Divide Your Assets: Real Estate and Divorce Why You Should Hire a Real Estate Agent

Divide Your Assets: Real Estate and Divorce Why You Should Hire a Real Estate Agent

Anyone who has headed down the road to divorce will agree that the entire journey is full of emotionally charged issues. Aside from the children and the associated custody decision, the real estate decision about what to do with family home is usually one of the top issues fighting for second place.

In terms of divorce advice for men, Guyvorce always recommends that as much as you need a qualified attorney to help you through the legal process of divorce, you need a qualified real estate professional to help you through the decisions surrounding the family home.

Options for Dividing the Family Home

In simple terms, there are normally three options for how to divide and settle the family home.

  1. One spouse keeps the house, the other moves out. This option is usually the one that we see in the movies. It generates great visions of drama, with the potential for a lawn full of clothing and stuff. However, in reality, it can make sense. One spouse may clearly be able to continue owning and managing the house and associated payments or they may be the obvious choice for primary custody of the children. If the kids have spent years in the family home, you both may agree their best interest is served by continuing their residence in that home for stability. No matter the reason, the other spouse usually is entitled to some other property as a tangible asset of equitable value to their portion of the home’s value at the time of divorce. Your attorney will provide you the best options for this offset.
  2. Sell the house and divide the proceeds. For many, especially the dual income families, the cost of the mortgage, utilities, and home maintenance was managed through both incomes. Once the marriage goes away, and there is a need for two residences, the old family home becomes unaffordable for one. This is especially true for those households that managed the family home on a single income.
  3. Continue to own the home jointly, then sell and settle the profit division later. This option is becoming much more common as a result of the housing bubble rupture a decade ago. For many families, selling the family home is not an option if the house is underwater, meaning the couple owes more on the home than it is worth. For many, they become landlords, renting the home for a period of time while the rent helps buy down the debt as the property value recovers. At a certain point, the financial situation resolves and the home can be sold.

Making Informed Decisions

Take a look around your home. You see the familiarity, feel the sense of security, and understand the relief that comes when you arrive home from work. With those feelings, you can understand why choosing your path from the options above can be emotionally charged and difficult. That’s the main way a realtor can help you make the best decision. Don’t continue to fight it out between the two of you. Bring in a qualified realtor to give you the best advice for you both. Remember, if you can’t decide together, the court will decide for you. That path will come with a sizable legal bill and time, so you should try to reach a common agreement, even if between your attorneys, without handing the decision to the judge.

Even when selling a home while happily married, the process is lengthy and full of potential slip ups if you try to do it on your own. Missing a few key steps could keep you legally tied to that property, negatively impacting your ability to buy another home later on.

Financial Reasons for Hiring a Pro

During divorce, one poor decision can easily lead to another, making it even more vital you bring in a professional to make sure you have dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s. While not all inclusive, here are four important financial reasons you need a hire a professional to guide you through the real property division:

  • Closing the mortgage for both spouses. After divorce, you both will likely want to own another home. If you aren’t removed from the current mortgage correctly, you will have that debt on your credit report. The best case outcome will be you will have to find your ex, hire an attorney, and show through much paperwork that you do not have any financial ties to that home. The worst case outcome is you will be denied the loan for your new home. Save yourself the pain and get a realtor to help.
  • Clearing the deed. Just as the mortgage, there is a separate process to making sure you are clear of the title and not legally tied to the property. If this action is not handled correctly, you may find yourself owing taxes on a home you thought was off your books, or potentially liable for another’s injury that occurred on this property. Why set yourself up for this nightmare when a qualified realtor can clear it for you?
  • Capital gains exclusion protection. This one is huge and often overlooked. When you sell your home, and make money, you may owe capital gains tax. Then again, if you lived there long enough, you may not. And if divorcing, how do you divide the gains and the exclusion? Not sure of the answer? You aren’t alone. But your real estate professional will help you identify the documentation you may need during tax preparation to satisfy the IRS.
  • You can also check with the IRS and try to figure it out yourself, but that is NOT recommended!

Added Benefits of Hiring a Realtor

Beyond the financial protection advantages of bringing a real estate professional onto your divorce team, they also will be able to provide you guidance and support relative to your current sale and future property decisions.

