Navigating Life After Divorce: A Comprehensive Checklist

 Posted on May 03, 2024 in Divorce

Blog ImageDivorce is a profound personal and legal transition, marking the end of one chapter and the beginning of another. The aftermath of a divorce decree involves several steps—legal, financial, and emotional—to ensure a smooth transition into this new phase of life. Whether your divorce was amicable or contentious, this checklist will guide you through the essential actions needed post-divorce to protect your interests and lay the groundwork for your future.

  1. Understanding Your Divorce Decree

Upon completion of your divorce, it is essential for you to be familiar with your divorce decree/judgment. Your judgment outlines your rights, responsibilities, and the agreements reached on asset division, debt allocation, child support, custody and child related arrangements, and maintenance. You should re-read your decree and familiarize yourself with all of the terms. It is imperative you have a clear grasp of the agreement, as it will guide many of your post-divorce decisions and actions. If you are unsure regarding provisions of the agreement, you should speak to a lawyer before taking any actions.

  1. Update Your Financial Documents

a. Bank Accounts and Credit Cards

If you have not already, make sure to close any joint bank accounts and open new ones in your name alone.

Pay off and close joint credit card accounts consistent with the terms of your decree.  Be sure to remove your ex-spouse as an authorized user on individual accounts.  You can run your credit to ensure all liabilities are covered.

b. Real property

Ensure any joint loans are appropriately addressed as stated in your divorce decree.  If you are responsible for refinancing or assuming the loan, be sure to work with a broker or your mortgage company to meet the deadlines necessary.  If a quit claim deed is necessary, make sure it is properly recorded as required by the law.  An attorney can assist you with this process as necessary.

c. Insurance Policies

Update health, life, auto, and homeowners insurance policies. You may need to find new health insurance if you were previously covered under your spouse’s policy. If you are applying for COBRA, be sure to make sure you are within the relevant deadlines.

Review and adjust beneficiaries on life insurance policies and retirement accounts as needed to ensure your spouse no longer has an interest in any of your assets.

d. Retirement Accounts

If your divorce decree provides for a division of any retirement accounts including a 401(k) or a pension and a QILDRO or QDRO is necessary, ensure that you have your attorney draft the necessary documentation in a timely manner to ensure a division in line with the terms of your judgment. Generally, one spouse (and his or her attorney) is responsible for drafting and entry of the QDRO/QILDRO. Judgments may also provide if one or both spouses are responsible for the costs associated with the QDRO/QILDRO. Again, it is imperative to understand your judgment and make note of any deadlines with respect to retirement account division.

For IRAs, a letter of direction can typically divide the account without the necessity of a QDRO.  You can often work with your financial advisor to complete this process, but a lawyer may also assist if necessary.

  1. Create or Revise Your Estate Plan

Will and Trust: Revise your will or trust to reflect your new marital status and ensure your assets are distributed according to your wishes.

Power of Attorney and Healthcare Directive: Update your power of attorney and healthcare directive to reflect your current preferences for who should make decisions on your behalf if you are unable.

If you’ve never had estate planning, now is the time to begin that process to ensure your loved ones are cared for and your assets are maximized upon your death.

  1. Address Name Changes

If you have decided to change your name post-divorce, you will need to update your name with:

  • Social Security Administration
  • Illinois Department of Motor Vehicles for your driver’s license or state ID
  • Passport Office
  • Your employer, banks, credit card companies, and other financial institutions
  • Utility companies and other monthly service providers

Generally you can update your name with the abovementioned institutions with a certified copy of your Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage, or a corresponding name change order depending on the county in which you were divorced.

  1. Reassess Your Budget and Financial Plan

Post-divorce, your financial situation will likely change. Create a new budget that reflects your current income, expenses, child support, alimony, and any other financial adjustments. If possible, consult with a financial planner to help you adjust your financial goals and plan for the future, including retirement.

  1. Custody and Child Support Agreements

If you have children, the divorce decree will outline parenting time arrangements and child support obligations. Ensure you understand these arrangements thoroughly and begin implementing them. This includes:

  • Adhering to the parenting time schedule and all provisions regarding parenting time.
  • Making or receiving child support payments through the proper channels in Illinois such as the State Disbursement Unit. If receiving or paying through the SDU, ensure that you have an online account if you are looking for electronic withdrawal/deposit. If you are the payor spouse and paying your ex-spouse directly, ensure you don’t miss any deadlines and keep proof of all your payments. Never pay support in cash as proving cash payments can be difficult. Your support obligation as the payor could be through your employment. If that is the case, the payee’s attorney will likely prepare an income withholding order for your attorney to review. This will be sent to your employer who will withhold your support obligation from your check according to your pay schedule and send to the payee.
  • Keeping open communication with your ex-spouse about the children's needs and schedules. If you are required to speak to your ex-spouse through a parenting application, make sure to open an account and ensure you can send and receive messages in a timely fashion to avoid any unnecessary breaks in communication with your ex-spouse.
  1. Address Tax Considerations

Your tax situation will likely change after a divorce. It’s crucial to understand:

  • Your filing status (single or head of household) in the next tax season.
  • Who will claim the children as dependents if applicable.
  • How alimony and child support will affect your taxes.
  • How deductions on a marital residence will be allocated the year of your divorce.

You should consult with a tax professional can help navigate these changes and plan for your next tax return.

  1. Emotional and Psychological Adjustment

The end of a marriage is a significant emotional transition. Consider seeking support from a therapist, divorce support group, religious institution or friends and family to help you navigate this change. Taking care of your emotional and mental health is as important as addressing the legal and financial aspects of your divorce.

Navigating life after a divorce involves a combination of legal, financial, and emotional steps. By systematically working through this checklist, you can ensure that you cover all bases, protect your interests, and set a solid foundation for the next chapter in your life. Remember, seeking advice from professionals—lawyers, financial advisors, and therapists—can provide invaluable support and guidance during this transition period. Laws and regulations regarding divorce can evolve. Stay informed about any changes in Illinois law that may affect your divorce decree, parenting arrangements, financial obligations, or any other aspects of your post-divorce life.

As always, should you need further information about your specific divorce decree, the attorneys at McSwain Nagle Giese & Rapp, P.C. can help you and offer free thirty minute consultations by calling 630-407-1200 or reaching out to us at

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