Over the years I have been doing divorce financial advising, I’ve learned so much from women just like you. It’s so normal for us to ask questions and want information from those who have already been through this overwhelming time in our lives.
I remember talking with my friends (many of whom had been divorced) and wanting them to understand how my experiences left me feeling afraid and alone. I wanted to compare my story to theirs. I wanted to not feel so alone. After so many calls and conversations, I’ve made lists and lists of what I’ve heard being said and I want to share some key takeaways with you. I hope it will help you “cut through the divorce noise.”
1. You don’t need to listen to people who don’t know what’s best for you.
Some well-meaning friends and family want you to quit worrying about everything you’ve got on your mind and “just get back out there.” If you’re not ready, then take it easy. You’ll be ready when you’re ready. There’s a huge, new world waiting for you when you’re ready!
2. Try to separate the emotional part of your journey from the business of divorce.
There are so many ups and downs and it’s important that you have emotional support so that you have a safe place to deal with all of the feelings you’re experiencing. That is the value of a coach or therapist.
3. One of the biggest issues women tell me is that they’re afraid.
Honestly, who isn’t afraid? It means you’re human, but it doesn’t mean you’re not going to be OK. Your fear can actually move you forward and push you to learn new things that you never dreamed you could learn.
4. Feeling lonely isn’t the same as being alone.
The reason some women don’t want to divorce is because they’re afraid of being alone. But the truth is that so many of us were lonely in our marriages! When I talk with women who are divorced, they actually like being alone and just being able to do whatever they want whenever they want!
5. Wanting to find all the answers online.
Many women tell me they are getting all their information online. While I do suggest you read about different options for divorce, for example, I don’t recommend you keep digging deeper and deeper trying to find the answers to all of your concerns. Again, that is where you can get in trouble with inaccurate information. It can lead you to doubt and waste time questioning what is true and correct in this process.
6. If you’re feeling so tired, hurt, and damaged emotionally right now, I’ve learned that so many of you are going to find love again!
Even if you’re not even interested right now, after you’ve worked on the role you may have played in the divorce, it may surprised to find that you’re interested in something new and healthier. It’s human nature to want connection with others. So give yourself time to figure out who you want to show up as now on a deeper level and you will attract what you need.
I want you to know you’re not alone and we all have worries and fears. If I had to summarize what I’ve learned through the “divorce noise” is that we all struggle. But there is light at the end of the tunnel – it just can be a long tunnel and the light can seem so far away, but don’t give up.
And if you would more support and want to speak with one of our team members here at Divorce Strategies Group, please schedule your 30 minute complimentary consultation today.
During divorce, many women are concerned about financial survival—and with good reason. Studies show after divorce, the wife’s standard of living may drop almost 73% while the husbands may increase by as much as 42%. Many factors combine to lower a women’s standard of living after divorce. Child support may not be adequate to cover the true costs of child rearing, and she might have lost many important years of career growth, making it difficult for her to get back on her feet after divorce. By familiarizing yourself with the ten financial pitfalls of divorce for women, you can save yourself a lot of heartbreak and hassle in the future.
1. Believing you cannot afford an experienced attorney
Divorces are expensive. There is no doubt. The fees involved for a regular divorce with a qualified attorney are expensive – attorney fees, therapist bills, new living expenses and other advisor fees. Further, the funds previously used to support one household must now stretch to support two. If you are contemplating divorce, now is the time to begin amassing the funds you’ll need to stay afloat. Think of a divorce as a long term financial cost and plan accordingly before you file or when you first start to believe you spouse may be checking out of the marriage.
If you are not able to save cash for the divorce process, you still have the ability to hire good support for yourself. You can open a credit card in your name alone, while you are married, and use the marital income to qualify for a card. That card can be used for divorce related costs and at the end of the divorce, it is placed on the marital inventory as a debt of the marriage. You have power!! Contact Divorce Strategies Group on this topic and we will walk you through what to do.
2. Bad timing
Divorce is a marathon event which requires careful preparation. Before you act on the divorce, consult with legal and financial professionals, and read about the subject. Also, think about where you are in life. Did you or your spouse just start a business? Are you or your spouse just about to go back to school for a graduate degree and amass student debt? Life stages like this may cause you to pause on the divorce or act quickly before major community debt amasses. If you’ve been married eight years or just hit the nine year mark and your spouse is the major breadwinner, you might want to stick it out a little while longer before you file for divorce. In order to collect on your ex-spouse’s social security you must be married for at least 10 years from the date of marriage to the actual date of divorce. Finally, don’t just pack up and drive away in a car needing major repairs with old clothes on and kids who need braces. Fix what you need fixed, buy what you want to buy and get your kids situated with what they need before you leave, as much as possible.
3. No records
The three most important words during divorce are: document, document, document. Try to obtain copies of all financial records before your divorce begins. Make a clear copy of all tax returns, loan applications, wills, trusts, financial statements, banking information, brokerage statements, loan documents, credit card statements, deeds to real property, car registration, insurance inventories, and insurance policies. Also, copy records you can use to trace your separate property, such as an inheritance or gifts from your family. The corpus and the capital appreciation of these assets should remain your separate property as long as you can document them. Copies of your spouse’s business records can be a treasure map illustrating where hidden assets, if any, are buried.
4. Overlooking assets
Texas is a community property state. That means every dollar earned during the marriage belongs equally to each spouse. It matters not that the income went into your bank account, a business, a 401k or a second home – those funds belong to each spouse. Half of everything is yours! Even if you don’t want an asset, it can be used to trade for something you do want. Inventory safe deposit boxes; track down bank and brokerage accounts; keep pay stubs, retirement plans, and insurance policies. Don’t overlook hobbies or side businesses that might have expensive equipment or generate income.
5. Ignoring tax consequences
Tax consequences are one of the most overlooked or forgotten issues in divorce finance. Most financial decisions have tax ramifications. Should you take the brokerage account or the retirement plan? Should you keep the house or sell it now? Don’t ignore the hidden tax costs of divorce in making these decisions. Your situation may require some calculation by an accountant or divorce financial planner to determine if you are really getting the best deal. And, if there is a chance your past joint tax returns omitted income or overstated deductions, you may want to seek an indemnification clause to protect yourself if the IRS decides to audit.
