Thursday, October 8, 2015

Divorce - Resources in Chautauqua County and online

Divorce - Resources in Chautauqua County and online

FAQ'a Answered by the Pros

Where can I find information about the process of divorce?

A. Divorce is a process that takes time and resources to navigate successfully. One must prepare both the financial and legal case and have the records in order; but at the same time prepare the mind for single life and the loss of emotional connections to the other spouse. Most of the time divorcing people gain from counseling and close friends. In lieu of that -or in addition- there are books and websites that allow you the privacy of "studying" the different ways people react so you will know what to expect. There are many BLOGS such as this TOP 10 list:

 to research until one or more sounds helpful to you. Every experience is unique and you may have to sift through many resources before you find one that "clicks". And of course, you are thinking about dating and new relationships which many of these address -but don't let this "Crazy Time" (also a book) distract you from your responsibilities. "Uncoupling" (another book) is a process and does not happen overnight. With the wealth of resources online and in books you can rest assured that issues with children, economics and dating are well-covered. Stay focused on the future and you will do well.

      How do I get counseling for the children and myself?
A. There are services for mental health screenings and counseling provided in the Affordable Care Act. There is also substance abuse treatment available which is sometimes the cause of divorce. Seek more information at :
and the resources listed there.

 Churches, Synagogues and Mosques often have divorce recovery programs for children and adults.
Some Religious based counseling resources (by no means all):

 Local government supported agencies such as Chautauqua Opportunities offer services in both Dunkirk and Jamestown -
 check here;

And so does the Chautauqua County Office of Family Services and Office of the Aging and others:        2014.pdf

And some not-for-profit or private organizations to check for resources:

What can I expect during divorce?
A. There are a ton of websites that address this now -check here for some sample sites:

And here for some government resource and information sites:

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Divorce and Healthcare -The Affordable Care Act and How it affects Divorcing Families

Divorce and Healthcare -The Affordable Care Act and How it affects Divorcing Families

                                                    FAQ's Answered by the Pros

What does the Affordable Healthcare Act say about divorcing families?

A.  If you lose your health insurance coverage due to divorce, you are still required to have coverage for every month of the year for yourself and the dependents you can claim on your tax return. When negotiating which children each parent will get the deductions for remember that now they will also be responsible for the child's health coverage and must prove it for the IRS. Losing coverage through a divorce is considered a qualifying life event that allows you to enroll in health coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace during a Special Enrollment Period. If one parent has health coverage on the children, the proof should be made available to the parent claiming the children as a deduction as soon as possible. The parent expecting a refund should not have to wait to file, as this is in the best interest of the children and the refund can be used for their care or household operating costs. 

Who pays the penalty to the IRS because the children were not covered for health insurance last year and we are divorced?

A. Any penalties or overlapping issues that have financial penalties should be part of the divorce negotiations. A good attorney knows to look for these potential liabilities and will have them listed in the divorce papers. They are part of the discovery of total assets and liabilities, just as any IRS taxes owed or potential tax liabilities. It is important to have the children covered for every day of the year. Who would pay if one of the children were injured or sick? Healthcare is a major issue and can be a landmine for families separating into two households.

When we were married the children did not qualify for assistance and medical coverage -but now they may. How can I find out? 

A. New York has rolled the Child Health Plus program into the Affordable Care Act open marketplace options. Medicaid for children is also now in the marketplace. You must go online or seek help to go online at a social service location to find out what healthcare that meets legal guidelines will cost for the children -everything is in one place online now. Sometimes this is less expensive than employer add-on plans for family so it pays to shop for all your options. Even those that have employer offered plans sometimes find that the marketplace plans are less expensive than private insurance for working parents. 

The court has ordered us to get health coverage for the children since a parent lost a job and the employer sponsored insurance.  Where do we go?

A. All health coverage options through the public New York State marketplace are online and you can access it there. Your public library or social services office can help you get online for this purpose. There are also private insurers that have agents regularly at some government offices and even at food banks and free meal services. In Chautauqua County, the offices of Chautauqua Opportunities can direct families that need health coverage to several options when you call.

My ex-spouse moved out of state and now the children have no health coverage through the employer. Do I have to make the C.O.B.R.A payments?

