Can a Divorce Team Save You Money?

By Win Heiskala, Certified Family Law Specialist
Attorney-Partner, Beatrice L. Snider Family Law Group

You made the very serious personal decision to terminate your marriage. This decision necessarily takes you to the procedure known as divorce (AKA Dissoluiton of Marriage in the Court).

You found yourself an attorney who discusses the different processes with you that can be win-heiskala-photoused to divide assets and debts, set a child sharing plan, and set support. You say, “We don’t want to go to court – we just want to settle.”

The Collaborative Family Law model provides the most complete and efficient process to meet your goal. The hallmarks of the Collaborative Law divorce process is an agreement from everyone at the outset to exclude all court proceedings, and engage the services of various professionals, known as “the team” to make assist in the resolution of all issues.

Why is a “team” needed? Why do we need a team just to get a divorce? If you don’t have any assets, income or children, then you don’t need a team and you can stop reading. If you do have any of these, I encourage you to continue.

ALL parties in a divorce in California no matter what process is used are mandated by law to exchange Preliminary Declarations of Disclosure. It means each side must provide in writing to the other a disclosure of all assets and debts. There is considerable debate regarding the extent and specificity required, but the goal of the law of disclosure is to adequately inform both sides before decisions are made regarding dividing assets and liabilities.

The main advantage to having one neutral financial person as part of a Collaborative team is that you deal with just one individual working to provide fair and accurate information to both parties in a divorce. Both parties provide financial information to the single financial expert. He or she verifies and organizes it, and reports the information in an understandable form to both parties and their counsel. Everyone is on the same page.

In comparison, in many “litigated” cases, a joint expert is not retained at the outset of a case, and after a great deal of increased animosity, distrust and anxiety, not to mention expense, the parties either reach the point of a joint expert or continue to battle each other with their own expensive experts – two instead of one.

Many times even the most sophisticated party in a divorce may be surprised to learn some information in the exchange. For example, husbands and wives can be wrong about how title is held on a property, whether something is community property or not, or the true value of a given asset. Clear, organized information such as this is essential to the parties in a divorce to reach reasonable and informed solutions.

The independent financial specialist also assists in determining the true income of both parties and the relative expenses for separate households going forward. Compensation packages for W-2 earners as well as the self employed have become increasingly complex with the proliferation of compensation such as Restricted Stock/Units, Performance Restricted Stock, Stock Options, claw back provisions, insider trading rules, irregular bonus payouts, profit distributions, 401K and profit sharing plans. Employment benefits can impact both asset division as well as ongoing income available for support. Self employed individuals often have unrealistic opinions of their worth or income.

The parties and their respective counsel need accurate, efficient documents and information in order to adequately educate and advise the parties as to the best solution and informed decisions for their particular case.

Even more important than the financial considerations in a divorce is the attention needed to preserve the best interest of the children. A child specialist can be the most valuable person on the Collaborative team.

First, the children need to be assured early and often that the separation of the parents is not the fault of the child. The child may be in need of therapy that neither parent is able to recognize or facilitate because of his or her own emotional upheaval. The child needs a neutral place to discuss his or her input and even vent, without fear of recrimination from a parent. Children of different ages have different needs and concerns.

All of this can be discussed with the parents and the child specialist in a safe and calm situation in order to reach a suitable, workable family child sharing plan. Every mental health expert agrees that continued animosity and conflict between the parents in divorce renders irreversible harm to the children from which they never recover. The Collaborative team, with the help of the child specialist, has the best chance of avoiding this tragedy.

If parents are unable to agree regarding the sharing of the children in a litigated divorce case in court, the family frequently undergoes a costly custody evaluation process and may have their own “expert” to review the work of the expert conducting the evaluation. Once again, you have the potential for three experts instead of one, as well as counselors and therapists, coming in at a much later stage of the proceedings after further polarization of the parties and damage to the children. The structure of the Collaborative team and process can “put everyone in the same room” from the beginning of the process.

Equally important to the team are the coaches for each of the adults. Divorce is one of the most emotional processes a person can go through in a lifetime. Everyone can use assistance from time to time for insight and balance while dealing with the inevitable feelings of loss, uncertainty, fear, anger and overall anxiety. Your attorney is not a psychologist. It is the duty of the attorney to maintain as much objectivity as possible in order to advise the client in the decision making process, and the individual coaches are a tremendous assistance in facilitating the parties to reach resolution.

With a professional Collaborative team of your choice in place from the outset of a divorce, you will be provided information, organization, support, advice and assistance for the entire family in the transition process for the best possible solutions. Otherwise, you may end up with a team or two anyway, but in a courtroom instead of a conference

Stock Options and Restricted Stock In Divorce

by Thea Glazer, CFP®, CDFA™, MS Accounting
Glazer Financial Advisors

When dividing property in a divorce settlement, stock options and restricted stock may be thea-glazer-photopart of the marital estate. This brief overview provides a basic understanding of the factors you need to take into consideration. It does not go into all the many tax and technical issues that are aspects of equity compensation. Seeking professional guidance for your specific circumstances is always a good idea.