6. Thinking ignorance is bliss
During divorce ignorance is not bliss, it’s expensive. As painful as it may be, diving in and participating in the process can help you recover more quickly from the divorce because you will have a healthy sense of control over the process, be focused on practical things, and be working with your ex to get things done. Also, taking an active role in the negotiations can help you achieve a better settlement. You will also likely have less conflict and litigation after the divorce, better compliance from your ex, and better sharing of information about the children. Your attorney will give you valuable legal advice which should weigh heavily into your decision making process, but all of the decisions are ultimately up to you.
7. Mixing money and emotion
This is really tough for women who were hurt during the divorce, however, it is crucial. Try to think of this from an unemotional, business like perspective. This is likely the largest business transaction you will make in your life – treat it as such. View your attorney as a paid professional rather than a friend or confidante. When your grief is overwhelming, go to a friend or support group, not to your attorney, who is billing you at his or her normal hourly rate. In addition, revenge is not helpful in long term planning and financial negotiations. It will not make you happy to declare war on your ex – it will likely just make you broke. Making the effort to bring the divorce to a successful conclusion with as little rancor as possible can help you financially today and in the future.
8. Not fighting for what’s legitimately yours
Divorce negotiations are not only about survival; they are about molding your long term financial future. It’s important to not let wanting to please others or look like “the good girl” get in the way of taking what is legitimately due you. You have to insist on getting what you legally deserve. Even if you hope you will eventually be able to reconcile with your ex, it is not guaranteed (you are getting divorced after all). Letting him keep all of his 401k because he’s worked so hard could put you in the poor house when you are older while he enjoys a great life. No matter your feelings, stand up for yourself and get your legal share. If you reconcile, that’s fine. If you don’t, you’ll still be able to take care of yourself financially. Taking what is rightfully yours (50% at least) is not being greedy, it is protecting your future and honoring your own value as a human being. No matter what your spouse says, you are worth it!
9. Taking the payment overtime versus the lump sum
Receiving a guaranteed, monthly, court ordered income sounds great doesn’t it? Yes, but what if your spouse loses his job? Becomes disabled? Quits his job and moves overseas to work? What if he just stops paying? What if his industry goes through 2 years of consolidation and he is laid off time and time again? What if he starts his own business? We feel like getting a lump sum is much better than a series of payments – court ordered or not. If he stops paying the court ordered support, guess what you have to do to get him to pay it again? Yes, go back to court. At some point, those court costs can be more than what you would get from him in the first place. Take the up-front money instead of the income when given a choice. You can create your own income stream for that lump sum payment or use it for other financial needs in the future.
10. Not getting good professional advice
Right now, you need all the help you can get! Divorce can be very complicated, so don’t try to do it all yourself. Hire an attorney who can give you excellent advice—even if he or she is expensive. Engage a divorce financial advisor to help you make wise financial decisions and create a roadmap for your future. Find a good therapist to help you emotionally. Don’t skimp now on matters which will affect the rest of your life.
Schedule a 30 minute complimentary consultation today to discuss your specific situation or call us at 281-505-8177 to discuss your concerns.
Your first Christmas or other major holiday after divorce can be tough, and it will no doubt be different. I still remember my first Christmas without my child. I was able to negotiate having my child for the very first Christmas after divorce, but the second one was without my child, and it was a whopper. The first holiday without our children provokes a special circle of emotions. It was, frankly, awful. However, I am proof you can survive the first one and learn how to thrive for many more after. The key is finding the tools which help you cope and creating new routines.
So, my friend, if you’re going through this, I really feel for you right now. It will get better (I know, it doesn’t feel like it, but it will) and hopefully these resources for getting through your first holiday after divorce will help.
Tools to Cope
While it may sound silly, coping tools, in my experience, really do work. I’ve tried many different tools and have found some to be more beneficial than other.
First, be kind to yourself. This is a new affair and it’s tough. If you notice negative self-talk tell that voice to kindly shut up, go away and leave you alone. That voice is a lie. You are a survivor. You have this. You deserve a little self-care. Bubble baths, naps, facials, massages, quiet time – do what you can to provide yourself with a little self-care on a regular basis.
When circumstances around me are spinning out of control, grounding myself in reality is very helpful. It provides a level of safety and security when I cannot control the circumstances or people around me. I do this by connecting to my physical surroundings. Standing in the grass barefoot and focusing on the feel of the grass, counting the number of legs on chairs in the room, focusing on the physical shape of objects or touching something hot or cold in the room are all examples of grounding tools I have used.
Journaling is another tool I have used over the years which has proven helpful. I had a special chair in my bedroom which was soft and comfortable during and after my divorce. I would read an inspirational saying or daily book of quotes and then journal about how those quotes applied to me. I would also just start writing some days. When life was really stressful, I commited to journaling at least 10 minutes per morning. Some days I started off by writing, “I’m having the feeling of…..”. Journaling not only helped me unpack my emotions, it helped me sort through what I wanted and needed. Some journaling entries were vents, some were profound, and some were just silly.
When I am in stress, deep breathing really helps. I use the breathing I learned in yoga class – deep breathing in the nose and out of the mouth. Count to 5 on the breathe in, hold for a count of 3 and then exhale for a count of 5. I use my apple watch a lot which actually tells me when my heart rate is elevated and tells me to breathe. If my watch is not on and I’m feeling anxious, stressed or scared, taking two minutes to breathe helps me relax, calm down and focus.
I would not have been able to survive divorce without my friends. I had 6 women on speed dial and I called them daily for a while. If all of your friends were from your married life, I encourage you to reach out to groups where you can make new friends. There are multiple groups for divorce recovery, one is DivorceCare.org. I personally went to this and found it very helpful. I also reconnected with friends from my past who I knew were single. Lastly, Divorce Recovery for Women is another resource specifically for women after divorce to help them connect, learn and thrive.
Even if you have great friends, reaching out to others in your same phase of life for support and encouragement can be very helpful. We do life better together and walking through one of the most difficult things in life is better done with others by your side.
Professional Therapy or Life Coach
Going to therapy or a life coach also has proven very beneficial in my life. I went to therapy for 2 years during and after my divorce, and on and off since then. I’ve received so many good tips tools and walked through how to build my own self esteem in therapy. I also learned why I picked the men I did, and how to change my “picker”.