A. The Affordable Care Act mandated a health care marketplace in each state that can have you and  the children covered immediately, if you sign up online. C.O.B.R.A. coverage is usually expensive and generally used by those with a pre-existing condition that was preventing them from other coverage. That is no longer the case because pre-existing condition clauses are no longer allowed as a way to exclude the sick from coverage. Even if you or the children have an illness, you can get coverage. Shop online or have someone help you shop for a plan today. Pay close attention to when the policy takes effect, and how long you will wait before you can use it. The medical cards usually come in the USPS mail -so watch for and do not lose them. If you don't receive a card for over 30 days check into the reason.

How do I get the Insurance Marketplace provider to change my payment for health insurance since we got divorced and I am supporting the children?

A. Report all changes in circumstances to the IRS through your Marketplace health insurance provider. You may be eligible for a Tax Credit in the current year to help with health care costs. Report changes in marital status, a name change, change in income or family size. This insures you get the right type and amount of financial assistance and avoids getting too much or too little credit in advance. Immediately report a change in address.

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Divorce and Taxes

Divorce and Taxes

                                                     FAQ's Answered by the Pros

How do I file taxes if my spouse and I are talking about divorce and we don't agree on anything?

A. You can file as married filing separately or request an extension on filing until your status is clearer. Remember an extension does not mean an extension on payment -the estimated taxes have to be paid -just the paperwork is extended. If you are expecting a refund on a joint filing, it will be part of the assets to be divided after legal separation or divorce proceedings are filed.

Should Taxes be filed as Married Filing Separately or Separated- if the divorce is not final?

A. This is an easy way to separate finances and the sooner it is adopted the easier the bookkeeping will be in the future. Filing separately also protects one from tax problems the spouse might incur if they do not do their taxes correctly. Even if  you are not legally divorced you can keep separate records and file separately as "Separated" or use the "Married Filing Separately" -ask your tax professional which will be to your best advantage. 

How do I file my taxes once my divorce is final?

A. Taxes have to be paid after divorce and the first filing can be complicated. Who gets to deduct the children? Who gets head of household status? Believe it or not these items are negotiated and agreed upon in the divorce and custody agreement and are allocated, not predetermined. Some families agree to have one parent deduct the two older children and another deduct the youngest for more years which makes it come out to a similar dollar amount. Whatever is in that agreement must be performed -so if your ex-spouse has the children as deductions you cannot put them as deductions on your taxes even if they live with you. The IRS tracks social security numbers and if the children's show up twice you are both in trouble and can end up with tax penalties as well as be taken into Family Court again, both expensive alternatives. Make sure you read and understand your divorce and custody agreement before you file your taxes. 

When one party buys the house from the other how does the IRS view it?

A. Usually, if one party keeps the house of residence they will sign a Quit claim DEED to the soon to be ex-spouse. If you transferred your home (or share of a jointly owned home) to a spouse or ex-spouse as part of a divorce settlement, you are considered to have no gain or loss by the IRS. You have nothing to report on your tax forms. However, confirm with your tax professional.

Alimony, Maintenance and Child support -Are they Taxable?

A. Generally speaking, Alimony or Maintenance payments to an ex-spouse are tax deductible for the person paying and taxable for the person receiving them. Child-support payments are not tax deductible for the person paying and are not taxable to the person receiving them. 

If I am married at the end of the year then I can claim married all year -what about divorce?

A. If you get a final decree of divorce or separate maintenance by the end of the tax year, you are unmarried for the entire year in the eyes of the IRS. See your attorney or tax advisor for questions.

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Monday, October 5, 2015

Allocating Business Assets in a Divorce

Allocating Business Assets in a Divorce

FAQ's Answered by the Pros

My spouse has a business and we are divorcing. Who gets the business?

A. Many high asset cases involve business owners and corporate executives. a business is a marital asset and must be appraised before settlement. Business property in divorce cases can include a wide variety of business assets such as: stock options, retirement accounts, bonuses and other intangible but extemely valuable types of property. We consult forensic accountants, business valuation experts and others in order to obtain the best settlement. Our tenacious efforts to discover a complete list of assets makes a more equitable distribution of the marital assets.

My friends are business owners and senior executives and they told me they lost everything in the divorce -I run a small business -how do I get a fair deal?

