5 Good Reasons to Hire an Accountant Protecting Your Finances During Divorce

5 Good Reasons to Hire an Accountant Protecting Your Finances During Divorce

You’d be hard pressed to find a person who hasn’t heard the phrase “All’s fair in love and war.” But what if the war arises from a love gone bad? That scenario happens every day – 2,800 times per day by our estimation. We call it divorce. Whether you are gathering your forces to march into battle or just trying to duck and cover, there are good reasons to hire an accountant as part of your expert team.

According to a survey conducted by Fidelity Investments, less than half of married couples agree on finances on a daily basis. And that is only while married! You think she’ll agree with you on money issues now that you’re breaking up?  Fat chance, pal.

Don’t Expect Her to Fight Fair

Once the love is over, and divorce is in the air, the gloves can come off and your soon-to-be-ex can behave in ways you never imagined. This behavior can manifest in lots of ways, from questioning your parenting qualifications to non-disclosure of financial information.

Falsifying financial disclosures is not a practice limited to men undergoing divorce, or even to the bread winner. It isn’t even specific to divorce.

Stay-at-home spouses can secret away cash, make hidden withdrawals and transfers as easily as the breadwinner. One of the best pieces of divorce advice for men we give is the need for you to have professionals on your side, and that may include hiring an accountant.

Sounds Good, but Funds are Tight?

Anyone can come up with some clever ideas about how to squirrel away some cash or shelter some income from their spouse during a divorce. Even dealing with relatively small amounts, the math speaks for itself. Every few dollars she is able to extract from you adds up over time. If she’s able to get awarded an extra $200 of support a month, you are talking about $2,400 per year. Think about it. After ten years, that’s an extra   $24,000 out of your pocket. Starting to see why you should spend the money up front to hire an accountant?

For some guys, $24,000 in cash payments is nothing compared to being able to protect assets, like stock options, retirement accounts, or savings from being handed to the ex during divorce.

How to Protect Yourself? Hire an Accountant!

The main way to protect yourself from being financially tricked during divorce is through hiring your own accountant. You could jointly hire an accountant to help prepare and present an accurate picture of your joint finances to each attorney, but even then you’d be wise to have your own do a good review to make sure nothing fishy is going on.

Forensic Accountants Find Hidden Assets

There are accountants that specialize in researching and finding these hidden trails of deceit. They are called forensic accountants. Even though their fees are consistent with legal representation, depending on your joint financial situation, or the true assets of your spouse, you usually find they can save you their salary in just a few months, with all income after that going to your pocket.

The value of having a good accountant on your side doesn’t just apply to the time before divorce. Some people delay promotions, or hide income well before, only to then reap the rewards after divorce. If you are paying or receiving child support or alimony, though, these values are always up for reconsideration by the court. If you suspect your ex is hiding some new income, a trained accountant can help you discover their real earnings. Armed with these numbers, you can get your alimony or child support obligations adjusted to a fair value.

Hiding Income or Assets

 Still not sure about the value of your own accountant during divorce? Take a moment to consider these tactics that people commonly use to hide income or assets. When reading these tactics, think about the amount of work you’d have to dedicate on your own to find evidence of your ex using these tactics, and make your discovery stand up in court. In other words, five ways to hide money during divorce = five reasons to hire an accountant:

1. Transferring funds to a separate account

Setting up your own bank account and then transferring funds from the joint account is extremely common, likely because it is very easy to do. The tale is all too common where everything in the joint accounts seem ok and normal one day, then vacant the next. In today’s world of simple online digital transfers, moving the money from one account to another is just a click away.

Is it legal? Sure. As a joint owner, that means you have full rights to move funds as you see fit. The “joint” in the title doesn’t mean a vote is needed for transactions. It simply means any of the account holders has rights to singularly make transactions. The ease of the action is probably one of the reasons it is so common.

The error occurs when it is time to report your assets. No judge likes to see this behavior. While legally it may be your rights, it is difficult to show why you had all the reasons to move the money into an account that your spouse can’t access. It today’s digital world, it is child’s play to trace the transaction.

