There is no “after divorce” checklist because what helps one person move forward with her life doesn’t always work for the next. We enter and leave our marriages with our own unique sets of personal baggage. Even so, we find thinking carefully about what to do after divorce can help you feel more in control of your future. If you have children, what kind of parent do you want to be? What kind of relationship do you want to have with your Ex? How will your lifestyle change, and how can you rediscover who you are as a newly-single woman? Are you even ready to move on?
But more than simply thinking about what to do after divorce, you must take action. It’s the best way to start the next chapter of your life, to feel less like a victim of your choices (or your Ex’s) and more like an independent, strong woman whose life can be anything she wants it to be.
From the practical to the unexpected, here are 16 things to do after divorce. You may find that some of these ideas overlap.
1. Find a therapist or a support group
Find someone impartial to talk to, someone who will force you to ask yourself the questions you need to move on and better understand what “went wrong” in your marriage. There are several ways to go about this. You can get one-on-one help by finding a therapist, or you can join a local or virtual online divorce recovery support group. If you have children and are coparenting, finding an objective third-party to speak with—and potentially learn from, is even more important. It’s so easy to lean on your children and overshare, but doing so is never a good idea.
2. Find your support system
A therapist or support group might be a part of your support system, but it’s just one spoke on the wheel. Friends, family members, close colleagues—find your people. These are the people who you turn to on good and bad days, the ones who see “the real you” in a way a therapist or coach might never be able to. Your support system should be filled with the people you trust. People who might actually be able to get you out of the house or who can look at you and say “that sucks” when that’s really all you need to hear. Above all, these are the people who make you laugh. They remind you of who you are!
3. Develop a financial plan
Putting together a financial plan may not be the sexiest thing you can do after divorce, but it’s plain smart. Finances affect divorced women in different ways. A few find themselves with more money than they know what to do with, while most find themselves challenged or even strained to make ends meet. Some women were heavily involved with finances during their marriage, while others feel like they are learning an entirely new language, suddenly forced to grapple with decisions they once left to their husband. Some women were stay-at-home moms while others held down jobs.
If you don’t understand a thing about your finances, or you are kinda shaky about them, figure out how you are going to take steps to learn. We love this financial class designed for women because the lessons are digestible videos you can take in easily. It also helps that the financial advisor teaching the class is a woman and understands our (emotional) relationship with money and what we spend money on!
No matter how your financial reality compares to other divorced women you know, you need to put together a plan and a budget, either on your own or with a financial advisor, to ensure you are taken care of.
4. Visit a social security office
Find out what your social security benefits will be in black and white figures so you can plan on what you’ll need for your later years. If your spouse earned more money than you, and as long as you do not remarry (up to age 60), you are entitled to up to 50 percent of his* benefits (regardless of his marrying again or not). Your entitlement to the benefits does not take anything away from him and his benefits, nor anyone else who may have married him after you.
Google the nearest social security office to your location and schedule an appointment, or go to the office (take a number and wait to meet with a social security rep), and get an estimate of the benefits you will receive starting at 62 as well as the optimal date for you to claim the benefits (70 or 67 years?).
You will need to take your ID and your hard-won divorce decree to show you are officially divorced. You will also need to provide your social security number and your spouses. (Look on the divorce decree!)
5. Put yourself first
Yes, we know this is a little vague, but everyone’s concept of putting themselves first differs. And if you have kids, then of course, you’ll come second until they turn 18 (and let’s be real—maybe even after). One of the perks of not having a spouse is that all of your needs and wants are suddenly the only priority. You don’t have to compromise or carefully balance your time to ensure your spouse feels supported. You now have time for self-care, and we want you to indulge yourself.
Do whatever makes you feel content—garden, take up yoga or pilates, go on a retreat or get a massage or a facial, develop a workout routine, set a weekly bubble bath date with yourself, go on a long walk. Practice (yes, “practice”) self-care. Be kind to yourself, and think of this period of your life as one of rediscovery.
6. Step outside of your comfort zone
Speaking of rediscovery, what about reinvention? Were there activities and interests you stopped making time for during your marriage? Or things you always wanted to do but never got around to? Volunteer in a program that turns you on! Or, maybe there’s a trip you always wanted to take, but you knew your Ex would never be up for it? Find your bliss. Take up rock climbing, start painting, pull a Mrs. Maisel and start a career in stand-up comedy. Create a new bucket list for a future without your husband.