A healthy routine of eating well and exercise is another great coping tool. We all know we should do it, but really doing it is important especially during stressful times. I joined hot yoga when I was in the divorce process and it was so helpful. I have also joined other group exercise classes or just ran on mu own. The best thing I found was to create a routine, so my body knew what to expect each day and when as far as working out, eating and working.
How to Share with Family, Friends and Co-Workers
Talking to your friends, family and coworkers about your divorce, especially if it is recent, is something you will no doubt have to deal with. Be prepared for this. Having a script prepared will allow you to present only what you want when talking about your divorce. Decide what you do and don’t want to share, prepare a script and follow it. I had a standard script for why the divorce happened, how I am doing and my thoughts on dating again. These are the three main topics I was repeatedly asked about so I had a set script for each. This helped me move on and avoid saying anything I would later regret.
Social media is inherent to our days, as much as breathing or drinking water it seems! So, before you post that rant or that picture…think long and hard about it! Make sure that you’re keeping your social media usage reasonable, so you don’t have to explain anything or show pictures to anyone that you don’t want.
I hope you find courage, peace, and joy in these tough times. You can do this! We are here to help. If you would like help finding a support group or getting your life in order contact us. We are happy to help you. We get it, we’ve been there. If you are a women we also encourage you to check out Divorce Recovery for Women for helpful information, workshops and meet ups with other women in your life circumstance.
One of the biggest reality checks for those in divorce is you do not get “do-overs”. Once the estate has been divided, it is divided. Once decisions with minor children have been made, they are made. Sure, you can always spend thousands of dollars to go back to court if you decide you do not like the children’s agreements or want to modify spousal support which was put in place, but that’s just it – you’ll spend thousands of dollars. So now is the time to make sure you are really in the best place you can possibly be for your future.
When you come to terms with this thought, it will hopefully help you see the importance of making the best, most informed decisions you possibly can right now. How many times in life have you longed for a do-over? Don’t make this process something you wish you could have done over. In order to make informed decisions it is important to do all you can to think logically right now.
This is one of the BIGGEST MISTAKES made in the divorce process. I know for me; I was completely overwhelmed and exhausted emotionally with the process. I did not know what I was doing, and I felt as though I was going through this in a fog – I just was not myself. I was so stuck in worrying about the future I was not able to take small steps each day to ensure I was on track with the things I had control over.
What this creates is a state of high arousal in the right side of the brain which controls the “fight, flight or freeze” response. We have all heard of this because it’s the basic, instinctual part of the brain protecting us from imminent danger. When we are living in this state of constant arousal, it’s nearly impossible to use the left side of the brain which is our reasoning/decision making part of the brain. We are simply reacting to the events and stimulus without being able to process what is important, so we get angry, afraid, confused and overwhelmed.
What would it be like if you could get help with the emotional part that’s paralyzing you right now? Imagine being able to see the options you might have and the possibilities you never even thought about!
TRY THIS TODAY
Take small steps each day – just one action step to help you feel in control of your divorce process – maybe make a to-do list and check off one small item every day. This can put you back in the left side of the brain where you can begin to think reasonably and clearly.
GET PROFESSIONAL SUPPORT!!
The divorce process requires us to make monumental financial and relational decisions which will impact, realistically, the rest of our lives. It is a wise decision to have professionals help you during this process who are on your side. This help could involve a therapist, divorce coach or group support like Wise Woman’s Guide to Divorce or Divorce Care.
Another area where an advocate can help is with your financials – specifically a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst. If you are younger, the decisions you make today could impact the childhood your children experience including the resources you have to raise them. If you are older, your divorce is a financial negotiation for your retirement years. It is critical to get help with your finances no matter what your situation. That is why we offer complimentary consultations online or the phone for those in divorce to discuss your financial concerns. Contact us today to schedule your time to talk about your concerns and discuss what small steps you can take for financial and emotional peace of mind.
If you work for a company which offers health insurance you probably already know about open enrollment. Updates you choose during this time period will determine your health, dental and vision insurance for the upcoming year and your tax savings in deductible plans like Health Savings Accounts (HSA’s). While the timing of open enrollment can vary with different employers, open enrollment is generally the period between November and mid-December. During this time you are able to make changes to your health insurance plans without a major life change. You can choose to renew your participation in your company’s current insurance plans, switch to a different one, and make changes to participants on your plan for the upcoming year. Even though it can be tempting to select the plan you had last year so you don’t have to put in much effort, I’d encourage you to pause for a moment and consider if that’s really the best option from a benefits, tax, and budgetary viewpoint.
It Is important to remember if you are still in the midst of divorce, you will likely need to add your current spouse on your health coverage during open enrollment elections for the new year. If you are under temporary orders (which you likely are) do NOT remove your current spouse from your health coverage right now for the next year. You can remove your spouse from your health insurance coverage in the new year after your divorce is final as that will count as a major life change.
While you will keep your spouse on your current coverage, it’s important to look at your coverage options and make sure you have the right one for you. After you divorce is final in the new year (or the end of this year), you will remove your spouse from your coverage and this will be your plan for the rest of the year. Are the deductibles proper for you? Are you eligible and participating in the HSA? Is this the right plan considering minor children you will have on your plan? This and other issues are important to consider.
1. Evaluate Life Changes
The amount of coverage you need plays a big role here, especially if you previously covered dependents and/or your spouse and no longer need to or vice versa. Some other life changes in addition to divorce could make a difference in the plan you choose during open enrollment include births, deaths and medical issues.
2. Review Beneficiaries
Open enrollment time is a good opportunity to revisit the beneficiaries on your accounts. For example, if you have group life insurance, you may still have your ex-spouse as the beneficiary. Once the divorce is final you will need to remove your ex-spouse from the beneficiary designation unless you want your ex-spouse to be the beneficiary, and in that case you will need to re-assign that person as the beneficiary after the divorce is final. Your ex-spouse will be skipped over on a life insurance policy payout unless they are specifically designated in a divorce decree and/or you rename them as beneficiary on the policy after the divorce is final.
