourself standing in the middle of the living room wondering, “What’s next?”

And, of course, a divorce is like an earthquake because it has rocked the foundations of your home, created chaos, broken some things and rearranged others. You probably feel shaken, and you may wander out into the world tentatively, bracing for aftershocks. And the way you should react after an earthquake is, in many ways, how you should react after a divorce. Step one: Make sure your loved ones are okay. Step two: Start to rebuild.

Caring for Yourself and Your Family After a Divorce

Self-care is critically important after a divorce, and that means more than just having a glass of wine or taking a nap. You have been through a stressful process that has reconfigured your life and that of your children. You don’t just need a little break; you need restoration.

What that looks like depends on who you are. You may benefit from counseling, not because there’s anything wrong with you, but because it’s good to have the help of an insightful, objective professional in making sense of the new landscape of your life. Counseling can help you go beyond venting about the past so that you can orient yourself toward the future.

Counseling may also be good for your kids, giving them an outlet for their feelings about the divorce and their concerns for what happens now. It need not be a long-term process, but can be ongoing, of course, if they need it.

Take care of yourself and your kids in other ways, too. In fact, consider treating yourself as you would a beloved child: be gentle with yourself, feed yourself wholesome foods, make sure you get enough rest, maintain a routine, recognize when you need a break and give yourself a time-out.

Practical Steps to Take After a Divorce is Final

At the same time you are taking steps to recover and heal after your divorce, there are also practical matters you should handle, if you have not already done so—rebuilding your life to reflect your new reality. This includes taking measures like:

  • Updating your estate plan. While your divorce automatically revokes any provision in your will leaving assets to your ex-spouse or any appointment of him or her as executor of your will, it is much better to create a whole new estate plan. Create powers of attorney so that someone you trust can make financial and medical decisions on your behalf if you cannot. Consider a trust-based estate plan. Name a guardian for your children should anything happen to you. And if you’ve never had an estate plan, you need one after your divorce more than ever.
  • Change beneficiaries on your life insurance and retirement accounts. Minnesota automatically revokes the designation of an ex-spouse as a life insurance beneficiary if that designation was made before the divorce, but why risk costly litigation and waste assets over this issue? Make the change right now. And don’t forget your retirement accounts; if your ex-spouse is still named as beneficiary on those accounts, they could very well end up with the assets.
  • Notify your children’s schools in writing of any changes in custody. Schools will generally release children to either parent, so if your ex-spouse’s legal rights have changed, the school needs to be made aware.
  • Make sure assets and debts awarded in the divorce are titled appropriately. In one nightmare scenario a colleague dealt with, an ex-wife signed a quitclaim deed releasing her interest in the marital home to her ex-husband, as the divorce decree ordered. However, her name remained on the note for the home loan which was supposed to be his responsibility. Guess who the bank came after when the ex-husband defaulted on the loan?
  • If retirement assets were divided in the divorce, make sure that a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) has not only been prepared and signed by a judge, but sent to and accepted by the retirement plan administrator. Just because your divorce decree says your retirement plans must be divided does not make that automatically happen. Too many ex-spouses have found out years after their divorce that the paperwork dividing these accounts was never properly completed, and they had a very hard time getting access to funds they were counting on.

If you have other questions about what to do after your divorce is final, contact Mundahl Law to schedule a consultation. This may be your first divorce, but our attorneys have been through hundreds of them; we will make sure you haven’t overlooked any important details.