Handbook For The Recently Divorced

handbook

Once the judge has signed off on your final decree of divorce, the divorce judgment might be final, but the divorce process certainly isn’t! There may still be additional work to ensure a smooth transition from married to divorced. We hope the information below will be a helpful checklist of action steps to consider post-divorce.

Obtain certified copies of your divorce decree from the clerk of the court.

For most people getting divorced in a district court in Texas, you may obtain a certified copy of your divorce decree from the district clerk of your county.  If you were divorced in a county court, then the county clerk would be the office where you can obtain certified copies of your decree.

It is important to get CERTIFIED copies of your decree as the clerk will stamp or embellish this copy with their official seal or print the copy on special paper to demonstrate that it is a true and correct official copy of your decree.  

Government agencies, such as the Social Security Administration, Department of Motor Vehicles, or U.S. Department of State will not change your name or update your status from married to divorced without a CERTIFIED copy of the divorce decree.

Most district clerks will charge to make certified copies for you and some district clerks will charge a convenience fee for the use of credit cards, so you may want to call their office and check their policies regarding payment.

IMPORTANT TIP:  Be sure to write down the cause number for your divorce case (usually listed at the top of court pleadings) when requesting your certified copies, as some district clerk’s will also charge an additional research fee if they have to look up your case for you.

If you live in the Victoria County region, the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of our local district clerks are as follows:

Cathy Stuart 
Victoria County District Clerk’s Office
Victoria County Courthouse
115 N. Bridge Street, Room 303 (3rd Floor)
Victoria, Texas 77901
Tel: 361-575-0581

Sharon Mathis 
Jackson County District Clerk’s Office
Jackson County Courthouse
115 W. Main Street, Room 203 (2nd Floor)
Edna, Texas 77957
Tel: 361-782-3812

Tabeth Gardner 
DeWitt County District Clerk’s Office
DeWitt County Courthouse
307 N. Gonzales Street (1st Floor)
Cuero, Texas 77954
Tel: 361-275-0934

Anna Kabela
Calhoun County District Clerk’s Office
Calhoun County Courthouse
211 S. Ann Street (2nd Floor)
Port Lavaca, Texas 77979
Tel: 361-553-4630

Mary Ellen Flores
Goliad County District Clerk’s Office
Goliad County Courthouse
127 N. Courthouse Square (1st Floor)
Goliad, Texas 77963
Tel: 361-645-3294

Ruby Garcia
Refugio County District Clerk’s Office
Refugio County Courthouse
808 Commerce Street (2nd Floor)
Refugio, Texas 78377
Tel: 361-526-2721

If applicable, change your name and address with government agencies, banks and creditors.

If a name change was granted in your divorce decree, you will need a certified copy of that decree to change your name on your driver’s license with the Department of Motor Vehicles, to change your name with Social Security Administration, and to change your name on your passport with the U.S. Department of State.

It is also important that your bank, utility providers, creditors, and tax agencies also have your new name and address to prevent any late payments, service disconnections, or missed correspondence.

Ensure that ownership of property is properly transferred with titles, deeds, and QDRO’s

Just because a piece of property is awarded to you in a final decree of divorce, does not necessarily mean that the property has been properly transferred into your name as your sole and separate property.  Even though there may be some initial relief after the divorce itself is granted, it is very important to formally transfer property before other life events, such as death or re-marriage, complicate matters further.

Titles for motor vehicles, utility trailers, livestock trailers, and boat trailers can be transferred into your name with forms obtained through the Department of Motor Vehicles. If necessary, your former spouse may give a power of attorney to transfer the motor vehicle out of their name.

Titles for boats and boat motors may be transferred into your name with forms obtained through the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife.

For manufactured homes, record of ownership and titles may be transferred in your name with forms obtained through the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, Manufactured Housing Division.

Real estate deeds for property awarded in the final decree should be executed and filed in the property records of the county where the property is located.