We encourage you NOT to list minor children as beneficiaries on an anything. Minor’s cannot receive payouts without a court appearance and a guardian. Guess who will be the guardian for your children if you pass while they are minors? It will be your co-parent or ex-spouse unless they predecease you. If you want to leave the proceeds to your children you will want to create a testamentary trust (included in your will usually and what I have personally) or a revocable or an irrevocable trust. All of these involve a trip to an estate planning attorneys office which we highly recommend after the divorce is final.
For now, while the divorce is still pending, list your spouse as beneficiary. You are likely under temporary orders to do so. After the divorce is final it’s time to do some estate planning and likely change the beneficiary.
3. Understand the Benefits of the Plans You Select versus Your Needs
This is a great time to make sure you’re getting the coverage you need and you’re maxing out the tax savings from it. Take the time to review what’s included in your plans, any tax credits or benefits you’re eligible for, and options outside of your employer-provided plans. That way, you know you’ll actually use everything you’re paying for. The reality is, it comes down to saving money and being tax-efficient, especially with an HSA.
Another big issue we see with divorcing couples is the deductible and the corresponding out of pocket costs. You may have a fight on your hands (and undue stress from such a fight for you and your children) if your spouse is living paycheck to paycheck and you opt for a plan with a huge deductible. Paying hundreds of dollars to meet the deductible for a simple sick visit to the pediatrician may not go well for an ex-spouse on a limited income or at least be an issue to address while you are in divorce proceedings. Conversely, if there is a large surgery to pay for or a medical issue to be dealt with which is known for the upcoming year, it’s wise to perform a cost analysis on how much it will cost you to have this covered at a higher percent even with a large deductible versus a lower percent of coverage with a lower deductible.
Medical costs can be an enormous part of the annual budget. The good news is you have coverage and choices, the bad news is sometimes those choices, especially in the midst of a divorce, can be overwhelming. To make sure you’re getting the biggest benefit, tax savings, and coverage you and your family actually need, talk to a trained consultant who can guide you through the process.
If you’d like me to help you with health care selections during open enrollment season or any other financial related issues, I’ve opened up more Divorce Strategy Sessions on my calendar in late October and early November for those who are not current clients and want some extra help with financial related issues. In my Divorce Strategy Sessions, we will discuss your needs, your options and your budget so you can make the best choices for you and your future!! Click here to learn more about Strategy Calls and schedule yours today!
When going through a divorce, everyone seems to have an opinion – your mother, your father, your aunt, your cousin, your brother’s uncles’ friend, your dog, and anyone else who happens to find out you are getting a divorce. You will likely hear a lot of stories, thoughts, ideas and no doubt myths. In addition, proclamations of how things “always are” or “never are” can be terribly scary. In a time when you’re already going through a lot, you don’t need more stress on your plate. There are five main divorce myths we have seen with our clients over the years. This article will discuss the 5 top divorce myths we see and clarify the truth about each one.
Divorce Myth #1: I don’t need specialized financial divorce support; my estate is simple.
The Truth: It will save you time and money to hire a divorce focused financial professional.
When discussing divorce, finances will always come into play with attorneys and clients. The attorney will be faced with some sort of estate, even if a negative estate, to value and divide. Some attorneys are very experienced and adept with financials but even those attorneys, at some point, usually suggest the client consult with a financial expert or advisor. The logical conclusion is to call on the current financial advisor or accountant for ‘free’ advice. However, few accountants, CPA’s or financial advisors in general deal in divorce on a regular basis, so they don’t have the training to handle divorce questions nor do they understand how the divorce realm works. This really causes problems when dividing retirement accounts and pension plans (two things we do most often) because these professionals don’t understand the complete picture of how everything works together. Nor do they, in general, understand tracing, separate property, community property or business valuation in regard to divorce laws. Even worse, we have seen clients frustrated in mediation when the reality of the situation is far different than what the regular financial advisor suggested or stated was needed. For example, one well-meaning financial advisor told his client she would be okay as long as she received 70% of the estate. In mediation, 50% of the estate was on the table which brought her a great deal of distress, additional attorney’s fees, the input of a financial divorce related expert and a second mediation. She spent an extra $5,000 just because her well-meaning regular financial advisor steered her in the wrong direction at the onset of the divorce.
We have heard many clients tell us their estate is simple and question their attorneys’ request to hire us. Your simple estate starts with a house, a mortgage, a 401(k) and maybe a few cars. Seems simple right? Well, it is, until it’s not. Do you need money out of the 401(k)? Do you know the rules surrounding getting your money from a spouse’s 401(k), how it works, the process, the penalties and the tax implications? Oh, and then you forgot there is also a pension, there was that account you inherited a few years ago which you put into a joint account, and that rental property you own. So, a seemingly simple estate which still had financial issues specific to divorce turns into a very complex estate where separate property tracing comes into play. We see this all the time!
Even with truly simple estates, there are divorce issues to work through. You want to keep the home – well, who is on the mortgage? Does the party leaving need to buy a new home? Did you know there are specific rules around how long you are paid child support before the support can be considered income for a new home purchase? Do you know negotiating spousal support can help you in income calculations for rental properties or for buying a new home? Do you know how to keep your credit from being ruined in the divorce or what will ruin your credit? Are you aware of how to time your credit hits with loans you will no doubt need when you buy a new house, a new car, apply for a new job or even rent an apartment?
All of these things a divorce focused financial professional will know (and more), but other financial professionals or advisers who do not work in the divorce realm may not consider or even know to think about. This could cost you thousands of dollars – well more than you are going to pay a divorce focused financial advisor for basic guidance throughout your divorce.
Divorce Myth #2: Mediation costs too much, it’s not worth it.
The Truth: Mediation is a place where you can be in control and ask for resolutions specific to your family.
Mediation is going to be required by the court (in most Texas counties). You may have one mediation for temporary orders when the parties will decide how much support is paid, who will keep the children and when, what rules to follow, etc. during the pendency of the divorce. Then another mediation may be requested for a final orders mediation. Mediation can be your friend – this is where creative negotiations can occur, and the parties can each work through a solution which is a win-win for everyone.
