Tips for Handling the Holidays When Your Marriage No Longer Feels Like a “Gift”

Ginita Wall Divorce Financial advice San Diego 858-472-4022

by Ginita Wall, CPA, CFP®, CDFA

Holidays are usually a time for reconnecting, but if you are married — and not so happily — seasonal preparations and celebrations can put a major strain on relationships that are already teetering on the brink. So how do you celebrate the holidays when you don’t think your marriage will make it?  Here are some tips for getting through it all.

Ask for help from friends and family. If it looks like getting divorced will be one of your New Year’s resolutions, but you and your spouse are still together, you may want to confide your situation to a friend or family member. But limit what you share to just one or two people. If you blab to everyone, your spouse could hear of it, your marriage will suffer even more, and your holiday will explode into ruin for everyone – especially if you have children.

Curb holiday spending. Heading into divorce deeply in debt complicates everything, so don’t drown your guilt or sorrow in shopping. This may not be the most picture-perfect memorable holiday season, and that’s okay – right now, you are just trying to get through.

Lighten up your expectations. Holidays are about getting together, but divorce is about breaking up. Get through this pressure-packed time of year by focusing on others.  Maintain a gracious spirit and be grateful for every good thing you have. Consider what’s most important to yourself and your family, and pare celebrations down to just those things.

Don’t let marital storms destroy your joy. Think of your marital problems the same way you would a big storm during the holidays. You might have to change your plans a bit, re-arrange schedules and deal with some unpleasantness. But you can still figure out ways to celebrate without the downpour derailing your holiday. Find and share every little joy you can this holiday season.

Don’t squabble with your spouse. Keeping your emotions in check is key, so resentment doesn’t overcome you during the holidays.  If you act in anger now, you may ruin your chances to get to a peaceful divorce settlement with your spouse in the New Year.  And, fighting in front of the kids is never a good idea. Children learn what they see at home, and they will take to heart things you say in anger.

Take your time. When the holidays draw to a close, don’t rush headlong into divorce. Take as much time to plan your divorce strategy as you devoted to shopping and decorating for the holidays – this preparation will pay off for an entire lifetime, instead of just one season.

Think peace. The more peace you can bring into your life, now and in the coming year, the more centered you will feel, which will affect your entire family. You have many options available to you as you end your marriage: negotiation between you, mediation, collaborative divorce, and litigation. Choose the avenue that will bring the most peaceful resolution for you and your spouse.


Nine Holiday Tips For Divorced Moms, Dads, and Kids

Family Christmas Fun Divorces

Family Christmas Fun DivorcesFamily holidays are held up to impossible standards by the media and our memories. Gatherings, gifts, meals and events are all expected to be picture perfect. Who could possibly live up to these standards?

Add the realities of separation and divorce and the holidays become that much more difficult. As families start wrestling with custody and visitation schedules, winter vacations and even gift-giving, the phones start ringing off the hook in family law offices all over the country.

Most attorneys do not put rushing into court to file emergency legal documents at the last minute during the holiday season at the top of their wish list. Courts are busy. It’s never a good time to ask the legal system to do the thinking for you.

Members of the Collaborative Family Law Group of San Diego encourage you to think ahead. Consider these tips provided by attorney member Myra Fleischer so you can enjoy your holiday season with minimum stress for you and your children. Bonus: you’ll avoid the added financial expense of legal bills.


Colloborative Divorce Sets Stage for Healthy Co-Parenting

Yellowstone Geyer

When parents of minor children divorce, they cannot completely sever ties between them. They remain members of a family through their children.

The goal of Collaborative Divorce is to help a divorcing couple define and implement the settlement that best meets the needs of their family, and learn new skills for more effective communication, conflict resolution and post-divorce co-parenting.

The Collaborative Divorce team including a family law attorney, financial professional and divorce coach helps the parties achieve a divorce settlement that minimizes the negative economic, social, and emotional consequences that often undermine families in the traditional adversarial divorce process. By maintaining a primary focus on the needs of children and the welfare of the family overall, the Collaborative approach helps parents provide their children with the emotional support and healthy co-parenting they need.

Yellowstone GeyerFollowing a divorce, each parent must take responsibility for maintaining a positive, cooperative co-parenting approach to their children. Establishing new routines can be challenging, perhaps frustrating. It can be tempting to sound off about the failings of your ex-spouse. But blowing off steam is not worth the long term damage done to the family unit, especially the children.

A recent Huffington Post column discusses three good reasons not to “trash talk” your ex-spouse after a divorce. This is good advice and worth sharing with our readers. But if you find yourself struggling with this issue after a Collaborative Divorce, seek out your original coach who can help you work through psychological and emotional issues that may be lingering from your divorce, or newly emerging. A licensed mental health professional can help provide the tools you need to cope in a healthier, more productive way.



