Retaining Your Assets in Divorce

Retaining Your Assets in Divorce

After years of working with those going through divorce, we have found individuals with two factors really thrive during divorce.  Those who have (1) knowledge of the relevant facts and (2) realistic expectations are the most ‘successful’ in their divorce.  Without accurate accounting of your finances, you may find that you cannot afford your life, or you could jeopardize the retirement that you have worked so hard for. Conversely, you may find you have more than enough in assets to maintain your lifestyle, and you are secure financially.    With higher-than-realistic expectations you may spend thousands of dollars (or hundreds of thousands) only to find a fair division is 50/50 (or 53/47 but not the 80% you wanted).  For those going through a “gray divorce” or spouses who have worked at home, the financial ramifications can be even more significant for either mistake.

Hurt feelings and fear often combat rational thought – which we totally understand – we were the same way. Divorce is scary! With that in mind, we have created 7 tips to help those in divorce walk away with your financial future intact after you go your separate ways.

Budget your Post-Divorce Lifestyle.

Living separately can be scarier than living together – even if you were miserable!   To ease the fear, remember knowledge is power.   It is imperative to know your monthly income and expenses.   This is particularly important if one spouse has been paying the bills and managing the household finances alone.

Figure out your immediate needs and go from there. At Divorce Strategies Group we walk couples through their post-divorce budget early in the divorce process.  It is important that clients know realistically what they can spend each month following the divorce. This sets them up for a secure financial future and gives them peace of mind.  It can also help you negotiate from a position of power, not fear.

Manage Costs During the Divorce

A typical litigated Texas divorce ranges between roughly $20,000 to $40,000 or more. That is no small chunk of change to most couples.   We have been witness to divorces costing $60,000, $80,000 and more (reference unrealistic expectations and lack of knowledge above).

One way to mitigate the financial fallout of divorce is to choose early mediation over litigation. Mediation is a process in which a mediator helps divorcing couples reach an amicable 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. At Divorce Strategies Group our Mediation Process involves a team of experts that will work with you and your spouse to negotiate a divorce settlement that won’t break the bank.

focus photography of person counting dollar banknotes

The issue many attorneys, rightly so, have with mediation is it is done without guidance of someone who understands the law or someone who understands how finances work relevant to divorce.   These are both valid concerns.  We have seen couples negotiate a “do it yourself” divorce only to find they owe thousands later due to mistakes or someone lost out of hundreds of thousands because the agreements were not able to be legally completed (such a restricted stock plan) or the property documentation (such as a pension plan) was not completely correctly, thus the agreement is not enforceable.

To make sure you do it right, we include a Family Law Mediator Attorney with a Divorce Financial Expert to provide the right guidance to you the first time.  Visit Divorce Strategies Group for more information on our process.

Eradicate Debt

If you have joint debt with your soon-to-be ex-spouse, it is best to pay it off before finalizing the divorce.

Shared debts remain both party’s obligation in the eyes of a lender, even if the divorce settlement says only one spouse is responsible for paying it back. If the responsible spouse fails to make the payments, any defaults will show up on the other spouse’s credit history.

If the debt cannot be paid off pre-divorce and becomes only one spouse’s responsibility, the other should continue to have access to the account’s history to make sure it is being paid as agreed.  Better yet, have an attorney create an enforcement action in which you can take over the property or some other property if you are not able to be removed from the debt and your spouse, who was assigned the debt, fails to pay.  An attorney can help you make payment of the debt in your name contractual or binding in some other format.  Debt in divorce can be tricky It is wise to seek legal and financial guidance if you are dealing with large amount of debt or a significant debt (like a home mortgage).