We hear many clients complain about the cost of sitting in mediation all day or the fear having to deal with their spouse in the course of mediation. We have seen mediation – even paying for your 2 attorneys’ and an attorney mediator and a financial expert – is well worth the cost!! This is the space where you are in control. A well-crafted mediation day will be attended with a plan – what is your starting point, what is your line in the sand, what is it you really want, how can you negotiate from a position of power, etc. Further, what do you think your spouse really wants in the divorce and how can you give that to your spouse while you get what you want as well? Mediation is also a place to receive things like longer term spousal support or a disproportionate share of the estate in lieu of something else. Mediation is your friend in divorce negotiations.
Divorce Myth #3: It’s too expensive to work with a divorce financial advisor.
The Truth: From a cost perspective, a lot of the work we do will save people thousands of dollars.
From a fee perspective, lawyers and attorneys bill by the hour. If they have to research anything, guide you through what they need from you, or wait while you fumble around in a jumble of papers, that time will get tacked onto the bill. So, from just helping clients get organized and pull together all the documentation they need to have ready before they see their lawyer, you’ll see a benefit of working with a divorce financial advisor. Together, we are able to gather things efficiently and use your time and money with your attorney wisely. Further, some attorneys will ask a financial expert or advisor to help them create the community estate and value the estate. The divorce financial expert often has fees which are far less than the attorney. The attorney asks us to help the client prepare a marital inventory, asks us which items to request in discovery – and we do all of this at a lower rate. Because we only do the finances, it is our niche and we are usually pretty proficient at it (which means it takes us less time and costs you less money overall).
Then, there are taxes, debt-related interests, dividing pensions, investments, and retirement accounts in addition to executive compensation plans, stock units, stock options or whole life plans attorneys don’t always know the best way to handle. You could be leaving money on the table with how things are divided if you do not have the proper financial guidance. When I work with clients, I am able to see the best way to help them gain more financial independence and, bluntly, get or save more money in their divorce. Often, people are afraid to take on additional costs around a divorce, but there are so many financial considerations you don’t know or aren’t aware of which a divorce focused financial advisor can help you with.
One great example is a divorce we acted as the financial expert in. Our total fees for the divorce was $5,000. In the process, we saved the client $60,000 in tax savings between the brokerage accounts, the timing of the divorce year end and the claiming of children in just one year! It was a huge success for the client with the cost a fraction of the real, cash value savings we provided.
Divorce Myth #4: Divorce has to be horrific and awful.
The Truth: Divorce will be upsetting, emotional and stressful, but it does not have to be the worst experience of your life draining your soul.
Knowledge is power. We encourage all divorce litigants to become educated on the process, the mandates and their rights. We offer Wise Woman’s Guide to Divorce and Wise Guy’s Guide to Divorce education workshops just to educate those beginning or in the midst of the divorce process. This is critical! When you know what you are facing, you may not feel so lost and in the dark which should help you as you navigate the process.
Additionally, every situation is unique. If someone had a hard divorce, it is because of their individual circumstances. We encourage those in the divorce process to not listen to others who had horrific experiences. It reminds me of when I was pregnant and women (sometimes strangers) felt the need to tell me their worst, most horrific birthing stories. Really – I didn’t need that. You don’t need it now. Polite pass on the divorce horror stories and educate your self so you have a more informed divorce path from a position of power and strength.
Divorce Myth #5: I can’t afford a therapist.
The Truth: Having a specialist who is trained to help you sort through your emotions will benefit you both now and in the long run.
While I am not qualified to give you therapeutic advice, I can absolutely encourage you to seek out a therapist to support you during this time. A good therapist can help you sort out your feelings and explore any mental and/or emotional impacts this time may have for you. In addition, a therapist is a great ally to help you sort through the emotions in a safe place so you can negotiate from fact, not from feeling in the mediation or the negotiation room.
Having a therapist as a specialist for your mental and emotional health makes sense. As mentioned, running up the bill when you’re disorganized because you’re only working with an attorney and not a financial expert as well, you’re also going to incur more hourly billing. The same is true if you use your attorney as your therapist. Let your attorney do what they do best and hire someone else to support you where they are going to make the most impact. You will save yourself money and sanity.
It’s okay (and perfectly natural) if you used to believe these divorce myths. A lot of clients come to us with these questions and more. If you’re wondering the best path for you to take, schedule a complimentary call so we can bust some of your divorce myths and help you come to a more peaceful solution to your divorce. Call us for a complimentary consultation to discuss your specific needs today.
Dividing community property, or property jointly owned by a married couple, can often be a complicated process, with your financial options dictated by potential tax implications. While some things may be easy to divide, others are not. Some belongings are sentimental, while others — such as annuities — involve complicated financial calculations. Annuities not only involve moving ownership from one person to the other or joint title to single title, they often also involve moving or potentially deleting critical living benefits, guarantees and/or death benefits as well as surrender penalties on top of potential tax liabilities. That is a lot! Annuities in divorce are complex to say the least. We will attempt to unravel the complexities of annuities as they relate to divorce or at least guide you on what questions to ask.
While there are multiple types of annuities (fixed, fixed index, variable, immediate and deferred) all types of annuities are typically in either the accumulation phase or the distribution phase. The different phases will determine how value and divide the annuity in a divorce situation.
If an annuity is in the accumulation phase, it is growing. The annuity may be growing by a simple fixed rate – aka a fixed annuity or by a variety of factors in the fixed index or variable space. The key take-away is there is only growth in this phase. Income has not yet started. This is a critical factor in divorce negotiations. In the accumulation phase the annuity can have three main parts – the actual cash value, the guaranteed benefit amount and the death benefit.
This is the actual cash value. This is real money and should be the value on the marital inventory. This value may have a surrender charge affiliated with it which should also be reflected on the marital inventory. If you do not see a surrender charge on the statement, it is wise to call the carrier and confirm no surrender fee exists. Also, if the contract is still under surrender charge penalties, ask the carrier if they will waive the surrender charge in the case of a divorce where the account is divided between the spouses. We have found quite often they do not waive any fees even though the division is pursuant to a divorce.