Want to take all your credibility and dump it in the toilet? Forget to disclose the existence of your new account during the financial disclosure process. The account will be found and you will be left trying to not only explain why you felt you needed to move the money, but why you neglected to acknowledge it and disclose why you  took those actions.

2. Transferring funds to a friend

Maybe one rung up the evolutionary ladder of deceit is using a friend to hold you money instead of your own separate account. People choose this option in an attempt to hide the digital trace to their own name. Plus, when it comes time for disclosure, they can state they don’t have the funds because, well, they don’t!

Here’s the problem, well two main problems. First, judges aren’t stupid. If you don’t remember anything else, remember that. If you think you are the first to think of things, think again. It’s like your kids trying to get away with something. They forget that you’ve seen most everything from when you were a kid. So when they trace a movement of money out of your joint accounts to your friend’s account (not difficult to do), the judge will know, probably courtesy of your wife’s attorney.

The second problem can come from your friend and the size of the money. How good is your friendship? Your friend is under no obligation to give the money back. Plus, if your friend failed to report the gift as income, and didn’t pay tax on this gift, then they are in their own legal fun zone.

3. Cash withdrawals on a debit card

While this action isn’t going to generate enormous amounts of stored cash, over time it can result in a pretty good pile of stash cash. The method isn’t difficult. The person wanting to build some cash pays for everything with the debit card. This is a good household budget practice as it doesn’t run up credit card debt and pulls just from a checking account.

The trick, though, comes at the register. Most stores when using a debit card will allow you to get cash back. The amount allowed varies from store to store. So if the spouse that is planning ahead for an eventual divorce keeps pulling out $50 cash with each purchase, the stockpile can grow depending on how long they carry out these actions, as long as they don’t break the bank account either.

Some spouses know a divorce is in the future. They know their situation isn’t ready today, so they fake it, or let the household continue in the tension. During this time, they can build their plan, like get the last kid off to college, get some education completed for themselves, or be in line for that next promotion (another tricky move…delaying the promotion until after the divorce). Along with their planning can be this debit card maneuver to build up the cash reserve.

The problem is that any good accountant, especially a forensic accountant, can spot this behavior easily. There are records, but also there are standards for how much groceries should cost. By watching the grocery store charges from a year prior, to then totaling the ones from the naughty year, they can see the bump. Plus, they can see if they are way above the normal values for most households.

In the end, the little bit of cash isn’t worth the damage to your courtroom reputation once it becomes evident you played these tricks in the past. It only leads the court to believe you are a liar and likely have other examples of misbehavior in your past.

These last two methods apply when your spouse owns their own business. Owning your own business is a great way to blend your home expenses with your business expenses. There are countless books out there detailing the tax advantages available to you as being your own boss. Unfortunately, these methods, which are mostly legal, also open up the door to illegal methods that can be used to hide income or assets during a divorce.

4. Delayed billing and fake expenses

A person’s income when they own their own business can be boiled down to two basic factors; money coming in minus money going out. The money coming in can be falsely represented by a person delaying their invoicing to clients. By pushing some of these to later, either blatantly or through “special” offers like paying nothing for 90 or 180 days, the income can be pushed months into the future. The equation gets altered on one side by lowering the amount of money coming in.

The other factor can be altered by claiming large expenses to the business. Personal expenses can be blended into the business to some extent. Some have been known to go to the extremes of “hiring” family or friends as consultants. They can pay them for their fake service, which flows money to these people to hold for them until after the divorce.

By working just these two factors, a business owner can continue to thrive, but show a reduced income on paper. The problem is that there still is the paper trail. Bringing in your accountant can easily find these actions of misbehavior. Not only will questionable behavior destroy a reputation in court, but it has tax law consequences as well. Income tax fraud carries stiff fees and prison terms.

5. Business investments that can be resold

One final example of driving up business expenses is for the business owner to take some of the savings and purchase valuable equipment, furnishings, art, etc. for the office. These investments can easily be sold after the divorce. What may on paper appear to be office furnishing are in fact stashes of money for their use after the divorce.