If the final decree of divorce awards retirement benefits, the court may need to sign additional orders such as a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (often pronounced “Qua-dro” after its initials Q.D.R.O.) to instruct the administrators of a retirement plan (e.g. 401k plan, 403(b) plan, an IRA, a pension) to give the other spouse their share of the asset or pension plan. You may need to also open a qualified retirement account (such as an IRA) to be able to receive your portion without liquidating the retirement share and incurring taxes and penalties.

Transferring assets may be a difficult and confusing task to handle on your own. Should you need assistance, it is very common to seek the assistance of your divorce attorney, CPA, or financial planner to help you tie up these loose property ends.

Deal with debts!

Notify creditors of the divorce and relevant changes to name and address.

Contact each creditor and notify them as to the date of the divorce, any changes in your name, and any changes in your address. For those joint debts that are awarded to your ex-spouse, request duplicate notices/invoices to be sent to your new address (see below).

Close any joint accounts with low or zero balances.

Many of us have creditor accounts that may be inactive but still open and able to be charged upon.  For example, you and your spouse may have opened a credit card account in case of emergencies but thankfully never needed to use it. Or, you and your spouse may have opened a line of credit with a sporting goods store to take advantage of a discount on a major purchase if you opened that account. For whatever reason, these forgotten accounts may bite back at you post-divorce if these cards are used by your ex-spouse, inadvertently forgetting you are on that account, or worse, used illegally by identity thieves. An open account is a potential future liability. Close it!

Obtain your credit report 90 days after your divorce and one year later.

Be sure to continuously review your credit report during the post-divorce transition and confirm all accounts and activity on that report. Doing so will allow you to take immediate action if unknown accounts have been opened or you see suspicious activity on your credit report.

For joint credit accounts, ask the creditor for duplicate notices.

Here’s where post-divorce debt situations can become a bit tricky (and often litigious!). Unless the lender expressly agreed to look only to one spouse for the payment of the debt, lenders will still look to the both of you for payment after the divorce even if the debt was awarded to only one party in the divorce decree.

Consider the following (common) example: You and your husband bought a truck from “ABC” Motor Credit on a promissory note listed in both of your names.  Even if the husband was awarded both the truck and the debt in the divorce decree, “ABC” Motor Credit is still looking to the both of you for repayment. After all, “ABC” is not a party to your divorce; they just want to get paid! And if (now) ex-husband fails to pay the note timely or fails to pay at all, “ABC” will likely report this delinquency to both parties’ credit reports.

While you may be able to take your ex-spouse to back to court to enforce the payment of debts awarded to them in the decree, you certainly want to know about these delinquencies sooner rather than later. After the divorce, contact any joint creditors and request DUPLICATE notices/invoices be sent to both you and your ex-spouse, so that you are kept “in the loop” as to your ex-spouse’s repayment history on that account.

Insurance Issues


Life Insurance

Life insurance may be a necessary and beneficial financial tool for you and your heirs.  Even after divorce, you may want to meet with an insurance agent or financial planner that can assist you in providing coverage for your estate, particularly the payment of child support for any dependents.

If you had a life insurance policy before divorce, the law that controls what happens to life insurance beneficiaries after divorce can be confusing depending upon where you obtained your life insurance policy. See our discussion of changing beneficiary designations in “Estate Issues” below.

Health Insurance

If you are covered under your spouse’s employer-sponsored health insurance plan, you likely will not be able to stay as a dependent on your spouse’s plan once the divorce is final.  You may also be able to keep coverage through your ex-spouse’s health plan but pay for it yourself by electing COBRA insurance coverage. You may be able to sign up for coverage through your own employer or buy a policy direct from a health insurance company or other state insurance marketplace.

If you have your own health insurance coverage but need to remove your ex-spouse from your plan, you may need to contact your human resource department regarding their policies for insurance changes after the divorce is final.