Kids are Expensive

Kids can cost a lot, especially when you have not budgeted their future needs into the equation. Be sure to consider things like cars, car insurance, private school tuition, day care costs, summer camps, extracurricular activities, and even smaller things like school lunch accounts and back to school shopping. These costs add up over time.

woman wearing academic cap and dress selective focus photography

If you have children close to graduating from high school, it is important to be very clear about what each parent is willing to cover in college costs or any other expenses.  Another discussion to have is who will cover health care costs for your children after they graduate high school.  Who will the insurance fall under, who will pay for it, and how will out-of-pocket costs be covered from the time your child graduates from high school until they are fully on their own as a working adult?  Family courts do not cover this time period, but parents sure do, and contractual agreements can be made between the parties regarding this no man’s land of time for older kids needs.

Divorce during Retirement

Gray divorce is defined as divorcing couples who are 50 and older, and they are on the rise. These couples have their own unique situations and needs for the future. There may be annuities, retirement plans and life insurance policies.  We have had couples retire during the divorce which also brings a multitude of tax issues.

Retaining Your Assets in Divorce

One way to facilitate a smooth transition after divorce is to hire a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst. We work closely with couples during and after divorce to make sure they understand the assets they own, what income can be derived from investments and help them build a firm financial foundation.

Divorce for those over 50 is a critical life situation and likely the biggest financial transaction of your lifetime.  Your divorce could determine your lifestyle for the remainder of your years.  This is not to scare you, it is just important to have counsel if you are in this situation.

Receiving the Assets You Were Awarded

A common assumption people have during a divorce is they automatically own an asset the court has awarded to them.   Just because you were awarded the asset, does not mean you now own it.  There is a process to walk through after the divorce to take ownership and control of the property you were awarded weather that property was a home, a brokerage account, a bank account, or a retirement fund.  Divorce Strategies Group members can walk you through the steps you need to take to claim the assets you were awarded.  This is very important to do as soon as possible so your spouse cannot improperly move or hide funds you were awarded.    It is also important to complete the Qualified Domestic Relations Orders (QDRO’s) while your attorney is involved as these need to be filed with the courts and all parties (you, your ex-spouse and your attorneys as well as the judge) need to sign it.

Plan for Peace of Mind

The goal we have for all our clients at Divorce Strategies Group is financial peace of mind. When working with us, you will know what bills you need to pay every month and how much of your disposable income you can spend. You can spend your money in freedom because you know you have a plan for your budget, taxes, and investing. We can also help you adjust your financial plan if you experience new significant life changes.

Planning and budgeting are not fun concepts, but the fruits of these labors can provide a lot of fun (and security) in your future!!

Schedule a complimentary consultation with Divorce Strategies Group today.  No matter what phase of the process you are in – just starting, in the midst of divorce and have financial questions or wrapping it up and looking ahead toward your future.   We are here to help you thrive after divorce and move on to the next phase with confidence, strength and hope.

Oh, Divorce Debt. How Can I Ever Repay You?

Oh, Divorce Debt. How Can I Ever Repay You?

Q: My husband and I have a lot of assets—but we also have a lot of credit card bills. Everyone talks about dividing assets in a divorce settlement, but there’s not much said about debt. How does that work in terms of who pays what?

A: You’re so smart to ask this question! Most people don’t realize that during divorce, dividing debt is just as important as dividing assets. Although most states handle property and debt division differently, you can expect debt under a national contract (like with Visa) to be pretty consistent. (Pssst. See our friendly Texas Family Law Code about debt and divorce for specific details).  

 

Here are a few tips to help you get started….

  • Credit card companies are blind. They don’t care if you’re divorced; they just want to get paid. Broadly put: You are responsible for whatever is in your name. If you have several joint accounts, it’s best to pay those accounts with marital assets and either remove your spouse’s name or remove your name so that there is only one owner going forward. The fees for these transactions are small compared to the headache and hassle of keeping tabs on an account you no longer control (but are on the hook for). 
  • The cleanest option for mortgage debt is to sell the house and split the money. If that’s not a viable option, one spouse can “buy the other out” with a buyout refinance (if you want to keep the home you would, ideally, be able to qualify for a loan on your own).   This will not ever be mandated by your divorce decree (even the great state of Texas cannot make a third party lender accept you).