Guaranteed Value or Living Benefit Amount
In the accumulation phase, this is the living benefit amount. Many contracts offer a certain amount of guaranteed growth for future income. For example, some annuities may guarantee 7% growth, compounded annually with possibly even a high-water mark (meaning the annuity will capture the highest day of market gains in the annuity contract that year plus add the 7% guaranteed growth on top of this value). Sound too good to be true? What is the catch? This amount is not real money – it cannot be withdrawal in a lump sum. It is the value for which a future income stream is derived. In our same example, let’s say the contract grows by 7% guaranteed compounded annually, and when the client is age 65 a 5% income stream can be taken, guaranteed for life off the 7% compounded number. (In some cases, the income stream will also double for long term care needs for a certain amount of time.) In divorce, the guaranteed amount is often erased if the annuity is divided. This can cost the overall estate hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Know if there is a living benefit and if so, what happens if the annuity is divided between the spouses? The living benefit number is often quite higher than the actual account value, but this is not the number to be listed on the marital inventory. It is a phantom number used to derive a set amount of income at a future date. However, because there is an account value it is the actual cash value which is listed on the estate spreadsheet. The annuities are designed to deplete the cash value over time when the income begins if you live long enough, so this number is not listed on the inventory when the annuity is still in the accumulation phase.
Sometimes annuities have stand alone death benefits or death benefits attached to the living benefits. This means a certain amount is guaranteed at the death of the annuitant. In some cases, the death benefit is the reason an annuity is sold as life insurance was not an option or was too expensive. It is important to know if an enhanced death benefit exists and if so, know this and other relevant facts. Who is the annuitant? What is the death benefit exactly? What happens in the case of divorce if the contract is divided or moved to the non-annuitant spouse? Now that the couples are divorcing, is the death benefit still relevant or should other options be considered? The death benefit should be on the latest annuity contract statement. However, it is not listed as an asset on the marital inventory as it will only be pain in the event of the annuitant’s death.
If an annuity is in the income phase, it is in distribution. The distribution may be a systematic withdrawal stream on a guaranteed basis, a systematic withdrawal on a non-guaranteed basis or annuitized. This set of facts is vital to know in the case of a divorce.
Systematic Withdrawal – Guaranteed Basis
This should be the most common situation with an annuity. The income from the living benefit has been triggered. In the example above, the 5% income stream at age 65 has begun off the 7% compounded annual growth the annuity provided. If this is the case, the annuity may not be divisible without significantly hurting the amount of income the annuity provides on a guaranteed basis. Contact the carrier to determine how, if at all, the annuity can be divided, and the income stream kept intact. The income stream however may be divisible. The division of this works much like a pension on the estate spreadsheet where a net present value of the future income stream is calculated, and this is the number on the marital inventory.
You can also forego a net present value calculation of the income on the marital inventory and split the income 50/50. We recommend contacting the annuity carrier to determine if division can occur at the carrier level so there is little, if any, interaction between the parties. You will also want to ask the annuity carrier what happens if the annuitant dies. The wife may not receive any payout if the annuity is based only on the husband’s life and he dies or vice versa. Some payouts are based on joint life and some are on single life which were determined at the income stream’s inception. It is vital to understand what happens in the event of one spouse’s death.
Systematic Withdrawal – Nonguaranteed Basis
If this is the case, you can likely divide this annuity. It may not be attached to a living benefit guarantee. This is the least likely to exists and rarely seen, but it is a possibility. It is important to call the carrier and determine your options if this set of facts exists with your annuity. The issue will be mainly surrender charge penalties when this annuity is divided if it is still in the penalty period. We would also ask if there are any issues with the annuitant – is it joint annuitant or single annuitant and will this be possible if you change to the spouse who wants the asset or if you divide the contract in half.
If this is the case, the annuity cash value no longer exists – it is only an income stream. Older contracts typically have this. Most newer contracts do not require annuitization because the contract corpus is gone – it belongs to the annuity company. The valuation of this is now just like the valuation of a pension plan. The carrier may have the income based on joint life or single life. They may divide the income in half but when one spouse dies, the income stream may cease for all. The carrier must be contacted to determine what happens at the death of the owner and/or the death of the annuitant. These facts are important to know as they relate to the income stream after one spouse dies. If you do not want to divide the income, one can calculate a Net Present Value of the future income stream as one would a pension and this number should be indicated on the marital inventory as an asset to be offset with other assets.
Owners and Annuitants
Aside from the issues we stated above in valuing and dividing annuities in the accumulation and the income phases, the named owner and named annuitant could alter the course of the annuity division. It is vital to know who the owner is and who the annuitant is (they may not be the same). These set of facts may determine what happens to the contract when this is divided to the non-owner and/or non-annuitant. Some contracts are jointly owned the with joint annuitants or jointly owned with single annuitants – and each carrier can handle dividing these differently. A simple call to the carrier and a discussion with a member of client services advanced team should straighten out these issues, we just want you to know what to ask for.
We highly encourage you to reach out to a professional who not only understands annuities, but also understands divorce laws in your area. A Certified Divorce Financial Analyst is the perfect person to have on your team if you or your spouse own an annuity and you are walking through a divorce. We at Divorce Strategies Group understand annuities and divorce finance and can help as well. Contact us for your 30-minute free consultation today.
In Texas, divorce mediation is a confidential process where a neutral third person (the mediator) helps divorcing couples reach a divorce settlement. The mediator facilitates communication between the parties to promote settlement and understanding between them. Mediation addresses child custody, child support, visitation, spousal support, and property division. The mediator does not act as a judge, attorney, or financial advisor, but assists the spouses in reaching a voluntary agreement.
Denise French founded Divorce Strategies Group, LLC in 2014 and since that time we have continuously guided clients through the divorce and mediation process. We believe mediation is an excellent tool for divorcing couples, especially when there are contentious issues. Our goal is to help you reach a satisfactory agreement with your spouse, without having to endure a lengthy, costly trial. Save time! Save money! Get on with your life.
How does Mediation work in a Texas Divorce?
The goal of mediation is to work through all the issues of your estate and the issues with minor children. An attempt at mediation is strongly recommended and often even required in many Texas counties. In mediation, you will most likely be in separate rooms while your mediator(s) walk in between the rooms. Sometimes, the parties will be in the same room, if they wish to be and it is productive. Without minor children, expect to mediate for a half day. When minor children’s issues are involved, expect to spend an entire day in mediation. At the end of mediation if agreements have been reached a binding, legal document called a Mediated Settlement Agreement or MSA will be signed by everyone. This document is irrevocable and binds your agreements legally. The fight is, in essence, over at this point which typically brings much peace and relief. The MSA is also a tool used to push your agreements through the court system as a judge cannot typically overturn a property drafted MSA.