One problem with resale is there may be a loss taken by the business owner. Think in terms of a new car. The owner could buy a new car for the business, while planning to sell it once the divorce is final. Sure, they will take a hit on the resale value. But, their ex won’t get the money. Emotions are on fire during divorce. It shouldn’t be too hard of a stretch to understand why someone would rather take a 20% loss on some savings rather than split it with their ex.

All of these investments can be difficult to argue with your spouse. But a trained accountant can spot this spike in investments as well as apply a value to them for the settlement.

Tip of the  Financial Iceberg

Looking back on these five examples of ways people hide money during divorce, you need to remember that I’m just scratching the surface. There are countless examples of ways to work the system. As you think about it, imagine being on the receiving end of a pile of paper from your spouse’s attorney during the financial disclosure process.

Many follow the tactic of delivering reams of paper to you in an unorganized manner so that you can’t get any good understanding of their financial state except from the tax returns. You are faced with having your lawyer go through it, at their hourly rate, while your legal bills are mounting.

Your other alternative is to hire an accountant. They can cut through the piles of paper in a fraction of the time it would take you and your legal team. Plus, the experienced ones can spot the trends much quicker than any of you. Your accountant can spot any financial antics by your spouse, and make sure that your financial disclosures are clean and tidy. While you will have to make some investment in them up front, the decision to hire an accountant can easily pay for itself during a divorce.

 

Money is always a hot topic. Share this article on social media.

For more Guyvorce topics on money matters during divorce, check out 10 Financial Mistakes to Avoid During Divorce and How Divorce Affects Your Tax Filing Status.


(c) Can Stock Photo / Kurhan

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What Men Need to Know About Alimony and Taxes A Clear Explanation of How the IRS Defines These Payments

What Men Need to Know About Alimony and Taxes A Clear Explanation of How the IRS Defines These Payments

When it comes to alimony and taxes, the IRS shows no mercy.  You need to know what they are looking for to avoid costly mistakes with your annual filing.

A 2014 report from the Treasury Inspector General for Taxpayer Administration (TIGTA) identified a $2.3 billion gap between the amount of alimony deductions claimed by taxpayers on returns and the corresponding income reported.

The IRS has made closing the alimony tax gap a priority in recent years. Many taxpayers have been audited or have gone to court over alimony deductions that were disallowed by the IRS.

What Is (and Isn’t) Alimony

It sounds straightforward, doesn’t it? But much of the alimony tax gap is due to confusion over what exactly the IRS considers alimony.

Alimony payments are deductible by the payor and taxable income for the recipient, but the definition of alimony for federal tax purposes is governed by the Internal Revenue Code, not by divorce decrees or court orders.

In order to be considered alimony for federal tax purposes, there are several requirements that must be met:

  • You cannot file a joint return with your former spouse and cannot be members of the same household when you make the payment or payments
  • Payments must be in cash (including checks and money orders)
  • The payment is received by (or on behalf of) your spouse or former spouse
  • Your divorce decree or separate maintenance agreement does not say the payment is not alimony
  • You have no obligation to make payments (in cash or property) after the death of your former spouse
  • Your payment is not treated as child support or as a property settlement

Payments for child support, property settlements, payments of community property income, and voluntary payments that are not required by the divorce agreement are never considered alimony and not deductible.

There are a few areas pertaining to alimony and taxes where taxpayers tend to get tripped up.

Unallocated Alimony/Child Support Payments

In a 2015 Tax Court Case, a doctor lost his alimony deduction because the divorce agreement did not allocate the amount the doctor was required to pay to his ex-wife between child support and alimony.

The divorce agreement provided that Dr. Donald Girard would “continue to tender unallocated alimony/child support in the monthly sum of $5,232 for a continued eight-year period with the provision as long as the former Mrs. Girard should not remarry or cohabitate.” The agreement was silent as to whether the payments would continue if either party died before the eight years elapsed.

Dr. Girard deducted the payments on his own return, but his ex-wife did not report the payments as income. When the IRS sent her a notice of deficiency, she fought their assessment and the Tax Court found in her favor since the agreement did not allocate what portion of the payments went to child support and what went to alimony. And they did not specify that the payments would cease at death.

Property Transfer Ruling on Alimony and Taxes

In 2015, the Tax Court ruled on a case where one former spouse tried to pay alimony with real estate.