    If a refinance cashout isn’t on the table, one of you can stay in the house while both of you remain on the mortgage. Instead of a clean break from the debt, your spouse would have a “Deed to Secure Assumption,” which can be drafted by an attorney, to provide a layer of protection for the person who isn’t living in the home. This arrangement isn’t for everyone, but it can be the easiest option in tight markets. Details of this type of deed should be discussed with your legal counsel.  
  • Timing matters, in terms of when the debt was incurred. If debt was incurred before the marriage, then it belongs solely to the spouse that created that debt. If incurred during the marriage, then both spouses are equally responsible.  There may be special situations where debt was incurred as a result of paramour activity or “wasting” of marital assets. If that is the case, then an attorney can help you fight that battle during the pendency of your divorce.   

Now is the best time to get a handle on what you owe to whom. To cover both: Run a credit report on yourself and ask your spouse to do the same. This free report gives a current and comprehensive snapshot of where you are with your debt, as well as your credit score—both will come in handy when it comes to negotiating the terms of your divorce. 

In addition, we recommend calling every credit card company you have an account with to verify who is actually responsible for the account and who is just an authorized user. You want to gather all the information you can today in order to protect yourself in the future. 

And don’t forget—we can help! Contact Divorce Strategies Group for a complimentary consultation to see how we can help you sort through the maze of divorce finance.  

Cryptocurrency in Divorce

Cryptocurrency in Divorce

Coinbase (COIN) went public recently and had the attention of the investment world. Coinbase is a financial technology company that focuses on offering its retail users the ability to buy, sell, and own crypto and digital assets like BitcoinEthereumLitecoinDoge Coin, and other currencies on the block chain. Coinbase reported they have more than 50 million retail users.

The popularity of cryptocurrencies has skyrocketed over the last decade. You can’t watch Bloomberg or CNBC or any other financial news outlet without crypto being discussed. Significant wealth has been created for individuals owning crypto assets as well. On April 16th, 2020 Bitcoin was $7,354. On April 15th, 2021 Bitcoin was $63,214.

Some experts believe we are in the very beginning of a long bull market with crypto currencies and at some point the “crypto standard” will replace our current “gold standard”.  Financial advisors are struggling with how to offer these assets to their clients as a liquid, compliance approved vehicle is not readily available from a trusted source.   This is all rapidly changing.  Some experts estimate by the end of 2021 crypto currencies will become common place in portfolios as large financial institutions begin offering them.

Determining the Value of Cryptocurrency

Naturally, as a Divorce Financial Advisor, I began thinking how these types of assets were going to impact divorce settlements. In addition to Coinbase, investors can buy cryptocurrencies through companies like PayPal, Cash App, Robinhood, and Blockify. These relatively new types of investment vehicles should be examined very carefully by client’s getting divorced, attorney’s negotiating a settlement, and financial experts working for clients.  In addition, sometimes divorces take 6 or 9 months or even a year to finalize. With any asset as volatile as Bitcoin, you will want to make sure the marital balance sheet is updated before any financial agreement is reached.  Imagine the change in value of a Bitcoin holding from my example above. If Joe and Sally are getting a divorce and filed 4/16/2020 and he owned 3 Bitcoin valued at $22,062. A year later, and now that same Bitcoin is worth $189,642.

Analyzing cryptocurrency holdings in a marital estate is going to become more and more common moving forward. It will be crucial for the client, the attorney and the financial expert to work together to examine the potential impacts of taking the crypto asset versus giving it to their soon to be ex-spouse.