After the MSA is completed a divorce decree will be drafted by an attorney which reflects the agreements you made in mediation. The divorce decree (which you will review and also need to sign) along with the MSA are presented to the judge in court (or remotely due to COVID-19) and used to finalize your divorce. The mediation document is usually 6 – 10 pages long while your actual divorce decree is 30 – 50 pages long.
Why Should I Use Mediation to Settle our Divorce Conflict?
- Mediation is flexible – While we have a process, we acknowledge every family and every divorce is different.
- Mediation is future oriented – We are going to focus on where you are headed, not where you have been. Everyone in divorce has some type of pain or fear. We understand and we are happy to listen and help you heal. However, in mediation we will focus on the future.
- Mediation works – Mediation has a high success rate, especially when both spouses are open to compromise.
- Your information is protected – Mediation is confidential.
- You and your spouse are in control of the outcome – Your future in not the hands of a judge hearing only a tiny fraction of your life story.
What sets our firm apart?
The founder of Divorce Strategies Group, LLC, Denise French, has been divorced herself and understands what you are going through! Her divorce was costly and long. Sadly, it was also damaging to her family, her finances and her children. She strives to help litigants avoid the heartache her family endured. This is personal for her. Denise is not a lawyer. She is a financial expert in litigation and fully understands divorce finance in Texas.
Denise works alongside several family law attorney mediators. These mediators, along with Denise, will walk you through every aspect of your child issues and your financial issues to help you achieve a win-win solution for your family. Our partner attorney mediators are Denise Khoury of Guajardo, Khoury Family Law and Manny Caiati of Caiati Law & Mediation.
Denise is a Credentialed Advanced Mediator through the Texas Mediator Credentialing Association with hundreds of cases both as a mediator and as a financial expert in mediation.
The decisions you make in mediation will have lasting, lifelong ramifications for your children and/or your lifestyle and financial wellbeing. We have a proven, 7 step process which involves the help of a financial expert and a family lawyer – both of whom are also mediators. Together, this is a place where you can work through all the child custody issues as well as the financial issues without the fight in court and with proper guidance.
Contact Divorce Strategies Group today!
Before you contact a divorce lawyer, call us. Need more information about divorce and mediation? We invite you to contact our office for a complimentary consultation. We are here to help you in every way possible!
The valuation and division of retirement accounts in divorce is more complex than most divorcing couples expect. We frequently see people after the fact who wish they had known better before they signed papers to finalize their estate division. The details are important. Below are four common items to know about before you sign on the dotted line.
1. Does a retirement account only belong to the person whose name is on the title?
What if only one spouse worked for most of the marriage while the other was the primary caretaker for the home and children? If that’s the case, most of the retirement assets are likely only in one spouse’s name. Despite the titling, these retirement assets acquired during the marriage belong to the community estate and are fully subject to division in a divorce. It is common for clients who own retirement accounts to believe they are entitled to the entire account since it’s in their name. However, money earned during the marriage is a marital asset and subject to division in a divorce within a community property state like Texas.
In contrast, retirement assets earned prior to the marriage are typically considered separate assets and not subject to division in the divorce. In addition, the growth on those separate assets during the marriage is considered separate property (but not the income, yes, it gets confusing). For an accurate appraisal of what portion of a retirement account is separate versus and what portion is marital, a separate property accounting must be conducted. The burden of proof is on the person making the separate property claim. All assets, no matter what the title says, belong to each spouse equally if the asset was acquired during the marriage, except for those assets which were inherited or gifted during the marriage or came from a personal injury suit.
2. How will we be taxed if we divide a retirement account?
You are not necessarily taxed on the division of a retirement account. Taxation happens only if you distribute the retirement account outside of the retirement vehicle. For example, if your spouse has a large 401(k) and you divide it during the divorce, no problem. You can move these funds into an IRA for yourself without paying any tax and let it continue to grow tax deferred. The same rules apply if you are dividing an IRA. You only acquire a tax liability when you redeem the funds from the retirement chassy and put them into your bank account or a non-retirement brokerage account.
3. Which retirement assets are best to keep in a divorce?
Not all retirement assets are equal as far as the IRS is concerned, which means what you get to keep in your pocket differs – sometimes substantially- between different retirement accounts! This is a synopsis of the different types of retirement assets we commonly see with divorcing couples in our office. We also provide a discussion of liquidity as having liquid, available cash is king in a divorce.
Pension plans typically rate lowest on the list of assets to obtain because those funds are not liquid today (unless you are at retirement age). Further, each plan has its own rules surrounding availability of the pension funds to the ex-spouse. Some funds mandate you wait for your ex-spouse to retire while others will let you retire on your own timeline after you have reached a certain age which can be anywhere from 50 to 65. Pension plans may also offer a lump sum option at retirement – it just depends on the company or entity offering the plan. There is also the issue of company solvency – will this pension plan even exist when you are retirement age? It is also important to know if you are entitled to assets if your spouse dies before the pension plan begins – some entities don’t pay you at all if your spouse dies before the payout has started, even with a divorce decree.
It is wise to involve a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst or CDFA in cases with a pension as they can help you understand your options and make those phone calls for or with you. Know the rules of your potential pension plan before you sign any binding documents
IRA’s typically rank lower on the scale of available, liquid assets because withdrawals are usually taxed at the owner’s highest marginal tax rate and incur a 10 percent penalty until age 59.5 (barring the exceptions of substantially equal periodic payments for those typically 50 and over, death and disability). There are no divorce exceptions to the penalty as there are in a 401(k) which is why we prefer our clients are awarded the 401(k) assets rather than the IRA assets if there is a choice.
401(k), Profit Sharing Plans and other ERISA-Regulated Plans
ERISA regulated plans (such as 401k’s and Profit Sharing Plans) are one step above the Traditional IRA regarding assets available for liquidity as you can redeem cash from your ex-spouses 401k plan without paying the 10% penalty, but you still must pay taxes. That is a big savings – especially in larger plans. You can save thousands in fees by just taking the 401(k) over the IRA if you are in need of cash from the retirement assets.
