by Karen Covy
Few life events are as complicated or overwhelming as divorce. It is not surprising, then, that while you are trying to rearrange your life, get a grip on your finances, navigate the legal system, help your children adjust to a new reality and ride the emotional roller coaster of divorce, important things can fall through the cracks. That’s why having a good divorce checklist is so important.
Here are 10 common mistakes that you can avoid by having a simple divorce checklist:
1. Having to Be Responsible for Debts You Forgot About (or Didn’t Know Existed) — There is nothing worse than finding out months (or years) after your divorce is over that you have a credit card bill in your name that was never dealt with in your divorce. Divorce Checklist Item: Pull your credit report. (Actually, it is a good idea to pull your credit report at the beginning of your divorce and at the end of your divorce.)
2. Having Your Spouse Read Your Personal Mail — While your spouse has a right to open mail directed jointly to the two of you, as you separate you are going to start getting mail (for example, letters from your attorney) that you won’t want your spouse to read. Divorce Checklist Item: Get a P.O. box and have your mail redirected as soon as you start your divorce.
3. Having Your Spouse Cyber-Spy On You — In the flurry of changing everything in your life when you divorce, it is easy to forget that your spouse probably knows (or can figure out) the passwords to all of your email, social media and other online accounts. Divorce Checklist Item: Create a brand new email account and change your passwords on all of your individual email, social media, and online accounts.
4. Not Gathering All of the Financial Information You Need While You Are Able to Get It Easily — Before your divorce, you can easily grab your financial information from the file cabinet in your family room or home office. Once you start talking about divorce, though, the financial documents you need often mysteriously disappear. Divorce Checklist Item: Get a good divorce document checklist and make copies of all of the documents on it before your divorce starts.
5. Not Understanding How Your Parenting Time Schedule Is Really Going to Work — It is easy to make scheduling mistakes, or miss handling important holidays, when you are trying to create a parenting schedule in your head. Divorce Checklist Item: Get a yearly calendar and mark out your first year’s parenting schedule on the calendar itself.
6. Not Dealing With Critical Parenting Issues Before Your Divorce — There is more to a parenting plan than a time schedule. You have to think about things like “the right of first refusal” for babysitting issues, and rules surrounding getting access to your kids information and lots more. Divorce Checklist Item: Get a parenting issues checklist so you remember to cover what is important to you.
7. Forgetting to actually transfer retirement funds — It’s great if your divorce judgment says your ex has to transfer money from his/her retirement account to you, but the divorce judgment alone won’t make that happen. You are going to need a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) to actually get the money transferred.Divorce Checklist Item: Make sure that all of the money that is supposed to be transferred to you actually gets transferred.
8. Not Making a Will or Not Changing the Beneficiaries on Insurance Policies after Your Divorce — You have just spent a lot of time and money to divide up your assets with your spouse. The last thing you probably want is your spouse to inherit everything back years after your divorce just because you forgot to change the beneficiary on your life insurance policy or make a new will. Divorce Checklist Item: Make a new Will and change all of your beneficiary designations on your insurance policies, retirement accounts, and investment accounts after your divorce.
9. Not Taking Advantage of Health Insurance Benefits While You Can — If you are insured under your spouse’s health insurance policy and you have health issues that need attention, it is smart to take care of them before you finalize your divorce. Divorce Checklist Item: 1) Deal with medical issues before you are divorced; and 2) Don’t forget to explore your own health insurance options before you get divorced.
10. Not Securing Irreplaceable Personal Items — In the heat of a divorce, it is easy for things like family photos, jewelry, and heirloom items to mysteriously disappear. It is also easy to put off getting your personal items from your ex after your divorce because you don’t want to deal with him or her. The problem is that if you wait months (or years) to get your stuff, there may be nothing left to get. Divorce Checklist Item: Put your irreplaceable items in a safe place (outside of your home!) before you start your divorce, and make sure to get your personal items from your ex as soon after your divorce as possible.
Having a good divorce checklist can keep you from making these, and other, painful and costly mistakes.