Determining the tax consequences will be a major issue as well. What is the tax impact if the crypto asset is sold? Were there any crypto assets sold in the year of the divorce? There could be a huge forgotten tax bill if you are not careful! Investors must report capital gains or losses from sales of cryptocurrencies on Form 8949 and Schedule D just like buying and selling property or stock. However, according to an article in the February issue of  Financial Planning, titled Crypto Creates New Hurdles for Financial Advisors This Tax Season, many firms only send out the gross proceeds of the Crypto asset sales. It is the investors responsibility to figure out their own cost basis. This can create many hurdles when determining a marital estate. This information is crucial to determine the impact of how the crypto asset should be split.

If you are handling crypto assets in your divorce contact us to help you navigate these waters to avoid costly mistakes and tax issues down the road.  Schedule your complimentary consultation today.

 

4 Tips to Divorce Financial Planning for Women

4 Tips to Divorce Financial Planning for Women

Of all the worries and concerns to think about when going through a divorce, financial planning may not be at the top of your list. It is likely you are working, raising kids, and paying the bills. Many newly divorced women feel the demands never end. Creating a new financial plan is important because you have lost the extra income of your spouse. It is also especially important if your spouse managed your investments and longevity planning. Outsourcing your financial planning makes sense when you are short on time but still need to make sure you manage your money well as you age. We encourage women to consider financial planning for several reasons, but most of all for the woman’s wellbeing and peace of mind. Here are a few tips to get started.

  • Planning at the Beginning

Your financial life after divorce starts as soon as you sign legal paperwork agreeing to a settlement with your ex-spouse. You need to make sure you know what you are signing, because it will have a big impact on your financial future. We recommend meeting with a financial planner to review the settlement before you agree to it. Financial planners can find opportunities you might have missed such as tax breaks or being able to retire earlier than you expected. This process with allow you to understand all your options before you sign the settlement agreement.

  • Planning for Longevity

Women generally have a longer lifespan than men. Financial planning in divorce will create a consistent cashflow strategy and budget. You and the financial planner will create a list of priorities you will need money for such as helping to finance your children’s education.

  • Planning for Financial Confidence

Some women going through a divorce assume they will have to live like a miser because they have an internalized fear. Financial planning gives you freedom by replacing fear with confidence. Investing money is difficult to do when you’re paralyzed by fear, but not investing means you could outlive the money you have now.

  • Planning for Peace of Mind

As financial planners, the goal we have for all our clients is to give them financial peace of mind. You will know what bills you need to pay every month and how much of your disposable income you can spend. You can spend your money in freedom because you know you have a plan for your budget, taxes, and investing. We can also help you adjust your financial plan if you experience new significant life changes.

Another common assumption women sometimes have during a divorce is they automatically own an asset the court has awarded to them. We will walk you through the steps you need to take before you can claim an asset as your own.

At Divorce Strategies Group, our main services to you is financial planning to help ensure you do not run out of money in your lifetime and to help you to take ownership of assets awarded to you in the divorce. We love the work we do because it empowers women to be financially independent for the rest of their lives regardless of circumstances. If you are going through a divorce and are in need of financial planning, please contact Divorce Strategies Group and schedule a consultation today.

Options for Dealing with Debt in a Divorce

Options for Dealing with Debt in a Divorce

Whether you have a career or are a stay-at-home mom, debt complicates a divorce. Nobody wants to be responsible for paying a spouse’s debts, and you want to avoid having any joint obligations on your side. There is a way forward if you are aware of your options.

Keeping the Debt

You have a few credit cards that you share with your spouse. When you look into your spouses’ spending, you discover that they have used credit cards for all kinds of things you don’t: gambling, alcohol, and a few hotel visits that have nothing to do with business trips.

This naturally is frustrating, so you don’t want to take care of the bill. They’re the other spouse’s expenses and they should have to take care of it, but they are not. The bills don’t get paid and time is moving forward and because the credit cards are under your name, whose credit is getting ruined? Yours.

You want to take care of any joint debt like this, so your credit report is clean. You will be compensated for it in the settlement by getting more of the cash, house, 401K, investments, or asset. Until that happens, you must protect yourself and keep paying the credit cards.