In 2010, Christina Mehriarty and Bradley Williams agreed to a divorce settlement that called for Mehriarty to pay alimony to Williams of $4,000 per month for 60 months. Nearly a year after their divorce was finalized, Mehriarty offered to sign a quitclaim deed to transfer a piece of property to Williams in lieu of the $80,000 left in alimony. Williams agreed.

Mehriarty tried to claim an investment loss of $80,000 on her 2011 income tax return. When that deduction was challenged by the IRS, Mehriarty attempted to argue that the property transfer was a deductible alimony payment.

One of the first requirements for alimony in the tax code is that payments be made in cash or a cash equivalent. The tax court ruled that the property transfer was not alimony.

Paying Less Than The Total Required

If your divorce agreement calls for both alimony and child support and you pay less than the total required, your payments will be applied first to child support.

Any remaining amount will be considered alimony.

Joseph Becker and his wife Jennifer divorced in 2011. Becker was ordered to pay temporary child support of $801 per month and temporary alimony of $815 per month for the 10 months prior to their divorce. He was also ordered to pay child support of $540 per month and alimony of $500 per month, along with paying for his children’s health insurance, after the divorce was granted.

In 2011, Becker owed $8,205 for alimony and $8,307 for child support, for a combined total of $16,612. That year, he made payments totaling $9,688.

When Becker filed his 2011 tax return, he claimed an alimony deduction of $12,036, which the IRS disallowed.

Although Becker tried to argue that he allocated his 2011 payments between child support and alimony, the Internal Revenue Code is clear.

When it comes to alimony and taxes, the IRS  rules that payments that total less than the amounts specified in the divorce instrument will be allocated first to child support. Amounts will only be allocated to alimony once child support has been paid in full.

Third Party Payments

There is some good news when it comes to your taxes and alimony.

Payments made to a third party on behalf of your ex for housing costs, medical expenses, taxes, tuition, etc. may qualify as alimony.

Whether housing costs can be considered alimony depends on the ownership of the home.

  • If the home is owned by your ex but you pay the mortgage, real estate taxes, insurance premiums and other costs, you can deduct the payments as alimony. Your ex-spouse will have to claim those amounts as income and will be entitled to a tax deduction for the mortgage interest and real estate taxes, even though you actually paid those expenses.
  • If you own the home and pay the mortgage, real estate taxes, and other expenses while your ex-spouse lives in the home, you cannot deduct the payments as alimony and your ex-spouse doesn’t have to report the payments as income, even if she lives there rent free.
  • If the home is owned jointly as tenants in common, you can deduct half of the mortgage payments, real estate taxes, and property insurance you pay as alimony and your ex-spouse must report that amount as income.

You and your former spouse can deduct half of the real estate taxes and mortgage interest paid as itemized deductions. However, if you own the home jointly as tenants by entirety or joint tenants, none of your payments for taxes or insurance are alimony. You can claim all of the real estate taxes as an itemized deduction.

Exes often get in trouble by verbally agreeing that one spouse will pay expenses on the other’s behalf in lieu of alimony payments. For instance, you might offer to pay a medical bill for your ex and reduce your alimony for the month by the same amount.

While this is legally acceptable, those payments are easily forgotten at year end.

If you want to make that type of arrangement, it’s a good idea to get the agreement in writing so both spouses agree to recognize the payment as alimony for tax purposes at year-end.

The Last Word

With all of the intricacies of alimony and federal tax laws, it’s a good idea to get your tax preparer to weigh in during divorce agreement negotiations.

Your attorney may not be familiar with the tax implications of the specific wording in the divorce agreement. Remember that the way alimony is treated for federal tax purposes is ruled by the Internal Revenue Code, not your divorce agreement.

Getting professional tax advice early will save time and money in the long run.

 

It’s tax time. Share this article on your social media.


(c) Can Stock Photo / AndreyPopov

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Flying Solo With Your Special Needs Child What Single Dads Need To Know to Get Off the Ground

Flying Solo With Your Special Needs Child What Single Dads Need To Know to Get Off the Ground

It’s always easier when there are two of you. It’s said the devil is in the details, and that’s doubly true when you need to remember everything for your special needs child. Don’t shy away from flying solo, even if you weren’t the primary caregiver before the divorce. You are intelligent, strong and capable. You’re a dad, and you can do this. Here’s a flight plan to get you started.