Many companies grant their employees equity compensation in addition to their salaries, commissions and cash bonuses. Equity compensation is non-cash compensation representing a form of ownership interest in a company. Among the most common are employee stock options and restricted stock or restricted stock units. In divorce, stock options and restricted stock are property to be divided. The employee’s separate shares are often also considered as income in the calculations of support.

Employee Stock Options (ESOs)

An employee stock option is the right given to an employee to purchase a specified number of shares of the employer’s stock for a specified price and for a specified time. There are two types of ESOs, Incentive Stock Options (ISOs) and Nonqualified Stock Options (NQs). The primary difference is that ISOs have an advantageous tax treatment explained below.

Stock options have a Grant Date, Exercise Price, Vesting Schedule and Expiration date. Example: Company ABC grants John Smith 3,000 nonqualified options on January 4, 2015 at a grant price of $10.50, a four-year annual vesting schedule and an expiration date of January 4, 2025. That means that John can exercise (buy) the 750 shares of stock annually on January 4 from 2016 through 2019. He does not have to exercise any shares until January 3, 2025. If he doesn’t exercise by the date of expiration, they will expire and be worthless.

Taxation of stock options

Nonqualified stock options are taxed at the time of exercise as ordinary income. The amount taxed is the difference between the grant price and the fair market price. Most companies sell enough shares to cover the withholding tax and release the net shares or proceeds if the shares were simultaneously sold. If the shares are held once exercised and sold later, there may be capital gains tax as well. Unless shares are about to expire, most people exercise and sell simultaneously.

Incentive stock options are not taxed when they are exercised. If the shares are held for at least one year from exercise and two years from grant date, the gain is taxed at the advantageous long term capital gains rate.

Restricted Stock (RS) and Restricted Stock Units (RSUs)

Unlike stock options, restricted stock and restricted stock units are actual stock. There is usually no purchase price and, if there is, it is very, very nominal (one cent). Holders of restricted stock have voting rights while holders of restricted stock units do not. Restricted stock units cannot be “underwater” which happens to options when the grant price exceeds the fair market price so they are much less risky. Grants of restricted stock usually have about one-third as many shares as do options. Restricted stock grants have a grant date and vesting schedule. There is no expiration date and usually no grant price.

Taxation of restricted stock

Once a share of restricted stock vests, it is released. Upon release, the fair market value less any purchase price is taxed as ordinary income. Most companies sell enough shares to cover the withholding taxes and release the net shares. There is no decision making needed by the employee like there is regarding when to exercise options. Once restricted stock vests, it is automatically released. Many employees continue to hold the net shares until a time they need the cash, feel the stock has reached a good selling price or want to diversify their portfolios.

Transferability of stock options and restricted stock

Some plans allow NQs to be transferred to the former spouse of the employee, but the majority do not. It is very rare to see ISOs transferable. If they are transferred, they may lose their status as ISOs and fall under the tax rules for NQs.

RS and RSUs are not transferable.

For non-transferable shares of options or restricted stock, the employee holds the shares on behalf of the nonemployee spouse and exercises on his/her behalf or transfers released shares. There are IRS acceptable ways to allocate the taxation so the nonemployee spouse is taxed at his/her rate rather than that of the employee.

Division of equity compensation in divorce

Both stock options and restricted stock shares are divided by formulas. The most commonly used ones are Nelson and Hug.

The Nelson formula is Date of grant to date of separation ÷ Date of grant to date of exercise or release

The Hug formula is Date of hire to date of separation ÷ Date of hire to date of exercise or release

The reason the grants were awarded determines which formula is applicable.

Valuation of stock options and restricted stock

It is rare to value the options rather than to divide the shares. That is because the value is constantly changing so it is imprecise at best. In order to correctly value the options, the following factors are the elements of a complex formula, the Black-Scholes formula:

  • Grant price
  • Grant date
  • Date of expiration
  • Vesting schedule
  • Current stock price
  • Volatility of the stock price

Sometimes valuing the options is the only way to effectuate the property division by offsetting another asset. However, dividing the shares divides both the risk and reward to both spouses. I believe it is preferable when possible.

Collaborative Divorce Offers Flexibility

In collaborative or mediated cases, there is far more flexibility in dividing assets. Unequal divisions are also acceptable if the parties agree and have reasons to do so. In court, such flexibility is not nearly as possible. This is another great reason to consider alternative dispute resolution such as collaborative divorce to allow you to make the best decision possible for your circumstances, rather than a decision forced upon you by a judge.