In either scenario, it is important review health insurance options immediately after the divorce is final. Most insurance providers deem the date of divorce as qualifying life event and allow changes in enrollment by a specific deadline. These deadlines may vary from provider to provider. For example, you may only have 30 days from the date of divorce to inform your insurance provider that you intend to unenroll your ex-spouse from your plan.

Auto Insurance

Once the vehicles are divided up between the spouses, you will likely need to purchase separate auto insurance policies or remove your ex-spouse from your policy.  Although it may be tempting to keep the same insurance provider, the discounts you may have enjoyed while married may not be given to you as a single person. You might consider shopping around for the best auto insurance coverage.

Disability Insurance

Disability insurance pays a portion of your income if you can’t work because of injury or illness. If you do not have savings, assets to sell, or other income to pay child support or spousal maintenance during a short-term disability, your ex-spouse could potentially take you back to court for enforcement of the orders requiring you to pay. Disability insurance is often overlooked, yet many financial experts and family attorneys rank disability insurance as important as life insurance.

If you have an obligation to pay child support or spousal maintenance to your ex-spouse, disability insurance may assist in covering this obligation if you find yourself temporarily unable to earn income during a short-term disability.  

Home Insurance

If the marital homestead or other real estate is transferred to one spouse in the divorce decree, the insurance for the real estate should be transferred into the name of the owner.

You may also want to consider shopping for renter’s insurance should you move to an apartment or rental home after your divorce.

Estate Issues

Modify your Estate Plan

While no one wants to think about death immediately after divorce, it is crucial that you examine your current estate planning documents for any necessary modifications if you no longer desire your ex-spouse to be your agent in the event of incapacity or your intended beneficiary for life insurance or retirement benefits. After your divorce is final, you may want to contact an attorney or financial planner to assist in the planning and drafting of new estate plans.  

A typical estate plan might include a Last Will and Testament that would distribute your assets upon your death, a Durable Power of Attorney to give your agent the power to handle your financial affairs in the event of incapacity, a Medical Power of Attorney to give your agent the power to make medical decisions in the event of incapacity, a Living Will or Medical Directive to instruct medical personnel as to your wishes regarding life support during terminal illness, and funeral or memorial instructions.

You may also need to consider how to handle changes in beneficiary designations, as discussed below.

Change beneficiary designations as needed

If you had a life insurance policy or retirement benefits before divorce, the law that controls what happens to your beneficiary designations after divorce can be confusing depending upon where you obtained your life insurance policy or retirement benefits.

The Texas Family Code renders the designation of a spouse as the beneficiary of life insurance ineffective upon divorce.  Unless the divorce decree designates the former spouse as beneficiary or re-designates the ex-spouse as beneficiary after the divorce is rendered, or the former spouse is to receive life insurance proceeds in trust for the benefit of a child or dependent, the Texas Family Code dictates that the alternate beneficiary should receive the life insurance proceeds. If no alternate beneficiary was named, the Texas Family Code dictates that the proceeds shall then be payable to the estate of the insured. See Texas Family Code Section 9.301.

However, if you have a life insurance policy or retirement benefits through your employer, the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) likely controls the process of designating and removing beneficiaries. As a federal law, ERISA would trump the Texas Family Code provisions regarding beneficiaries. ERISA requires married employees to designate their spouse as the primary beneficiary unless the spouse signs and submits a waiver.  After divorce, ERISA dictates that the beneficiary designations remain the same unless and until the employee follows the proper procedure and submits the required paperwork to have the beneficiary designation changed. Thus, unlike the Texas Family Code, ERISA will not “automatically” remove your ex-spouse as primary beneficiary of your employee-sponsored life insurance policy or retirement benefits. Thus, if you die before you are able to change the beneficiary, your ex-spouse would be paid the proceeds under these policies, even if that was not your intention.

Financial Issues

Financial Recovery After Divorce

The division of property and the loss of a spouse’s income after divorce forces many people to face the daunting task of managing their finances alone for the first time in years or even, decades.