Pilot Priority: First Things First

Schedule a consultation with your child’s specialist. In the case of allergies, food and environmental, that usually means allergy/immunology. If you’re not certain where to go, start with your paediatrician. The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology estimates that seven million children in the US have asthma and /or allergic diseases. If your ex was the primary point of contact, you need to establish your own relationship.

Even if you were part of the process in the past, a new visit on your own is in order. Now’s the time to share new phone numbers and addresses, to review past history, and most importantly, now is the time to ask questions. Plan ahead. Make a list and remember: ask about everything.

Identification: Know What to Ask About Your Special Needs Child

Your experience to date with your own child should steer you in the right direction, but we’ve assembled a list of questions that can apply in many situations. Ask, even if you think you know the answer.

  1. Who do I contact after hours and what is the phone number?
  2. What constitutes an emergency situation where I should head straight to the emergency room? We are conditioned to “wait and see” but you need to know if that’s an effective strategy for your child’s situation. Hives may respond to an oral antihistamine, anaphylaxis requires immediate treatment.
  3. Can we go over a list of my child’s medications and their side effects? Keep a list of your child’s medications and contact numbers for your doctor in your smart phone.
  4. Are there any food interactions with prescribed medications? Sometimes it isn’t the medications, it’s what you eat when you take the medicine.  Make certain you know what not to offer.
  5. If we travel, what concerns do I need to address?
  6. My child has an EpiPen. Can you review how to use it?
  7. If I need to administer epinephrine, do I need to go to the emergency room as well? One and done isn’t the case with epinephrine. A trip to the ER is in order to make certain there no instances of rebound. Anaphylaxis can be a two-part reaction, with an additional reaction happening between eight and 72 hours after the first.
  8. Is there anything I should have with me at all times to manage my child’s condition? In some cases, it’s an EpiPen.  With food allergies, you don’t want to rely on finding allergy-friendly food when you’re out. Pack a “go-bag” and take it with you.  Children with diabetes often need to address low glucose levels; make certain you have acceptable food along with their insulin and testing supplies.  If you have a child with sensory issues, you may need headphones or ear plugs. Every special needs child is different; find out what your child needs.  Have a bag that stays at your house, and one that goes with you.
  9. Last question: Is there anything I forgot to ask? Give your doctor this chance to add any information he/she feels you need.

Training & Standby:  24/7

You may not feel like it, but starting now, you’re the authority on what to do. As the pilot, it’s your job to step up and make certain everyone who interacts with your child knows the plan.  And it’s up to you to train them. Asthma, diabetes, autism, food allergies, developmental issues.  The list is long and varied. Each child is unique and there’s no one-size-fits-all guide.

This is one area in life that remains very much a pilot/copilot scenario. The only variable is who sits in the pilot’s seat. Parenting is challenging with any child, but special needs require the combined skills of both parents. Regardless of your post-marital situation, this one demands complete cooperation between you and your ex. Craft your flight plan together, agree to back each other up and be on standby if the need arises.

Identify. Ask. Explain:  Creating a Support Circle

Look at the people around you and choose your support structure wisely. Who does your child like? Who makes your kid feel safe and comfortable? Who would you call if you needed help? If one or two names rise to the top, you’ve got your answer.

Before you need it, ask. Talk with those friends and family members ahead of time to make certain they’re comfortable with your plan. Never assume. Agreement on their part means training, phone numbers and accountability. Most are happy to help, but they need to be prepared.

Basic Training for Your Team

For example, training someone to use an EpiPen is relatively easy. Convincing them to actually use it if needed is something else entirely. Help everyone get over the squeamish factor by using the trainer provided with the EpiPen. It’s a dummy injector that can be reset over and over to practice. As with everything in life, practice makes perfect. It also makes it easier.

Only Accept Volunteers

Identify your needs, ask your potential team members if they are willing to help, and explain everything that is involved in your request. Remember to be respectful if the answer is no. It’s better to know beforehand, but try not to judge if a friend decides to opt-out. There is a true expectation of responsibility and that can make some people uncomfortable. And that’s okay. You just need to know.