Claiming ‘Head of Household’ Status, Dependent Children During Divorce

by Alex Kwoka, Attorney at Law, Law Office of Alexandra M. Kwoka

If you are considering separating or divorcing,  and/or moving from the marital home with a child or children, thinking about how you will file your tax return is important.

First:  When will you separate into two households?

If you move out after June 30 in the tax filing year, you will not be able to claim either “Head of Household” or “Single” tax status, which means your tax rate may be greater than when you were married if you filed jointly.

IRS regulations permit parents who are not yet divorced or separated under a Judgment to file as Head of Household (if they meIRS 1040 Tax Formet certain requirements).

HH status is  a benefit to a parent, because filing as HH generally results in taxation at rates lower than “Married filing separately” or Single.

To file as Head of Household, at least one child must live with the taxpayer. The taxpayer must “maintain the household” by paying for housing, utilities and food.  The household must also be “the principal place of abode” of the child, which means the child must live with the parent for more than half the year according to IRS Regulations.

Because of this, be cautious in describing your custody arrangement if you are thinking of sharing custody of a child or children. If you are planning on being the Head of Household, as a parent  you may need to prove that you maintained a household for a child AND had approximately 51 percent of custody time. If you and your spouse share time equally or 50/50 you may not be able to qualify for HH status.

Even if there is no Court order determining custody, if you and your spouse are NOT living together for the last six months of the year, and you maintain a household for a child or children, you may qualify for HH status AND a child care credit if you file a separate return and meet the other requirements.

California law permits a taxpayer to claim a “joint custody Head of Household credit” if parties have lived separately for an entire year, AND a child lives with a parent no less than 146 days and no more than 219 under a written agreement or a Judgment or order. The law may be different in another state.

Second:  Who will claim your child or children as dependents?

IRS Regulations permit parents who have elected to separate or divorce (and taken steps to separate/divorce by moving to separate households) to not only claim one of several tax status when tax returns are filed, but also to decide who will claim a child or children as a dependent.

Claiming a child as a dependent means you claim a “dependency deduction,” also called a  “dependency exemption.”

The deduction/exemption means that the amount of the dependency exemption is deducted from your income. It reduces gross income in the calculation to arrive at taxable income.

In tax year 2013, the eligible dependency exemption is $3,900 unless a taxpayer is subject to Alternative Minimum Tax; or the deduction is reduced because his/her adjusted gross income exceeds $300,000 on a joint return, $275,000 on a HH return, $250,000 on a single return, or $150,000 on a married filing single return.

This means if you are a taxpayer in the 28% bracket in 2013, a $3,900 exemption is worth $1,092.

To claim a child as a dependent:

  • The child must be under 19 as of 12/31 of the tax year OR be a full-time student under the age of 24.
  • The child must be a dependent – i.e., live with the parent for more than one-half of the tax year.
  • The parent must provide support for the child.

If a child lives with both parents, or one parent is the parent with physical custody  under a decree, order or Judgment but both parents claim the child as a “dependent,” the IRS determines who is the “custodial parent” by looking for proof.  The IRS will determine which parent was the one with whom the child resides for the greater number of nights during the calendar year.

A parent with custody can “release” a dependency exemption for one or more children to the other parent by signing and filing  IRS Form 8332. It permits a custodial parent to release the exemption for one year, for several and/or future years, and to revoke the release. The non-custodial parent can then claim the child as a dependent by attaching the signed form to his or her tax return.  IRS Form 8332 explains the rules for children of divorced or separated parents, and is available online.

The Child Care Credit

If a parent can claim a child as his/her dependent and if the parent has child care costs for this child (who must be under age 13) IRS Regulations also permit the parent to claim a child care credit if he/she is the custodial parent.

But a non-custodial parent  to whom a dependency exemption has been released can NOT claim on her/his federal tax return a child care credit.  The custodial parent alone may claim the child care credit.

The amount of the child care credit depends on the claiming taxpayer’s income.  And, expenses which can be claimed are capped: $3,000 for one child; $6,000 for two or more children.

Because these rules and conforming with them to the satisfaction of the IRS can be complex and involve a significant amount of tax savings, it is wise to consult your tax professional if you have any questions or concerns.

Brave New World of Divorce: Alimony For Your Eggs?

Divorce is never a happy situation. But it can be especially difficult for women who would like to become mothers and face an expiration date on their fertility.