Excessive Spending

If your spouse is spending thousands of dollars you did not approve, we call that a “waste claim.” These can be difficult to prove and you will need attorneys to help.

In one case, the husband had bought a BMW and an apartment for his girlfriend. We found proof of that spending through receipts that amounted to tens of thousands of dollars. Our waste claim proved that he was stealing from the estate and he had to compensate the estate. With the help of a financial professional and the lawyer, he paid that claim on the estate spreadsheet and the wife was given more in assets as a result.

Digging for Information

If you know your spouse has spent a lot of money, but you do not know exactly how much or where there are ways to find this data. For our clients, we do a lot of digging, starting with the accounts we know about and looking for fishy transactions, such as massage parlors, prostitutes, or rent in New York when you don’t own property in New York. We look for anomalous patterns, flag them and ask for more information. We look at property records, tax records, and all kinds of paper. If the spouse isn’t forthcoming, your attorney can subpoena what we need.

Years ago we had a client with a special need’s child. The husband would not pay for future horseback riding for their child with Down’s Syndrome which had proved to be very helpful for the child in the past. He said they did not have any money. Through five-year-old tax records and pieces of paper that our client had been collecting for month, we discovered two rental homes, a girlfriend, and $200,000 in Certificates of Deposit.

If you think your spouse is stealing or hiding money, collect any kind of information, no matter how old or small, and bring it in for us to look at.

Want to know more about what to do? Please contact Divorce Strategies Group for a complimentary consultation. We’ll talk to you about next steps so you can receive the assets which are rightfully yours!

What is a QDRO?

What is a QDRO?

A Qualified Domestic Relations Order (or QDRO, pronounced “qua-dro”), is a judicial order in the United States, entered as part of a property division in a divorce which divides a retirement plan or pension plan by recognizing joint marital ownership interests in the plan, specifically the former spouse’s interest in that spouse’s share of the asset.

QDROs apply only to employee benefit or pension plans subject to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), the American federal law governing private sector pensions. Domestic Relations Orders or DRO’s divide military retirement pay and Federal civil service retirement plans. A QDRO or DRO may provide for marital or community property division between the plan participant (the employee or former employee) and the alternate payee (the spouse of the employee or former employee). IRA’s, ROTH IRA’s and SEP IRA’s are not subject to ERISA and therefore are not divided typically with a QDRO but rather paperwork from the issuing company.

QDROs and DROs must first be issued by a State-level domestic relations court. The QDRO or DRO is a separate document in addition to your divorce decree. It must be signed by both parties in the divorce as well as their respective attorney’s and the court. Once it is signed by all parties, the QDRO or DRO then needs to be sent to the company’s plan administrator. It must meet the standards of the plan to which it applies. Each company or issuing entity will have their own wording for QDROs and DROs.

Generally, you must have a separate QDRO or DRO for each plan. Each retirement plan is governed by different rules depending on the plan type (i.e. 401(k), Pension Plan, 403(b)). Each QDRO or DRO must be tailored to the requirements of each plan.

The timeline for receiving your awarded funds from a QDRO or DRO is approximately 90 days. We highly encourage you to request the QDRO/DRO process begin as soon as you have completed the mediation process or a decision on the estate has been determined. It is common for a QDRO/DRO to be sent for pre-approval. This is where he QDRO/DRO is completed but not signed, instead it completed with the plan participants information and the divorce decision as far as division is sent to the administrator for pre-approval. This process takes approximately 30 days. Once pre-approval is completed, you know your QDRO/DRO will be approved. We then encourage you to have the QDRO/DRO submitted in conjunction with your divorce decree. This tends to speed up the process and prevents the frustrating delays we have seen multiple times.

If you are in the midst of or finishing up divorce negotiations, we encourage you to schedule a complimentary 30-minute consultation to discuss your situation. We can potentially help you avoid costly delays and frustrations in the QDRO process.