Pilot-in-Command:  It Isn’t Lonely at the Top

You’ve met with the doctor. You’ve reached an agreement with your ex; you’re on the same page. You’ve created a support circle. Now what?

Do your research. There are online support/information groups for virtually every condition or special need. Support groups are essential in helping you to network. To find a good dentist. To get access to successful treatment programs. To bounce ideas. To help you solve problems.  Review the options and subscribe to bonafide websites that offer information and updates. Several good options include:

FARE:  Food Allergy Research & Education

www.foodallergy.org

The Pep Squad: Support group for diabetes

www.diabetesresearch.org

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America: Educational Support Groups

www.aafa.org

Autism

www.autismspeaks.org

Cancer Support Groups

https://www.cancer.org/treatment/children-and-cancer.html

Getting Your Gold Wings: Enjoy Your Child

It’s easy to get caught up in the management aspect of special needs. To make certain you have the right food. To double-check that you really do have the inhaler. To obsessively check the time before the next blood test. To wonder if the environment is too loud or too distracting.  You literally can drive yourself crazy.

Don’t.

Remember that in spite of all the conditions, it’s about a kid and a dad. It’s about spending time together, creating a bond that belongs to the two of you. Your perfect day doesn’t need to look like anyone else’s. It’s about building a relationship that is as unique and wonderful as your child. And that’s worth its weight in gold.

 

Are you a newly single dad? Share your questions in the comments box below.

You have to be able to work with your ex for the good of the child. Make sure everyone is on the same page. Co-parenting Agreements Put Your Kid’s Best Interests First. Take care of yourself as well as your kids. Real Men Join Divorce Support Groups.

Do you or someone you know have a special-needs child?

Share this article on social media.


(c) Can Stock Photo / yarruta

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Dads: Dodge These 5 Co-Parenting Pitfalls Getting Around Obstacles to Maximized Visitation

Dads: Dodge These 5 Co-Parenting Pitfalls Getting Around Obstacles to Maximized Visitation

Co-parenting pitfalls are the divorced dad’s equivalent to hitting potholes that wreck your wheel alignment.  Just like pothole damage can affect the way your car handles, there are pitfalls to co-parenting that affect visitation with your kids.

I love road trips. I used to drive from Arkansas to Michigan and back regularly. After doing this a few times, I became keenly aware of changes in surface of the road as I crossed each state line. The worst was Michigan during early spring. Pot holes everywhere! I would have to swerve and dodge to avoid the large ones. No matter what, there were always a few I didn’t see soon enough and BAM that teeth rattling clunk. Can you feel it? It’s the same way with co-parenting.

One moment you’re cruising along raising your kids, the next you’re wincing from the pain of unexpected co-parenting pitfalls. I’m going to put some construction cones around five of these common pitfalls and show you to avoid them.

If You’re Assuming, You’re Wrong

Our brains are hard wired to make assumptions. We automatically recognize patterns in nearly everything from shapes to facial expressions. This wiring is particularly helpful for tasks such as fitting $200 worth of groceries in a small refrigerator or determining if your boss is in a bad mood. But, when it comes to co-parenting pitfalls, it’s best to leave your assumptions behind.

A Holiday Story

My ex and I had agreed on a time split for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. She would get the Eve and I got the Day. On Christmas Eve after I had called my sons to say goodnight, their mom sent me a text to ask when I would be picking them up in the morning. This escalated into a mild argument as she wanted me to come later that I had planned. Things got worse when I asked her to make sure they had clothes for the next day. She insisted that an overnight was not part of the plan. As the chain of angry text messages flew back and forth, I tried to keep my cool and take the high road. In my mind, it was 100% reasonable to keep them overnight on Christmas day especially since she had both Christmas Eve and Christmas morning with them every year.

As I scrolled through our messages, and replayed our face to face and phone conversations, I realized there was not a single piece of communication that confirmed my assumption. No matter how reasonable my request, I had assumed she knew that I would want to keep them overnight. I had assumed she would be okay with it.

