What practical steps should I be taking after my divorce / dissolution has concluded?
You have reached the end of your divorce / dissolution, obtained your decree absolute / final order and are looking to start the next phase of your life. Before embarking on this new chapter, there are some very practical matters that need to be considered to ensure that you can move forward as smoothly as possible.
- Keep your decree absolute / final order safe – There are circumstances where you will be required to produce the original document, most commonly if you wish to remarry / form a new civil partnership. Although this may be the last thing on your mind at the moment, there will be some delay and an administrative fee to obtain a further copy from the court. It is therefore advisable to keep this somewhere safe. It is also usually worth obtaining a couple of certified copies of your decree absolute / final order so that, where acceptable, you can use these when needed rather than the original.
- Financial order – If you have not yet dealt with financial matters and obtained a sealed financial order then you should take urgent legal advice. The granting of your decree absolute / final order does not stop your former partner from being able to come back and start financial claims against you (or vice versa), potentially even months or years down the line. To avoid having to look over your shoulder it is always best to have your financial matters dealt with legally, even if it has been possible for you and your former partner to agree everything and deal with the necessary practicalities.
- Consider changing your name – Many people wish to change their surname following a divorce / dissolution and often revert to their former surname. Some organisations will accept your decree absolute / final order as sufficient evidence of the change in your legal status, but many will require a specific document confirming your new name (even if this is actually a name you previously used). Change of name deeds can be drawn up quickly and simply, so please do speak to a solicitor about this.
- Update your will – Upon decree absolute / final order, any existing will remains valid, however any provisions included within this that reference your former partner (either by name specifically or as your ‘spouse’ / ‘civil partner’) will essentially be struck out. Depending on how your will was drafted this may mean you are left without an executor or that a legacy may now fail. It is always worth taking time to review any will made previously to ensure that it does still reflect your wishes and that all aspects of your estate are covered. If you do not have a will in place it is an opportune time to make one.
- Review the nominated beneficiaries of your pensions and any insurance policies – Many of us make nominations for our pension benefits or insurance policies when they are taken out and then file them away in a drawer for years. Following a divorce is an opportune time to review these and check that the people you have nominated previously are still the people you would want to benefit in the event of your death. Updates to these nominations can be made quickly by contacting your pension or insurance provider.
- Update your utilities companies, mobile phone provider, banks, GP, etc with your new name / address – If you haven’t already done so remember to update any utilities companies of your change of address so that you do not remain liable for any bills in a property that you are no longer living in. In the same way, it is important to update your name and address with all organisations / people that hold this data for you, to ensure that you are still able to keep in contact with everyone. If you have moved house then it may assist to set up a postal redirection through Royal Mail to ensure that if there are any people / companies you have overlooked the post they sent to you reaches you.
- Inform your children’s schools – It is often worth informing your children’s schools that you and your former partner are now divorced / have dissolved your civil partnership and ensure that the school have contact details for you both. That way the schools will be able to send any communication to both of you. It also helps the schools to understand what is happening for your children so that they can provide any additional support to your children that may be necessary.
- Notify HMRC – You should notify HMRC of any significant relationship or family changes, including divorce, as this may affect your taxes / entitlement to tax allowances. This can be done through the HMRC website or via their helpline.
- Close any joint accounts or joint credit / store cards – If you have a financial order then any joint accounts should be dealt with within this and you simply need to ensure that you comply with the terms of the order. If you do not have a financial order in place then you should still seek to deal with any joint accounts or joint credit / store cards, even if these have a zero balance or have been unused for years, as you do not want to remain financially linked to your former partner and potentially be liable for any overdraft or credit facility that may be incurred on the account. If your former partner is being difficult in respect of dealing with a joint account then do seek legal advice at the earliest opportunity, as it is usually possible to freeze joint accounts so that no payments can be made from these. It is also possible to change the mandate on the account to require both of you to sign / approve any changes to the account or transactions to ensure that no money is withdrawn without your knowledge and agreement.
- Transfer property / assets – If there is to be a transfer of property or any other assets from you to your former partner (or vice versa) then the provisions for this should be included within any financial order. It is important that you take the practical steps necessary to transfer such property / assets in accordance with the agreement to ensure that you do not remain liable for any associated liabilities (ie a mortgage or car finance arrangement) if you are transferring assets to your former spouse. Similarly if you are receiving assets from your former spouse you will want to ensure that these are legally registered as yours, so there is no doubt or confusion moving forward. If there is no financial order in place then you should seek legal advice from a specialist family lawyer before transferring your interest in a property / asset, so that you fully understand the implications of taking such steps.
- Implement any pension sharing order – If your financial order contains a pension sharing order then this will need to be implemented. This does not happen automatically. The solicitor acting for you in your divorce / dissolution should have served the relevant pension company with a copy of the order to start this process, but if not then you can do this. The pension provider will then contact you to obtain the additional information they need to implement the same. If you are the person receiving the pension sharing order, and there is to be an external transfer you should take advice from an independent financial adviser as to which pension provider to place your pension credit with , before providing these details to the pension provider implementing the pension sharing order. Pension providers have four months from receipt of all the relevant information and payment of the pension sharing charges to implement a pension sharing order, so this is likely to take some time. Make sure you keep track of how things are going and ask for updates from the pension provider / your financial adviser if you do not receive these.
- Remember to review your maintenance – If maintenance is to be paid as part of the financial settlement reached with your former partner, it is commonplace for this to be reviewed each year and increased in line with inflation. Each year you need to check the relevant inflation index and calculate the increase due to ensure that the payments continue at the correct level. If you require assistance with how to calculate this or if your former partner is refusing to agree the relevant increase to the payments then you should seek legal advice at the earliest opportunity.
- Check your entitlement to government support – The change in your household and therefore, your household income may mean that you are now eligible for government support or that the government support you receive may change. It is always worth double checking this with the relevant government advice agencies to ensure you are receiving everything you are entitled to.
- Consider the financial impact of any new relationship – If you are or have started a new relationship then it is always worth considering the potential financial implications of this. If you are going to live with your new partner, it may be worth investing in a cohabitation agreement (or prenuptial agreement if you plan to marry) which would set out precisely how any assets you have are to be used by the two of you and ultimately what would happen if the relationship were to sadly break down. Thereby providing clarity to both you and your new partner from the outset. It is also worth considering any tax planning as if you are not marrying / entering a civil partnership you may not benefit from certain tax benefits.
If you would like advice on any of the above then please do contact a member of our dedicated and knowledgeable family team, who will be more than willing to assist you.