  • Emotion-free sale price establishment. Setting the sale price for your home is loaded with emotion, even when married. Add divorce to the equation and you can quickly see the arguments starting. A professional takes away that problem. They know your area, know the nuances that affect pricing, and will tell you what the right price is to sell your home. You don’t want it on the market forever, you need it gone and off the books. They will get you to closing.
  • Sheltering you from quick sale temptation. There are two dangers here. First, is from one of the spouses, the one that wants a quick divorce and doesn’t care about the bottom line. They just want it sold. The other is from buyers who learned about the divorce and think they can low ball the offer. In either case, the realtor adds the unbiased layer to negotiate a fair price.
  • Understanding of the area to help you find your next home. When your home sells, where are you going to live? What is your budget? Your professional isn’t just there to sell your home, but they can guide you to the right area and home for your needs when you make a fresh start. On your own, you may miss a neighborhood or an option that would have been perfect.

About That Commission

Some sellers shy away from realtors because of the commission. These commissions are usually between 5-6% of the home sale. During divorce, though, keep in mind that the commission is applied to the final sale price, so the division of the profit occurs after all expenses, including the commission.

If you’re still worried about the commission, many real estate professionals cite studies that show homes sell for far more than the commission when listed and worked by a realtor.  Others suggest that it depends on the type of property and location, and the Realtor vs. FSBO numbers are skewed by  lower-priced sales of mobile homes and condos.

In a divorce, the benefits of using a realtor outweigh the small percentage of commission on the sale. The professional will sell your home at the right price and handle the details. You paid for that service. You got sound advice, a fair price for your home, and are able to focus your energy on the myriad of other divorce issues on your plate. You will be free to live your new life without real estate worries hanging over your head.

Tips for Choosing Your Real Estate Agent

A quick internet search will show you tons of qualified professionals from which to choose. In your effort to narrow the search, you may get frustrated, or tempted to go with a recommendation from family or friends. Don’t jump to a conclusion too fast. The circumstances are different now, so you need to pick based on a focus on your upcoming divorce. Stick to these characteristics and you will be on the right path with the right professional.

  1. There are two facets to experience. The first is overall experience as a real estate professional. Secondly, you are looking for experience working with divorce situations. Some realtors have this listed on their website. You can narrow your search via the web by including divorce in your search.
  2. Divorce training. Similar to experience, there are specific seminars or training sessions that realtors can attend to help them work with divorcing couples and their property. If you find a large field of realtors that cite divorce experience, see if any cite relevant training to narrow the search further.
  3. Sales record. You want a realtor that knows how to make money selling houses. Sales record is really what counts. Look for someone who has a proven track record of sales, including sales in your neighborhood’s price range.
  4. Knowledge of the area. Remember, you are hiring this professional to help you sell your current marital home, but you may also want them to help you find that next home for your new life. Both areas require a solid understanding of the local market.
  5. Demonstrates no bias. More than likely, your professional will be working with both you and your ex to sell the home. You have a right to expect neutrality from your realtor, and so does your ex. So don’t plan to let your cousin’s husband handle the sale.
  6. Rapport. Just as with your lawyer, you need to be concerned about whether your realtor “fits” with you. You will be working with them often, reviewing many details about your home, and seeking a common approach to moving the home on the market. If the realtor doesn’t “fit” with you, the relationship and result will be unfavorable and stressful for you.

Emotions are going to wrap their way around so many decisions during divorce. Don’t let the headache of dividing the family home unnecessarily consume precious energy. Hire a realtor, get that burden off your shoulders and move on to the next issue.

What happened to the family home in your divorce? Tell us in the comments below.

 

If you are a Real Estate Agent who is interested in providing services to clients facing divorce, we’d like to help you by connecting you with the Guyvorce Community. Because every little bit helps. We know. We’ve been there.

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(c) Can Stock Photo / Feverpitched

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States Favorable to Alimony for Men Divorce Advice for Stay at Home Dads

States Favorable to Alimony for Men Divorce Advice for Stay at Home Dads

What do you know about alimony for men? Is alimony “gender neutral” just like custody should be?  If you’re a stay at home dad, should you expect to be given the same consideration as a woman in divorce court?

Here we will give you the latest on alimony for men, what the trends are looking like, and the states most likely to be father-friendly when it comes to spousal support.

History Did Not Contemplate Alimony for Men

This isn’t the article to dive deep into the origins, past, present, and future of alimony. We’ve already done that at Guyvorce. One takeaway from that series is that the origin of alimony is all based on money paid from a man to a woman. The ancient origins of spousal support did not include alimony for men.

The origin, though, is well rooted in the past. But we as a society are past that. We’ve seen Susan B. Anthony fight for suffrage, we’ve seen bra’s burned, and the glass ceiling shattered many times in corporate America. So any argument tying alimony to its roots as a “just for women” thing is clearly outdated and irrelevant. 