Clarify Everything

You would think we would know better when it comes to co-parenting. As divorced dads, communication problems should not be a surprise. Yet, we still assume things. To avoid this co-parenting pitfall, my advice is simple. Clarify everything. When possible, get it in writing. If you think you know, verify again.

Avoid the Tense Exchange

Sharing time with your kids means transitioning them from your house to their mother’s house. These exchanges can sometimes be the scene of tension and hostility. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t felt my blood boil when picking up my boys from their mom. Janice Ferguson Pugsley offers 11 Strategies to Ease Transition Between Mom’s House and Dad’s House. I like her idea of “buffer zones.” My ex and I have found that it keeps tension down for us if we do not do as many exchanges at our houses. Instead, we pick the boys up from school. So, on Fridays when it is my weekend, the pickup is focused entirely on the boys and not any tensions between me and their mom. We will also exchange the kids in public places like restaurants. This works especially well in the summer when school is out.

Interrogating the Kids

Curiosity gets the best of us sometimes. Who doesn’t wonder what goes on behind closed doors once your kids are back at home with mom? It can be tempting to pump your kids for information. But, there’s a problem. This just isn’t fair to your kids. Children basically need to feel safe and loved. How safe and loved does your daughter feel if you’re interrogating her about mom’s new “friend” or what she says about you? What kind of anxiety would it cause if your son had to worry about the questions you’re going to ask when he gets to your house? Not to mention the fact that the questions you’re asking could find their way back to mom. If you want to know something about your ex-wife’s life, ask her. If you are too uncomfortable to ask her, you shouldn’t ask your kids. It really is that simple.

Bad Mouthing Your Ex’s Friends and Family

Sure, your ex’s friends and family may not like you. They may have even said some pretty nasty stuff about you to other people. You cannot allow yourself to fall into that trap. Your kids did not divorce those friends or family members. They still have regular contact with them and they care about those people. Talking negatively about them (especially in front of your kids) will alienate your children from you.

For a while, I had a hard time hearing my kids talk about all the great things they did with my ex and her best friend. I was hurt because I was sure that friend believed horrible things about me. Yet, there she was with my kids and they love her. Over time I realized it doesn’t matter what she thinks of me if she’s good to my kids. Now when they talk about her I can join in. I can even tell them a few funny stories about her.

The Need to Win

Divorce often gives birth to a form of competition between parents. The cases might as well be titled Mr. Dad versus Ms. Mom. We all want to win. When it comes to co-parenting, the need to win is a Cadillac sized pot hole in Michigan. If you slip into this pitfall it can do serious and ongoing damage to your success as a parent. Consider this article by Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker Stop Toxic Fighting with Your Ex. Dr. Hartwell Walker suggest that we should give up the idea that every encounter will end in absolute fairness. Unfortunately, when it comes to co-parenting, we can’t just agree to disagree on somethings. This means a decision must be made or an action must be taken that one or both parties will not be 100% happy about. That’s parenting.

What’s more important, winning or being a good father?

What’s more important, winning or being a good father? In my experience, I have found that the two rarely line up. So, daily I choose the high road when I would rather be a jerk. I choose cooperation and compromise over attack and argument. I am not perfect in this, but I see the bigger picture. I know I am avoiding major damage by checking my ego and competitive nature at the door.

Pick Your Lane of Travel to Avoid Co-parenting Pitfalls

There is no perfect road map for co-parenting. Every one of us has unique dynamics that make raising kids challenging. I hope that by marking these co-parenting pitfalls I have given you enough time to avoid them.

How do you handle co-parenting problems? Tell us in the comments below.

 Looking for more ways to maximize visitation? You’ll like Why You Should Have a Take Your Kid to Work Day. Then check out Seven Tips for Consistent Co-parenting After Divorce.

 

 

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(c) Can Stock Photo / viperagp

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Common Sense Custody Advice for Dads Straight Talk From a Man with Primary Custody

Common Sense Custody Advice for Dads Straight Talk From a Man with Primary Custody

Custody and child support can be gigantic brick walls many divorced parents, both custodial and non-custodial, seem to always run up against. Mainly because there are a metric ton of misconceptions about who has what rights, and when, and what it all actually means, here is common sense custody advice from one dad to another.