A. One of the dangers to business owners is the overvaluation of the business in a divorce. Making sure that asset preservation to keep the business viable is critical. It may have to support you both after the divorce so it is in everyone's interest to keep the business going and not criple the cash flow. Compensation packages are as numerous as stars in the sky, so bonuses, deferred compensation, valuable executive life insurance plans, stock options, pending contracts and business cash flow must all be listed and accounted. Accounts payable and charge-offs are sometimes overlooked and make the business appear much more profitable than it is. Leases, payroll, deferred employee compensation owed and complete operating costs have to be uncovered. An experienced attorney with a persevering attitude will get a team to evaluate all the assets and liabilitiesof the business.

I suspect my spouse is hiding assets before our divorce -where do I look or what do I do?

A. Some divorces are acrimonious and fraught with unnecessary costs to discover hidden assets. We can save time and money by knowing where these assets might be hidden and bringing them to light. A safe deposit box can be opened, but what about off-shore and foreign bank accounts? That is where our team comes in with experienced people to do a complete and thorough search of any and all assets before the settlement is signed.

My spouse is self-employed. How do I trust what the true income is when my partner signs the check?

A. Self-employed people have a lot of ways to hide income or manipulate business cash flows. A forensic accountant that works with our experienced high net worth divorce attorney will go through the business reports and check things like inventory irregularities or contracts pending that have been delayed, etc., in order to evaluate if anything is being hidden or is otherwise unusual. An expert in common business practices for the type of enterprise you own can discover hidden assets. And, if the business is not well-run, we might even discover hidden liabilities. We know how to do a business evaluation that will protect your interests. A fair distribution of marital assets is the best outcome for everyone.

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Friday, October 2, 2015

Divorce- The Option to Terminate a Marriage

Divorce- The Option to Terminate a Marriage

                                                     FAQ's Answered by the Pros

Most married people know or think they know about divorce -but do you really?

A. Terminating a marriage is a legal remedy for a married relationship that is not working and is not ever going to work. Deciding at what point you should consider it is very personal and depends upon many factors including one's children, assets, state of residence and reasons to separate permanently. Most lawyers and counselors recommend attempting to reconcile and find areas of agreement.  Even if there is a divorce in the end these agreements will save time and money in the negotiating phase of the divorce contract. Fault is no longer relevant as New York is a "No Fault" state.

Do you need a specific reason to get a divorce?

A. No, New York as a no-fault state whereby you need no specific reason to obtain a divorce.

Divorce comes up in many of our arguments -does that mean we are destined to be divorced?

A. Divorce is not a word to threaten with, it is a legal action and should be done based on long term goals, not on a fight or temporarily hurt feelings. Sometimes, an impasse in a particular argument will open up to a new mutual understanding and better relationship. Try to see one another's point of view.

My spouse has a girlfriend/boyfriend and is unfaithful -does that mean I should file for divorce?

A. The majority of divorces are filed after infidelity, but in reality these side relationships rarely last and some couples are able to forgive and move on with some professional help. Often, relationships outside marriage are just symptoms of issues inside the relationship that need to be addressed. Seek counseling before you rush to file for divorce. The same problems can crop up in new relationships, so don't assume another partner will solve your issues. That is up to you.

. What will be different besides living apart?

A. A marriage is an economic unit recognized by the state and given certain advantages and privileges. Rights of inheritance and household maintenance pertain to spousal law.  Recognition during health crisis or death of a spouse gives rights to the spouse for healthcare and end of life care and to the survivor to claim and decide on the disposition of the body.

What are the Economic results of divorce?

A. Because the marriage is recognized as an economic unit by the court, an assessment tool is used to determine what assets each person brought into the marriage and how much the pair have accumulated during their time legally together. The total assets accumulated during the marriage are divided equally in a divorce, and so are their debts. A complete record of your assets and liabilities is required to file for divorce -so keep good records.

What about the house?

A. The home is no longer assumed the property of the wife, and even if there are children living in it, the court may say it has to be sold. Negotiating a fair and equitable settlement takes time and the assistance of an experienced attorney on your behalf.  Keeping the home is a priority for some, but an impossibility for others. The parties may decide to hire a real estate appraiser to determine the market value of the home in the current market and tell whether values are going up or down and by how much in recent years. Sometimes keeping the home is cost prohibitive because two households are more expensive than one. 

Can we use the same lawyer to get divorced and save the money on two fees?

A. Couples have used the same lawyer but it is discouraged and is even illegal in some states. A legal position is justifiably on one side or the other and representation that is not for you specifically may miss some of your rights or assets in the negotiations. This type of thinking is penny wise and pound foolish, and both should have their own lawyer. Cases that seemed very simple often turn up hidden assets. I personally will never represent both parties, but an amicable divorce can save money. This is called a "friendly" or "default" divorce where only one attorney is needed,  and the other party agrees to default without an attorney because they agreed on the terms.