You may want to consider meeting with a qualified CPA, financial planner, or financial advisor to assist you in listing your goals for living, saving, and retirement, help you manage your financial risks and monitor your financial progress.

Tax Issues

If you are paying or receiving child support or spousal maintenance, you may consider meeting with a CPA that can accurately calculate whether your tax withholdings should be changed and what tax liabilities you are potentially facing.  

Keep up with the Kiddos

Follow the Orders Regarding Child Support

Failure to pay child support as ordered can lead to unfortunate consequences including being sued for enforcement of the court order and potentially being held in contempt for not following the court’s order.  If your income should decrease in the future, be sure to contact an attorney that can advise you regarding modifying your child support obligation.

Exercise Possession and Access to Children as Ordered (or as Agreed)

Most divorce decrees contain language stating that the parties may have visitation with their children at all times mutually agreed upon by the parties. In other words, you and your spouse can share your children at agreed upon dates and times that work for you and your family. Otherwise, you must follow the court’s order regarding possession and access. If problems arise regarding visitation or one party fails to consistently exercise possession of the children, be sure to document those issues and the dates that they occurred. If problems continue, be sure to consult an attorney regarding your options.  

Co-Parenting is Important

You and your spouse made the decision to marry.  Likewise, you or your spouse made the decision to divorce.  However, no matter who did what to whom, or who initiated the divorce process, the children of the marriage likely did not get a vote as to the family they were born in to nor the family that is left post-divorce.

Your children’s best interests, both physically and emotionally, should be the paramount concern for both parents, regardless of how those parents now feel about each other.

The continued active and cooperative presence of both parents in the children’s lives are vital to the children’s health, education, emotional development, and overall wellbeing.

The term “co-parenting” was coined to describe a parenting relationship in which two parents of a child are not romantically involved, but still assume joint responsibility for the upbringing of their child.

Healthy co-parenting requires both parents to put aside their personal differences to develop and implement a parenting plan that they feel is in the best interest of their child’s development. Healthy co-parenting usually also requires ongoing communication, troubleshooting, and mutual responsibility, so it can prove challenging to implement following the dissolution of a relationship.

Consider the “Children’s Bill of Rights” in your parenting decision-making

Founded in 1985, the Children’s Rights Counsel developed a “Children’s Bill of Rights” to advocate and promote the best interest of children after their parent’s relationship has ended. It is a helpful tool in prioritizing your children’s health and wellbeing during after divorce.

CHILDREN’S BILL OF RIGHTS

“We, the children of parents who have or about to end their relationship as we know it, deserve fair and just treatment by each of you. We ask you to consider us while we all go through the changes occurring within our family. To make it easy for you to think of us, we have agreed on some things that we think you should consider.

We are your children and we love each of you!

We need to be told that we are half of each of you and that you both love us, no matter what happens with your relationship.

  1. We deserve to be treated as important people with our own ideas, feelings, wishes and not as property for one of you to “win.”
  2. We want to have our questions about our changing family answered respectfully, with age-appropriate answers that do not include you blaming or belittling each other.
  3. We want to make our own judgments about each of our parents and to be allowed to love both of you without one degrading the other to us.
  4. We want to learn from both of you about your religious ideas, hobbies, interests and experiences.
  5. It hurts us to be asked or expected to take sides against one of you.
  6. We never want to be made the method of our parents’ communication by being asked to deliver messages back and forth.
  7. We never want to be made a messenger by being told to carry notes, legal papers, money or anything else between you.
  8. We want to never be asked to spy or to be interrogated about events in the other parent’s home.
  9. We want you to know that it hurts when you treat us like leverage in your fight.

EXPRESSION OF LOVE

  1. We want to enjoy continuing care and guidance from both of you; to be educated in mind, nourished in spirit and developed in body, in an environment of unconditional love.
  2. We want to have a continuing relationship with both parents and be allowed to love both parents.
  3. We want to be allowed to continue loving relationships with both grandparents and other extended family members and to be allowed to have them in our lives.
  4. We want to be allowed to own and display pictures of both of our parents and family members.