More Dads Are Primary Caregivers Then Ever Before

There are not real-time statistics available on the current percentage of alimony awards going to men, but we can extrapolate from stats that are a few years old to get a good idea. For example, according to the 2010 census records, only 3% of alimony awards went to men. But the numbers are growing.

We also  know that in 2013, almost half of households with children (40%) were financially supported by female breadwinners.  Of that group, 25% that are single mothers. That leaves 15% of married women providing or leading the income supply at home in 2013. More recent federal wage studies indicate that in married couples where both spouses work, 28% are households where the woman brings home the bigger paycheck.

Now that more women are paying huge chunks of their income in “manimony” they, too, are jumping on the alimony-reform bandwagon.

As of 2012, more than 2 million men were stay at home dads, almost double the 1989 measurement. These fathers were became the primary caregiver of their kids due to a variety of factors, including illness, disability, the inability to find a good paying job, and yes, because they want to care for their home and children.

Alimony and Child Custody Report Card for the States

Just as current statistics on alimony are hard to come by, state level alimony information is likewise difficult to nail down. For those states that do regularly consider alimony awards, though, the data on gender application are limited.

Again, some extrapolations can be made.  For the purpose of this article, we are assuming that states that are father-friendly when it comes to child custody are more likely to be amenable to alimony for men who are the stay-at-home parent.

There is one category of states that stand out from the others in their award record of alimony and these are states that don’t usually award alimony at all. Texas, as an example, has a sizable child support calculation, but also rarely awards spousal support or alimony. North Carolina also is a good example in their exclusion of alimony in the event of adultery.

Alimony decisions are supposed to be independent of child custody decisions. Yes, child support payment amounts should take into account the dollars actually exchanging hands based on alimony, but whether to award either type of payment is independent.

Decades ago, when the tender years doctrine dominated custody decisions, the mother in nearly all cases was awarded custody of the children. That standard, thankfully, has been replaced with one that looks into the best interest of the children. At the same time, scientific studies have been performed over the decades’ worth of children that have grown up in divorced situations. These studies almost universally point to the fact that children that grow up in shared custody environments are better off than those with less time spent with one of the parents.

Even with these studies and shift in governing doctrine, though, not all states are doing well in their interpretation of best interest and the associated award of shared custody. The states that do well in shared custody awards appear to get it, and will likely do well at understanding how alimony should be awarded when the dad is the caretaking parent.  

The National Parents Organization tracks effectively how well states are doing in making the right decisions for children during divorce through the states’ custody decisions. In their annual report, they cite six states as the best in keeping gender out of divorce decisions for custody, and are likely to be father-friendly for alimony, as well.

These top states are:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Idaho
  • Iowa
  • Louisiana
  • South Dakota

Proposed Uniform Marriage and Divorce Statutes  

Family law is determined by each individual state. Each state is responsible for their individual divorce standards and application of alimony, although there has been a proposed set of statutes pending since 1970 that would provide uniformity of state laws pertaining to marriage. Drafted by the Uniform Law Commission, the proposed Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act  provide a template that may be adopted by any state for resolution of domestic disputes – including alimony and child custody – with consideration given to the following areas:

  • Requesting spouse’s financial condition
  • Time required for job training or education
  • Standard of living during the marriage
  • Requesting spouse’s age, physical condition, and emotional state
  • Length of the marriage
  • Ability of the other spouse to pay

Nowhere in the law is there a reference to gender. Therefore any award, or failure of award, that comes from these guidelines should be equally applied to both spouses.

Alimony for Men Advice

Even if your state is at the bottom of the list when it comes to alimony and child support, your battle is not lost. The number of women in the U.S. who are paying alimony to men is steadily growing. Alimony is designed to provide that bridge for one spouse to keep the households at a near-equal standard of living while the receiving spouse gets back into the workforce and financially independent. The need for the help is often driven by the amount of time the receiving spouse was out of the workforce, or untrained, based on joint decisions for the marital home.

This means that if you are the man in the marriage and are the one who stayed home to raise the kids for years and have been out of the workforce for a good period of time, you have a legitimate claim for alimony.

Regardless of your home state, if a divorce is likely, get proper legal counsel as soon as possible. Be sure to tell your attorney if you are the primary caregiver of the home and children, if your wife is the primary or only wage-earner, and if you gave up or deferred employment or educational opportunities to support your wife’s career goals.  Alimony for men is the new normal in divorce court. Get what you, and your kids deserve.  