Baby CupcakesReproductive medicine provides many more options for people who wish to become parents. But this can also complicate a divorce. Fertility preservation could now become an issue in divorce if a New York family law case sets a precedent.

CFLGSD member Mel Mackler shares this article from the New York Times on September 7 about the case; read it at this link. How do you see this playing out in the courts and in divorce in the future?

Tips for Empty Nesters When the Kids Leave for College

Many parents are working through the transition in their lives created when their children leave for college. As CFLGSD member and family law attorney Julia Garwood notes, things change. They no longer know when the kids are home, whether they are eating or sleeping properly, who they are hanging out with, and other everyday activities.

Many couples find themselves in the situation where the kids are gone and they are left with a spouse that they no longer know – except in relationship to the children. It can be a crucial time in your marriage. Unfortunately, some empty nesters find themselves contemplating divorce or separation because they’ve spent so much time being parents that they forget how to be lovers. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

College Empty NestersGarwood has excellent advice for parents who might feel confused or even overwhelmed by the changes created due to your child’s new “freedom,” and your own new “freedom” as a result. Read her excellent tips here to help survive the transition to becoming a happy empty nesting couple.



When Advice Hurts, Not Helps During a Divorce

by Mel Mackler, MA, LMFT
Coaching and Education for an Emotionally Healthy Divorce

In the face of adversity, we all can use support and, sometimes, advice from friends and family that we trust and are close to us.  These two camps are always ready to come to our aid and defense when we are in stress or in anxiety.  This can be especially true when someone is going through a family break-up due to a divorce.

Divorce anxiety can fuel a sense of being in danger.  We are apt to scurry to an attorney for safety and protection before we understand the kind of divorce process the attorney practices, and before we understand which form of divorce process suits our family best.  There is a second area of vulnerability you need to be alert to: accepting advice and information from friends and family.

While emotional support and a good ear to vent into are two worthwhile supports to anyone going through adversity, it is important to be aware that advice coming from friends and family members who love us is going to be biased.  These people want to give us their best, but often give advice that is not in our family’s best interest.  Loved ones want to back us up, give us strength to fight back and to protect our children and our family’s assets.  Your fear can fuel their anxiety, and that can lead to impulsive and protective advice from your loved ones—advice that isn’t necessarily helpful.

Friends and family often do not clearly understand the method of divorce being used to achieve a cooperative settlement.  Many people have not heard of a collaborative divorce.  To many people, divorce is simply divorce—a confrontive process that puts one party at the advantage of the other. They will not understand that you have made a decision to work cooperatively with your spouse or partner and to minimize dissension.

If your decision has been to work cooperatively with your spouse or partner, then the advice from your supporters might cause you to move in a direction opposite from your goal.  Yet, in a moment of anger or anguish, it isn’t unusual for someone to grasp the advice he or she received and follow through.

It’s at these times that you should caution yourself.  Contact your attorney, your divorce coach or your therapist.  Discuss your fears, and the advice that your support team gave you.  Ask one of your professionals for his or her advice about following through with the suggestions your support team has made.  While this consultation may cost you a few dollars, it may save you a great deal more if the advice from your friends is inappropriate to your goals for your divorce.

It’s always so easy to react; and sometimes you’re going to feel it is imperative to react immediately.  Taking several deep breaths, then using your brain and your professional team before you decide what to do can be far more beneficial for the long haul.  Play it smart, not impulsively.

A Bedtime Story for Children of Divorce

One of the strongest benefits of Collaborative Divorce is the focus on putting the family and especially your children first throughout the process, for their longtime well-being.

Author Jackie Pilossoph shares a first person story about the lessons she has learned about putting her own current feelings of disappointment and anger aside, successfully creating a “happily ever after” for her children. It’s a charming story with a lot of practical advice that acknowledges that it might not be easy to do – but the rewards are worth it.

Read Jackie’s story here. Do you have a similar story to share?

Kids In The Courtroom: Good Idea Or Not?

 Children  often  want to be heard  when their parents separate and divorce.  How can children have a voice without  exposing them to courtroom battles?

by Nancy Stassinopoulos, Attorney and Certified Family Law Specialist,
Stassinopoulos & Schweitzer, LLP, San Diego, CA

Nancy Stassinopoulos

The traditional Family Court system, which is based on litigation with attorneys for each parent, tries to help families with children to resolve child-sharing disputes, but with mixed results.  Although mediation at Family Court Services (now called “child custody recommending counseling”) is required before a judge makes decisions on child custody and visitation, by the time parents walk into the court mediator’s office, they are often entrenched in their positions and unable to agree on a parenting plan.  So they end up in the courtroom, where the adversary process causes more acrimony between the parents, and where the children suffer from the toxic fallout.