As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, I am in the relatively rare (though not unheard of) position where I am the father and custodial parent. That said, I am writing this with a view that you may, or may not be, the parent with primary physical custody.

So, here’s a couple of pointers to get you started:

  • Before I go too much further, the best resource to go to for advice is your attorney. I am not a lawyer, and most folks offering random opinions on social media probably aren’t either. Don’t ever mistake anecdotal advice (such as what I’m about to provide) with legal advice. For one thing, my understanding of the law (which I have to abide by, in my situation) could be different between my state and yours. Always consult a lawyer for actual legal questions.
  • My state has their “parenting-time” guidelines, as they like to call them, posted online, up-to-date with revisions. Your state probably does too. You can start out by checking into the Guyvorce Divorce Law Summaries by State for more information.

So, let’s get into some of the burning questions about visitation, or “parenting-time,” or whatever your jurisdiction chooses to call it, and my common sense custody advice in answer to those questions.

Who has visitation rights?

In short, both parents have the right to see the children. Sure, the custodial parent is much more likely to see the children the majority of the time. However, unless the non-custodial parent has been proven in a court of law to be either criminal chemist Walter White or serial killer Countess Bathory (or more likely, delinquent in her/his duties as a parent, and judged unfit), the non-custodial parent is entitled to visitation rights, whether you like it or not.

What if the non-custodial parent is delinquent on child support payments?

Again, see the pointers above about asking an attorney first. However, by and large, the issues of child visitation and child support are two different issues. Neither one is dependent on the other. Even if the non-custodial parent is several thousands of dollars in arrears, that parent gets to see the kids.

Repeat: the two are not connected. If you (or more to the point, the children) are owed back support money, talk to your local prosecutor’s office about it. But do not withhold visitation from the non-custodial parent. Doing so could potentially land you in legal trouble, including a contempt of court charge.

And believe me, I speak from experience on this one!

How are holidays supposed to work?

Typically, these will be spelled out within the body of the state’s guidelines. Usually it’s an every-other-year type of trade off: you get them Christmas one year, Thanksgiving the next, etc. Of course, there will be times when something extra-special arises, that will prompt an alteration of the state-set guidelines. However, they are just that: guidelines, not hard and fast rules. Best thing to do is to work it out with the other parent. Sometimes, just asking nicely works wonders in these situations.

If you have a court-approved parenting agreement, be sure to get any changes in writing. If you have a civil relationship with the other parent, see if You Can Modify a Parenting Plan Without Going to Court through mediation.

What if the non-custodial parent wants more time than the guidelines suggest?

Again: these are guidelines, not commandments etched into stone tablets. The best way I can put this is, there is nothing wrong at all with the non-custodial parent wanting to spend more time with her/his kids. In fact, speaking as a custodial parent who’s had, shall we say, “sketchy” commitments from my ex as far as more time spent with the kids, I actively encourage it. You may have room to be flexible if there’s an opportunity for more parenting time with the other parent. What’s the worst that can happen?

What if the kids don’t want to go to their other parent’s house?

Well. Sometimes this is regrettable, but it happens. However, the fact is, the non-custodial parent is entitled to see the kids for the proscribed times. If there are issues, or conflicts on that end, the conflicts need to be resolved, on all sides, whether it be through counseling, mediation or legal action. The point is, unless there is an imminent danger to the safety and well-being of the children, the kids themselves cannot refuse to go. It’s sad, but that’s the way it is. Of course, it is always advisable to get any sort of problems like this worked out prior to visitation time.

Common Sense Custody Advice – Both Parents Have Rights

These are but a few questions that can arise from the issues surrounding children, custody, and visitation rights. As always, consult a lawyer for any questions you might have. Just remember, everyone involved has rights, whether you want them to or not. Compromise is always the best route to keep what’s already a difficult situation from getting any worse. But don’t feel walked over, either.

And for crying out loud, pay your support, too.

What common sense custody advice do you have for divorced dads? Leave your advice in the comments below.

 

Good advice is worth spreading around.

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(c) Can Stock Photo / nuiiko

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