What is alimony and how do courts determine who pays how much?

A. In our state there is no alimony; but there is a payment based on years married termed "maintenance".  Traditionally, there was a general rule of the court is that payments for the "at home" spouse during childbearing and rearing phases allots payments for one-third the length of the marriage. So it is important to have a copy of the marriage license or certificate to determine the legal length of the union. For example: payments would be expected for one year for a three year marriage and eight years for a twenty-four year marriage. New York is a no-fault state and one can obtain a divorce whether there is "fault" or not. There is now a maintenance calculator which takes all of the relevant information as data, and calculates a recommended result for the court.

What is maintenance and how do courts determine who pays it?

A. Maintenance is an amount of money paid to the non-earning spouse or low earning spouse for a specific time period to allow them to get a job and career established. Sometimes the maintenance payments will be affected or stopped with the remarriage of the spouse being paid. This provision is negotiable and if you plan to remarry, you should negotiate it or otherwise address this issue. Many women do not remarry while their ex-husbands do because of the financial arrangements. 

Can we set up our own agreement about household assets and property?

A. This is the best way to save time and money on a divorce. Go through the house with a clipboard and write down who wants what and at least get the things you agree on out of the way. Do not forget EVERY ITEM you now own is joint property and must be addressed. There is no provision that says she gets all the kitchen equipment and he gets the tools in the garage. That has to be written down. Maybe you each want some tools and kitchen items to start your new household.  Will you need a lawnmower? Can you do without a vacuum? Unfortunately, many items are necessary for each new household and some trades will have to occur. Think about who is moving out, if both must move, and where you are going. How much room will there be for bicycles and kayaks? Kids toys and books will have to be divided too.  Who gets the swimming pool -or will you sell it with the house? An enormous and costly burden will be lifted if you can agree on these simple household items and agree to allow enough money to replace essential items with new ones equitably.

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High Net Worth Individuals Divorcing

 High Net Worth Individuals Divorcing

                                                         FAQ's Answered by the Pros

When assets during a divorce are over certain dollar amounts what different strategies apply?

A. Divorce between high earning or high net worth individuals require a special expertise to make sure of an equitable distribution. A graph showing the assets today can change drastically over ten years or more when earnings of investments are compounded. Parties in a high asset divorce are best served to make sure their advisor has financial software that can plot this out over time. Usually, the owner of the main residence and those payments and maintenance costs will lose ground financially over the one receiving the retirement assets that gain every year without associated costs of home ownership. Plotting a mortgage-free residence against a retirement asset gives a clearer picture of the current value of each asset. The net present value of all assets should be divided equitably. Sometimes the net present value differs from assumptions or expectations of worth. Use foresight about finances and how they will change when two households are created out of one.

My Spouse has accounts that I heard about over the years, but won't share the statements. How are these divided in divorce?

A. The legal term is DISCOVERY, and it requires both parties to list ALL assets and liabilities and provide a copy to their respective attorneys. Legal searches by social security number can turn up unlisted accounts too. Make sure you get documentation of every account no matter how old or new, because assets are often moved around if there is an impending divorce. It is illegal to hide assets from your spouse. If one has a winning lottery ticket with a date on it -that must be declared also. Transferring assets that should be accounted in a divorce to a friend, relative or business partner can backfire and create animosity with the court; putting you at risk of losing credibility and assets or negotiating leverage.

My family has a TRUST and I am a beneficiary. Does my spouse get some of this money if we divorce?

A. Family of origin assets that were brought into the marriage will usually be returned to the partner that inherited them. Land, stocks, bonds or other assets owned by one's family of origin are not generally considered marital property. Documentation is critical and the better your records are the easier your family of origin assets will be to keep out of the joint property pile.

I expect a large inheritance when a relative dies. Can I keep this after divorce?

A. Again, family of origin assets are not generally considered marital property, and are usually awarded to the inheriting spouse and not divided. If the couple live in an inherited house from one side it may not be divided according to the usual formula either. Artwork, jewelry, antiques and collectibles from family, along with personal gifts or cash received need to be documented.

We have two homes and are fighting over who gets which after divorce-what's the rule?

