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.

 

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.

What You Can Do to Reduce Attorney Fees and Costs and Finish Your Divorce Sooner

by Susan Rapp, CLS-F, Family Law Attorney

There are a number of ways to resolve parenting, property, debt, and support issues in a divorce.  These methods include Collaborative Divorce, hiring an attorney and attempting to settle issues outside of court, going to court and litigating unresolved issues, and working with an impartial mediator, with or without attorney involvement.

I have been a family law attorney for over 25 years.   No matter which approach you take,  there are several thingSusan Rapp, CLS-F, Family Law Attorneys you can do to reduce attorney fees and costs, minimize feelings of a loss of control over your life and the divorce process, and reduce the amount of time it takes to complete the divorce.

Here are some of the things I have found will help you achieve these goals:

(1) Determine at the beginning of your case, what income, asset, and debt documentation will be needed. If you are working with an attorney or mediator, ask for a list. Whenever possible, pull together and organize the documents yourself.  Otherwise, you are going to pay your attorney’s office to do it. You will likely be asked for documentation of earned and unearned income for you and your spouse, your last two years of income tax returns, and documentation of assets owned and debts owed by you and/or your spouse, as of the date you separated.  Nearly all banks, financial institutions, and credit card companies make several months or years of statements available on line. When real property is involved, locate and copy your most recent deed, as well as a recent mortgage statement. If you or your spouse have retirement interests or investment accounts, obtain recent account statements.  Organize your information and documentation chronologically, and by account or debt.  Keep an identical copy of whatever you give your attorney, spouse, or mediator so you can readily access the information if there are follow-up questions.

(2) E-mail communications to your attorney and her or his staff are usually more cost efficient than phone calls.  Some divorces take several months or longer to complete.  Keep your e-mails to and from your attorney.  If you aren’t sure that you already asked a particular question or got an answer, review your e-mails before contacting your attorney’s office. You might find the answer in an earlier communication you’ve forgotten due to the passage of time.

(3) Unless you believe the matter is truly time-sensitive or an emergency, review, finalize, and transmit written communications to your attorney a day or more after you draft the communication.  In the interim one or more issues may resolve without attorney involvement, or you may find the answer to questions some other way. If you end up not contacting your attorney, you don’t get billed. When you review your drafts a day or so later, you may find a better or clearer way to communicate the information or ask the question. (This is also a good suggestion for attorneys).

(4) Have a written list of everything you want to ask or go over when you speak to your attorney or staff. Prepare a follow-up e-mail, or a memo to yourself confirming the important points of what you discussed.

(5) Buy and learn how to use an all-in-one printer, scanner, and fax machine. Scanned documents that are either e-mailed or “burned” onto a CD disk and sent or delivered to the attorney’s office are generally preferred. Preparing and transmitting documents this way will save you time and money.

(6) Request a periodic update from your attorney.  Determine what still needs to be done, and approximately how long will it take. Ask what you can do to keep things moving.

(7) Be open to settlement. Arrange a phone or office conference with your attorney a week or more before any settlement conference with your spouse and his or her attorney.  Verbalize your settlement preferences, and ask your attorney to identify the pros and cons of various settlement options.  Meeting with your attorney a week or so in advance of the settlement conference will give you time to think about settlement options and clarify your position on disputed issues.

(8) Last but not least, have a good outside support system.  If that’s friends or family, be sure they are objective.  Go to a therapist, even if you don’t think you need to go.  If there’s ever a time a therapist is needed, it’s when you’re getting divorced.

If you follow these suggestions, I predict you will achieve the goals identified.

 

Pacific Northwest Magazine: “Couples can divorce without drama”

CFLGSD member Constance Ahrons, Ph.D., rofessor emerita of the University of Southern California and the former director, Marriage and Family Therapy Doctoral Program, is quoted in a recent article written for Pacific Northwest Magazine, which appears every Friday as part of the Seattle Times.

In the article, Dr. Ahrons explains what it means to have “a good divorce,” a phrase she originated to describe the type of divorce made possible through the Collaborative Divorce process.

ELLEN M. BANNER / THE SEATTLE TIMES

It’s always good news when people are given an opportunity to learn more about Collaborative Divorce through articles like this one, featuring experts like Dr. Ahrons.

Read the article here.

 

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.

 

 

Collaborative Divorce Presentation Scheduled October 3: Resolving Disputes Respectfully with a Commitment to Avoiding Courtrooms

The Family Law Section of the San Diego County Bar Association features CFLG San Diego members Hildy L. Fentin, CFLS; Myra C. Fleischer, CFLS; Justin A. Reckers, CFP, CDFA; and Constance R. Ahrons, Ph.D. in a seminar on Collaborative Divorce on October 3 at 12 noon at the SDCBA Conference Center.

The goal of Collaborative Divorce is to transform the resolution of family law issues through processes that protect the emotional and financial integrity and health of all the people involved without having to resort to court litigation.

The presenters will introduce attendees to the Collaborative Divorce process, including the:

  • Definition of a Collaborative case
  • Core goals of the Collaborative model
  • Make-Up of the Collaborative team

Common misunderstandings of the process and how to begin to practice Collaborative Divorce will also be addressed.

Core elements of contractual and personal commitments in Collaborative Divorce are:

  • Negotiating a mutually acceptable settlement without having courts decide issues
  • Maintaining open communication and information sharing
  • Creating shared solutions acknowledging the highest priorities of all

Click here to download the PDF flyer. Click here to register for the Live Internet Webcast.

Note: The program is intended for attorneys and law students, and is not open to the general public.

See the calendar of events page on the SDCBA website here for more information.

 

 

 

Survey: Single Fathers Head Record Number of Households with Minor Children in U.S.

A record 8% of households with minor children in the United States are headed by a single father, up from just over 1% in 1960, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of Decennial Census and American Community Survey data.

SDT-2013-07-single-fathers-01The number of single father households has increased about ninefold since 1960, from less than 300,000 to more than 2.6 million in 2011.

The entire Pew Research study can be found at this link. There is a tremendous amount of data offered in this study which could be useful to anyone dealing with issues affecting families including divorce, custody and support issues.

Have you run across this trend in your own professional experience? Tell us and add your observations in the comments section.

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.

Collaborative Divorce Discussed in new National Law Review Article

Collaborative divorce enjoyed visibility in this well-written article posted this month on the National Law Review website.

The article, titled “Do I Litigate, Mediate, or Collaborate on my Divorce?” is written by Richard A. Gray, a Virginia-based attorney. It offers a very basic overview explanation of the three approaches to divorce.

Members of the Collaborative Family Law Group of San Diego can provide you a more detailed, personalized discussion and answer your questions about the advantages of the Collaborative Divorce process. In the face of well-publicized Family Court budget cutbacks, more individuals and couples are exploring this option.

Visit the Contact Us page on our website, or call the Collaborative Family Law Group of San Diego at 858-472-4022.

Read the article here.