7. Take a vacation
This is about more than stepping outside of your comfort zone. Take a vacation, and travel somewhere you have never been to before. Experience a different culture, a different setting, and maybe you’ll find yourself with a different perspective. Take a friend, maybe even travel with another divorced woman, and allow yourself to be spontaneous.
8. Read books
Books are great for so many things—they make you more empathetic, they teach you things, and they help you grow. You can read digitally, in-print, or listen to audiobooks so that reading becomes a routine habit, part of your daily commute or something you do while exercising. Try reading books by authors like Brene Brown or Ekhart Tolle, who can help you expand your mindset. But you can also turn to fiction like the writings of Elizabeth Gilbert, letting yourself escape into someone else’s world for a bit. Getting out of your own head is exactly what you need right now. Here are specific titles we suggest.
9. Take yourself out to dinner
Go to dinner alone and just let yourself experience the sounds, tastes, and sights. If the idea of being on your own terrifies you but you’re still feeling brave, then bring a book (see above) with you on your dinner date. That way you can still enjoy a night out while giving yourself a portable escape hatch for any potential awkward feelings on your part.
10. Dance—you guessed it—like no one else is watching
Clichéd? Maybe. But dancing is good for your soul. You can go out with friends, or simply turn on some music at home and start shaking your hips and getting lost in the beats. Dancing isn’t just about exercise. Sure, that rush of endorphins feels amazing, but it’s about reconnecting with your body. It’s about letting yourself get silly and letting your limbs loosen. It’s about reminding yourself that you’re still in control—you can flip on a switch and let music pour into your life, or you can shut yourself off.
11. Ask your kids what they want to do for the day
And then, as long as it’s within your ability, go do it. Throw out your schedules and plans. Allow yourself to be surprised by where the day might take you. Not only is this is a fun way to bond with your children, it’s a fun way to shake up your routine and make memories. Coparenting can be rough, especially at first as you and your Ex navigate your new lives, so it’s important to take pleasure in the moments you share with your kids.
12. Stop sleeping on “your side” of the bed
First, if possible, buy a new mattress, sheets and pillows. Then, spread out across your bed. Get a running start, and dive under the covers. Sleep sideways or diagonally. Use those two, or five or more plush pillows you’ve treated yourself to, and surround yourself with them on all sides. Your bed is truly yours now. You don’t have to sleep on one side anymore. Or be any one way anymore. You don’t have to stress out about waking someone up or “trespassing” on “his” territory. So get comfortable.
13. Have a girls sleepover
Remember those? Break out the popcorn, wine, and girly movies. Honestly, your friends will enjoy this as much as you—sometimes we all need an excuse to let ourselves act like our carefree selves and enjoy each other’s company. Take this time to catch up on each other’s lives and to strengthen your friendships.
14. Dress up for no reason
Throw on your favorite lipstick and those jeans that hug your curves in all the right places. You know the ones. Whether you’re staying in for the night or going out on the town, sometimes it’s nice to dress up for no real reason other than that it makes you feel good. Other times, a bit of dress up can help you achieve a new and improved look, and that kind of change might be nice at a time like this.
15. Try out new recipes
When you’re in a relationship, planning meals can be a chore even if you’re not the one cooking them. It can be hard to find common ground if your partner is a picky eater. So when you’re thinking about what to do after divorce, consider pulling out that list of foods you knew your Ex would never try and crossing them off one by one. It’s nice to treat yourself and develop some new skills at the same time.
BONUS 16! Start a DIY project
This could really be anything—rehabbing a piece of furniture or planting a garden, for instance. Working with your hands allows you to fully immerse yourself in an activity and shut off your brain. Pinterest is a great place to find your next DIY project. Start small, with something you can easily achieve in a single day. You’ll feel accomplished and remind yourself what you’re capable of.
Remember, there are so many ways to help yourself move on after divorce. If your divorce recovery journey doesn’t look the same as other divorced women, don’t concern yourself. This isn’t a one-size-fits-all type of scenario. It’s okay if the ideas on this list don’t resonate with you. Don’t hesitate to do what feels right for you. And if there’s something that especially helped you, we’re sure our readers would love to know! Comment below, and share your favorite tips for what to do after divorce.
Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS to partner them through the challenging experience of divorce and recreation. Now you can learn the Art of Reinvention post-divorce. Secure female-centered support, information, and smart next steps coparenting and rebuilding your life with Paloma’s Group, our virtual, post-divorce group coaching class, for women only. To promote sisterhood and protect confidentiality, space is limited.
* This piece was written for SAS for Women, an all-women website. At SAS we respect same-sex marriages, however, for the sake of simplicity in this article we refer to your spouse as a male.