A. The entire value of each property is accounted for, along with the costs of maintaining them and the liabilities attached to them. Everything is usually added up and divided into a dollar amount allowance for each partner. Then they may negotiate a buy-out of one property or another or even both based on personal preference. One would be wise to shop around and compare -there may be better values in a new property or location. Do not let sentimentality rule your asset choices -it is only one aspect. If you are prepared to make an emotional choice -know what it will cost you before you sign. Consider the depreciation of assets too. Boats and Motorhomes are tax deductible as second homes, but they devalue much faster than traditional homes and become worthless over time. But, if you can't agree, the court may order the assets sold and the money divided. A good attorney will listen to your desires, while presenting choices that promote clear thinking.

We have a Prenuptial Agreement and are now divorcing. I don't think it is fair -can I fight it?

A. Prenuptial agreements should have clauses allowing for increase in allowances over the period of years of the the marriage. A good one has a timeline showing that if the marriage lasts over some years that there is more sharing of the economic assets. After all, the prenuptial is usually used when one is a high net worth individual and they or the family want to prevent being taken advantage of in the emotional nature of love and marriage. A long term marriage that has been successful should not penalize the spouse that gave up other options and leave them penniless. A harsh agreement may be contested and a more reasonable settlement may be reached, especially if the union lasts ten years or longer.

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Divorce and Older Americans

Divorce and Older Americans

FAQ's Answered by the Pros

Why would someone want a divorce at this late stage of life?

A. Quite a few couples over 55 divorce and the reasons are many. Often the health issues of one partner overwhelm the other and they just want to spend the time they have enjoying life and not at doctors offices. This is not necessarily age related, but many couples also find the differences in health and activity too much as time goes on. It is not uncommon to see couples in the hospitals struggling with these issues. Sometimes counseling can help heal both the ill patient and the relationship. The values held in common that brought them together will often re-create their bond. In many cases though, one or the other or both decide to divorce and live apart. Great sensitivity is required on the part of the family and the professionals handling these cases. Divorce ia a very vulnerable period in anyone's life, and health issues complicate this turmoil. 

Why would retirement cause divorce?

A. Retirement is another reason people get divorced at an advanced age. Sometimes only one partner can retire while the other will work 5 or more years until having permanent time off. When the retired one feels they worked hard and deserve to travel and enjoy hobbies, but the other spouse can't leave with a full retirement fund it creates friction in the household. What should have been a happy time becomes stressful. Maybe the working spouse relies on work and work-related relationships for their identity and does not want to leave the workplace. This also causes friction. Unless these issues are discussed well ahead of time, the transition to retirement can be a period fraught with misunderstandings, disagreements and sometimes divorce.

How does the The Empty Nest cause divorce?

A. Many couples manage to contain their differences for the sake of the family when children are at home. Then they find themselves staring from either end of the dinner table with nothing to say after the kids move out. Rekindling the relationship takes time and committment. Some people do not have the patience to do this step -or they have been waiting to ask for their freedom as soon as the kids were out. Transition moments are critical times in all relationships -job shifts, pregnancy and birth, moving or getting a house-and the empty nest is just another challenge for spouses to negotiate. When an empty nest ends in divorce there is grieving for the loss of the children and the relationship. It takes a caring and supportive staff to help both with the paperwork, negotiations and the family loss that occurs in divorce.

Divorcing because of catastrophic health issues -Why?

A. Sometimes one spouse is expected to need a nursing home in the years to come for some injury or illness. The diagnosis of early onset Alzheimers is scary for both partners and their finances. How will they afford the care they need? Medical insurance and Medicare do not cover nursing home care. Some couples divorce in anticipation of being responsible for catastrophic medical bills. Medicaid will go back for 5 years or more to recover medical costs abandoned by the family and check for money transfers or gifts to family. Divorce and long-term care planning can conserve half the assets for the spouse if it is done before an illness is critical and before the 5 year look-back period. There are many things to consider besides finances, and this is a tender issue both emotionally and financially. We do not recommend divorce for purely economic reasons, but some couples decide to go that route for a variety of reasons. Stretching the joint resources to meet healthcare needs often impoverishes the healthy spouse with many years to live. A house in joint ownership will have a lien put on it shortly after someone enters a nursing home. Half the equity value is reserved for the other spouse, but sometimes the lack of resources means there is little left for maintenance and the house deteriorates or is sold. Part of long-term planning should look at the marital status of the couple and see if there is any reason to change it. A skilled elder advisor can help determine what is best for all.

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