The down side is a federally mandated 20% withholding on all cash distributions. For example, if you want $80,000 in cash from your ex-spouses 401k, you’ll need to withdrawal $100,000 as 20% ($20,000 in this example) will automatically be forwarded to the IRS. You are not losing that money – you’d owe it in taxes anyway you are just forced to pre-pay your taxes. If you do not owe the full 20% at tax time you will receive a refund or if you owe more, they will certainly let you know when you complete your taxes the following year. The other negative is 401(k)’s can only be awarded via a Qualified Domestic Relations Order or QDRO. QDRO’s cost an additional fee of $500 – $1,500 and they take time and work to finalize.
ROTH IRA’s are the most advantageous retirement asset for liquidity needs during or after divorce. The principal put into a ROTH IRA can be withdrawn tax and penalty-free at any time for any reason. The earnings on the ROTH IRA are different. The earnings can be subject to taxation and the 10% early withdrawal penalty (before age 59.5) but you are able to take all of the principal before touching the earnings. For example, if you have a ROTH IRA worth $40,000 today which you originally invested 15,000 in; the $15,000 is principal and the other $25,000 is earnings. In this example, you can redeem the $15,000 with zero penalty and zero taxation while the rest can be left alone to grow.
4. Should you consider the value of retirement accounts after taxes when dividing assets in a divorce?
Many attorneys will “tax effect” retirement plans (discounting the account by the recipient’s marginal or effective tax bracket). Left unchecked, the spouse receiving more of the retirement accounts may benefit (possibly unfairly) in negotiations from this practice. However, if your spouse is not playing fairly and trying to stick you with all the retirement accounts while they take all the cash, a tax effecting is in order. Tax effecting can be as simple as taking 20% – 28% off the value of the retirement account and dividing that. Or, it can be as complex as determining your effective tax rate and considering what assets will actually have to be used and tax effecting just those by the actual amount of tax you will pay this year (and possibly projecting out to the next few years). By preparing financial projections, a CDFA can assess the amount and timing of the recipient’s anticipated withdrawals and tax liabilities from retirement accounts.
Questions About Divorce and Retirement Accounts? Let us help. Retirement accounts are complicated, especially in divorce. Understanding tax implications and liquidity are critical in divorce negotiations. You only have one shot to get this right. Ensure you are receiving the settlement that’s best for you by having the right people on your team. Contact Divorce Strategies Group for a complimentary 30 minute phone consultation to discuss your specific needs.
When you are facing divorce life can see overwhelming. To make matters worse, in the midst of emotional turmoil you are asked to make life altering financial decisions. This is tough!! We STRONGLY encourage you to hire a divorce team with experts in each area of needed expertise. An experienced, knowledgeable attorney is critical. Next, if you have financial concerns, it makes sense to hire someone to help you with the financial questions and issues in your divorce. A Certified Divorce Financial Analyst or someone trained and experienced specifically in the areas of divorce finance and tax can save you thousands of dollars in your overall settlement.
We have seen many people come into our offices after the divorce details are finalized only to discover they could have done better or they will lose 30% of what they were awarded to taxes. We don’t want this to happen to those still in the divorce process. Be informed! The following are mistakes we see repeatedly when it comes to divorce.
3. The settlement doesn’t take taxes into effect.
If the old saying, “death and taxes are the only sure thing we have in life” holds true, why would you settle divorce negotiations without knowing the tax implications of your settlement. You are going to be taxed, just know what those taxes will be!
What people often find is the tax burden on their half of the marital assets is significantly higher than their spouse’s. This means their “half” of the assets are worth significantly less than they thought! It’s also important to consider when you will be using the assets you were awarded. For example, what’s worth more – $100,000 in an IRA account or $80,000 in a savings account? Well, it depends! What is your tax bracket and how much cash do you need today? If you need cash now, you are better off taking the $80,000 in a savings account. The $100,000 in an IRA is going to have taxes and possibly penalties taken from it so in the end the $100,000 is probably only worth about $65,000 or $75,000. If you don’t need this money for years, the $100,000 in an IRA will probably be better as it will grow tax deferred for many years and will be able to compound on itself quicker than a taxable $80,000 in savings.
2. Pensions are split 50/50 but no one knows what that really means.
Over and over and over I see divorce decrees that order pensions split 50/50 but no one has any idea what will actually happen. When do you start collecting? How much money can you collect when the pension begins? Is there an option to take a lump sum?
Did you inquire about a separate interest Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) where you can take the funds on your own timeline? Are you subject to your ex-spouses retirement wants or do you have a say in when the funds begin? Will there be a cost of living increase each year? What if you or your spouse dies before you start collecting? Will it still pay you?
Pensions are complex financial tools with variables many do not consider. In addition, the devil is in the details with the pension plans. Know what you are getting and your options!! If you have a pension you really need a financial expert on your team who understands pensions and QDRO’s so you can make informed decisions.
1. The biggest mistake – keeping a house you can’t afford.
As a woman I understand becoming emotionally attached to a home – this is where my kids have grown up and where we made many happy memories. This spot on the stairs or the place by the front door is where we took pictures every year on the first day of school. This is where I want my kids to come home to when they are grown with their own children. I get it!! It’s tough to leave the marital home if you have such strong emotional ties. However, time and time again my older divorcing couples are told by their adult children – don’t stay in the house!! We don’t care. We just want you to be financially healthy and strong.
As a financial expert, the first thing I’m going to ask my divorcees to do is create a monthly budget. What does it cost to live in this house? I have witnessed where one or two years down the road the spouse who “won the house” has run out of cash and realized that they can’t sell a window to put food on the table, they can’t refinance because now they don’t have enough income, and they have no choice but to sell. Further, the selling costs are about 8% of the sale – all of which could have been split 50/50 with a spouse if the house had been sold during the pendency of the divorce.
The sum this up, please realize you don’t know what you don’t know. Bring in the right experts for your divorce to make sure you are smart, you are informed, and you make the best decisions you can with all the information! Don’t go this alone. As we say at Divorce Strategies Group, “You only have one chance to get it right!” Let us help. Call today for a complimentary consultation to discuss your situation and let us help you start on the right path.