The Family Court judge has the option to appoint an attorney for the children, called “minor’s counsel.”  This attorney will interview the children and represent their interests in court hearings. Usually, the court appoints minor’s counsel only in high-conflict cases, where the children need their own advocate.

The California Family Code requires the judge to consider the wishes of the child if the child is of “sufficient age and capacity to reason so as to form an intelligent preference as to custody or visitation.” Recently, the California Legislature has decided to give children more of a role in the legal process. If a child who has reached the age of 14 wishes to address the court regarding custody or visitation, the child shall be permitted to do so unless the judge determines that it is not in the child’s best interests. The judge can even permit a child younger than 14 to testify in certain circumstances.

Many family law attorneys think this new law is a bad idea, because it puts the child in the middle of the conflict and exposes him or her to the highly charged atmosphere of the courtroom. A parent who wants his or her child to testify in court may not be thinking of how harmful that could be for the child. The child may not realize that he or she will have to be placed under oath, sit in the witness box and be questioned by the attorneys for the parents, usually with the parents present in the courtroom.

The collaborative divorce process gives the children a voice in the decisions about where they will live, and how much time they will spend with each parent, while protecting them from the conflict of the courtroom.

In a collaborative divorce, the parents, together with their collaborative attorneys and coaches, may decide to use a “child specialist” as part of their Collaborative team. The role of the child specialist is to work with the parents and the children to provide each child with the opportunity to express their concerns, to give the parents information that will help their children through the divorce process, and to assist the Collaborative team in developing an effective co-parenting plan.

The goal of the collaborative divorce process is to help the family during their transition from one home to two homes. Children need to participate in the decisions made by the family, in a manner that is appropriate to their age.  They may have concerns about their pets, their bicycles, and their friends, and they may find it hard to share these concerns with their parents. The child specialist in the Collaborative team can listen to the children and make sure their questions are answered and their needs are met.

Collaborative divorce allows children to have a say in their own future and the future of their family, without feeling pressure to “choose sides” and without the intimidation of the courtroom setting – a healthier outcome for everyone.

Four Tips for Making Divorce Easier on You and Your Family

by Myra Chack Fleischer, CLF-S, Fleischer & Associates

Making the decision to get divorced is never easy. If you have been there, done that, no matter when you file you know it can be consuming and is usually the result of a thought processing lasting weeks, months, even years. If there are children involved, it is even more gut wrenching.

This is why our group so strongly recommends the collaborative divorce process to mitigate the impact to your children and your family as a whole.

But once you have crossed that bridge in your mind, heart and soul, now is the time to be ruthlessly practical. Even if you choose collaborative divorce, you must also prepare yourself and your children. This is not selfish. This is healthy, this is smart and this is in your long-term best interests.

It is natural to feel overwhelmed, and there is a lot to do. As a family law attorney with experience representing hundred and hundreds of divorcing clients, there are some priorities you need to address BEFORE you break the bad news, hire an attorney, file any paperwork, or decide to avoid the court system entirely. This advice applies equally to men and women, straight or gay.

Gavel and Wedding Rings

  •  Make sure you get copies of all your financial records.

This includes bank statements, investment and retirement accounts, credit cards, loans and any other debts. You will also be able to quickly tell and later prove if there are significant changes or movement of assets, and this may help you make the decision about whether collaborative divorce is right for you.

  • Make sure you have a source of funds if you do not work outside the home.

Create a financial strategy with your attorney or a divorce financial planner before any formal filing for divorce.

  • Make sure you disclose anything damaging about you and your situation to your attorney.

The last person you want to be blindsided by any misbehavior or skeletons in your closet is your attorney. He or she cannot help you to mitigate the impact if he or she knows nothing about it. Sure, it can be some embarrassing stuff to admit to extramarital affairs, criminal acts, struggles with your physical or mental health, or tweeting racy photos.

But believe me, divorce attorneys, divorce financial planners and divorce coaches have heard it all and then some. We are not shockable, and we will not think less of you. Professionals involved with divorce proceedings are committed to confidentiality. Most of it can be handled. It’s entirely possible that by getting these issues acknowledged and out of the way, the healing process can begin and a collaborative divorce may be possible. But if not, it’s better to learn this early in the divorce process.

  • Listen to professional advice.

If your attorney, divorce financial planner or divorce coach tells you something or asks you to do something, there is a reason for it. Usually it is to protect your interests and make things easier (and maybe less costly) for you and your family in the long run. We know how to engage the legal system to your best advantage, and we have plenty of experience that tells us what works and what does not work. Don’t ruin the good counsel you are getting by ignoring it.