SENSE OF SECURITY

  1. We deserve to have our parents work together toward our best interests at all times.
  2. We need to have the sense of security that we get from loving homes and to be sheltered from harm.
  3. We need to be able to spend quality time with each parent without the other interfering by making plans for us, offering us other things to do instead or threatening to punish us for what we did wrong by not allowing us to go with our other parent.
  4. We deserve to live in an atmosphere where we won’t be abused or neglected.
  5. We are entitled to be happy children and not be involved in the conflict, problems and fighting of our parents.
  6. We want to be allowed to have a place for our stuff when we’re at each parent’s home.
  7. We need to have a daily and weekly routine that is predictable and that I can understand.
  8. We wish that you would not burden us with adult duties and responsibilities. I cannot be expected to raise myself or my siblings. Though I may be able to help, I need you both to guide me.
  9. We need to be able to communicate with the other parent and have private conversations without eavesdropping or recording or being told what to say or what not to say.

FREEDOM OF CHOICE

  1. We need to be told that our parents’ divorce or separation is not our fault. We deserve to be comforted when we are scared of what’s happening within our family.
  2. We need to be allowed to live with each parent for extended periods of time, as situations will allow.
  3. We must be allowed to choose to remain in sports, special classes or clubs that I like, without being made to feel guilty that my activities may conflict with your parenting time. If possible join me in my activities.

DEVELOPMENT OF SELF

  1. We deserve to have parents who discuss my development and are interested in how I am progressing.
  2. We must be allowed to discuss our feelings and emotions in appropriate ways with your understanding and love.
  3. We need to have parents that listen to our problems and concerns, as well as our dreams and desires.

TIME AND INFORMATION

  1. We need to be able to communicate with either parent as often as needed.
  2. We need to enjoy appropriate Parenting Time access (visitation) with each parent that will serve our needs and preferences.
  3. We need to know what is good about the other parent.
  4. We need to have clear communications (even if only in writing) about medical treatments, psychological therapy, educational issues, accidents, illnesses and other important concerning us and our parents.
  5. We need to have consistent and predictable boundaries in each parent’s home especially if the rules in each house may significantly differ from the other.
  6. We need to know in advance about decisions including living arrangements, transfer times and locations, holidays, summer schedules, and special circumstances.
  7. We need to have educational, religious, athletic and other necessary persons informed about changes in family situation.
  8. We need to have certain personal information about each parent kept private.

Last and foremost: We need each parent to be the adults of our new family structure and act accordingly.”

Emotional Issues

Divorce can be a deeply emotional and traumatic event for both men and women. Regardless as to whether the divorce was anticipated or a complete surprise, you may find yourself grieving the loss of your marriage and your partner much like you would grieve the death of a loved one. Changes to your home, property ownership, money, parenting of children, holiday celebrations, and daily routine may understandably leave you feeling anxious or depressed.

Take care of yourself.  A healthy diet, exercise, and time with friends and family are important to both your physical and emotional well-being.

Allow yourself to mourn and work through your feelings. Reach out to local support groups for the divorced or separated. Many churches and other non-profit groups host regular meetings for people experiencing the trauma of divorce. There are also many helpful support groups and chatrooms online. You may even find one-on-one counseling sessions with a licensed professional counselor to be helpful in managing your grief and emotions during this time.

Understand that you may experience depression after divorce and accept that you may need to seek medical assistance to manage your depression. You may experience some or all of the following symptoms of depression from divorce to some extent:

  • inability to sleep or sleeping more than usual
  • over eating or a total lack of appetite
  • fatigue
  • unusual aches and pains
  • excessive alcohol or drug use
  • difficulty concentrating
  • persistent negative thoughts
  • irritability or anger
  • anxiousness or restlessness
  • sense of guilt or worthlessness
  • pessimism or indifference
  • loss of interest in formerly pleasurable activities
  • recurrent thoughts of death
  • thoughts of suicide 
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