 

Do you have first-hand experience with alimony? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Check out our series on The Alimony Chronicles, beginning with Part 1. And now’s the time to learn What Men Need to Know About Alimony and Taxes.

 

There are millions of stay-at-home dads.

Share this article on your social media.


(c) Can Stock Photo / VILevi

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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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Winning at Divorce Means Choosing the Right Divorce Attorney What You Need To Know

Winning at Divorce Means Choosing the Right Divorce Attorney What You Need To Know

 

If your marriage is over, you’ll need to understand your legal rights and options during all phases of divorce. Even if your divorce will be simple, the most reliable way to get the information you need to win your case is through the advice of a qualified attorney. We can help you with choosing the right divorce attorney for your unique situation.

Start choosing the right divorce attorney by asking in person and online

When you begin looking for attorneys, you’ll likely get some recommendations from friends and family, which is great. But after those names, you’ll probably start hunting for the right divorce attorney by using search engines for family law attorneys in your town.

When you do online searches, remember that a lot of factors play into internet search results, factors that don’t have anything to do with the effectiveness of a particular attorney. Like all searches, you’ll get pages of hits for attorneys. So, make sure you look past the first page of results to find those that may be winning attorneys, but not have the strongest online presence.

When you are staring at your google search results for attorneys in your area, choosing where to start can be difficult.

Will your divorce be stupid simple – or gut-clenching complex?

Take quick stock of your situation. Is your divorce going to be easy or complicated? Here are some factors that will drive any divorce to high complexity:

  • Kids are involved
  • Disagreement over custody and visitation
  • Length of the marriage
  • High amount and value of joint property
  • Demands for alimony

If you don’t have kids, you weren’t married very long and you and your wife already agree on a property split, then your divorce will be pretty straightforward and simple.

If your responses, however, start moving to the other extreme, especially if there are several areas of bitter disagreement, your divorce will take some work.

Once you understand the complexity of your legal situation, think about the finances. How much can you afford? Are you so dug into your position on hot button issues that you are willing to slug it out in court for as long as it takes?  Time in court equals mounting legal fees for your attorney, and if you lose a nasty battle, you may end up paying your wife’s legal fees as well.  Keep your budget in mind when choosing the right divorce attorney for your case.

Now that you have an idea what you’re up against, you can better evaluate the level of experience you will need.

What You Need To Know About Legal Experience

Age and experience are not rock solid measures for an attorney’s performance. You want an attorney with a winning record. Furthermore, there is no correlation between age and experience; one doesn’t equal the other. There’s no natural law that makes all older attorneys as good as Matlock and all younger ones nervous fools or ambulance chasers. Experience levels can help with the initial narrowing down of your search, based on some common assumptions when compared to the complexities of your situation.

At this point, you’ve got a list of lawyers, you know where your divorce falls on a complexity scale, and you have an idea of the budget. Let’s take this knowledge and look at experience. For illustration purposes, we will describe levels of attorney experience like we would for a plumber, by creating three categories of experience based on years in practice: Apprentice (less than 5), Journeyman (5-20), and Master (more than 20). These category names are not used among attorneys, but are familiar to the rest of us.

Apprentice Attorneys (less than 5 Years)

These attorneys are fresh out of law school and have passed the bar. They are usually eager to gain experience and often offer lower hourly rates than the other categories. They are likely very up to date on technology, so their website may have lots of useful information available for you.  They may be much more accessible, and easier to reach if you need to talk.

For apprentice experience level attorneys, their strengths are low cost, energy, and communications. You will also find that with their newness, and the associated small number of clients, they are very responsive to your requests and work your case often. Their weakness, though, is experience. There is a good chance your case’s nuances are the first time they’ve actually worked those details. One of the most important sub-factors for experience is how well the attorney knows your region’s interpretation of state law and the local application.

The time to use this level of experience is like hiring a plumber for bathroom repair. Use them when your issue is simple, but a total, complicated bathroom overhaul is probably not best suited for a brand new plumber. So look at your complexity. Consider this attorney category when your complexity is low. Your budget, though, may force you into helping a new attorney gain experience.

Journeyman Attorneys (5 to 20 Years)

This experience level rests with the attorneys that have worked past the newness of practicing law. They have some experience in the local family court, the judges recognize them, and other attorneys in the area have heard of them. It is within this range that all the attorneys work well and build their practice. As their practice grows, along with their experience, their rate usually grows as well.

The journeyman attorneys share the strengths of the apprentice, though the similarities in these areas begin to drop as their experience grows along with their number of clients. The journeyman will become less responsive as they are now juggling clients.

You do gain a good compromise with this level of attorney. While they may cost more, they have seen your case’s complexities before and will have good strategies for winning your case.

Master Attorneys (20+ Years)

Here finally we find Matlock. Everyone in town will know this attorney. Odds are the local family court judges have worked directly with the Master before taking their position as a judge. The Master level attorneys definitely know the ins and outs of your local system. They should have a history of winning in court.

This experience does not come for free. This level of experience is usually the highest rate in town.  These attorneys are expensive, and in demand. They will not be as readily available as a less busy attorney. You may be assisted by paralegals and will usually have to arrange an appointment to speak with your attorney.

The fees for a master attorney will be the highest, and complex cases may require billed paralegal time as well, at a much lower rate. Your legal fees can add up quickly in a contentious case.

Remember – It’s All About Results

Having the right attorney is critical to winning your divorce case. You’ll need to take the time to research the attorney, their experience, and their history of winning cases. Don’t just go with a friend’s recommendation, because their case may not be as complex as yours or your personalities may not match.

Take the time to understand the uniqueness of your case and its complexity. When you understand your complexity along with your budget, you can quickly narrow your search into the right category for you to help reach a manageable pool from which to choose.

Have you been there, done that? How did you choose your winning divorce attorney? Tell us what you would say to the next guy in the comments below!

For more pointers on choosing the right divorce attorney, check out The Ultimate Guyvorce Guide to Divorce Lawyers for Men.  Worried about those legal fees? Andy Nathan has an off-beat solution with 6 Tips for Crowdfunding Your Divorce.

 

Don’t forget to share this article on your social media!

 

 

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The Child Support System Is Broken- Part 3 The Underbelly of Child Support Collection Programs

The Child Support System Is Broken- Part 3 The Underbelly of Child Support Collection Programs

August! Time for kids across the nation to share the common dread of school starting. The stores are full of back-to-school supplies, ready to sell to parents who can afford them.  Meanwhile, programs are ramping up to help poor children who can’t afford new supplies. Many poor children have a parent who is behind on child support.

It is no coincidence that August is also Child Support Awareness month. It would more accurately be described as Child Support Collection month.

Started in 1995, Child Support Awareness has been adopted by states and municipalities across the nation. There will be fewer children needing help getting school supplies with aggressive child support collection programs, right?

Continuing our series about the myth of deadbeat parents, I’m going to show how this national emphasis on implementing a child support collection system is really just a front to fund the states. The truth is in the numbers, so leave your emotions at the door!

Every State Wants A Piece of This Action

You can’t avoid the emphasis on deadbeat child support collections dominating the news this month, second only to the Olympics. Here are a few of my favorite headlines, filled with biased, emotionally charged wording:

– “Texas Cracks Down on Deadbeat Parents”

– “New Jersey Rounds up 1221 Deadbeat Parents Owing $25.4M”

– “New Mexico Governor Announces Crackdown on Parents Failing to Meet Child Support Obligations”

Even the Feds have a Deadbeat Parent Punishment Act to catch parents who move from state to state to avoid paying up.

News outlets revel in hyping the national tragedy of unpaid child support exceeding $100 billion. Very often though, they leave out the details behind these numbers – important details!

First, this is the total running tally of unpaid support since data was kept, meaning decades of debt. The children owed the first $1 million of this figure are likely parents or even grandparents themselves now!

Parents Can’t  Pay From Behind Bars

The first article in this series covered how much of TODAY’s unpaid child support is actually accumulated by people in PRISON, who with their almost zero dollars income, are not likely to make those payments.

Even armed with this bit of common sense knowledge, the government is continuing to add up their debt while also piling on interest. Read the detailed article here.

The Numbers Will Blow Your Mind

Following the money, Part 2 of this series reveals how the National Department of Health and Human Services was responsible for the Enforcement Division of the collection effort. But wait! They also reported (through a separate division) who owed the child support based on annual income and the likelihood of collections.

Turns out, those making a livable wage owed only a small fraction of the total debt! The rest of the debt resided with those barely getting by, and this same federal agency labeled that debt as largely un-collectable! The shocking details are all here.

The Beatings Continue Regardless of Results

It’s terrible how so many parents out there are struggling to make ends meet at a poverty-level wages.

Both parents are struggling to provide for their children. Yet, instead of focusing on ways to educate parents to improve their job skills and wage potential, the authorities attack the parent who can’t keep up.

New Mexico, for example, as part of it’s annual crackdown on deadbeat parents, publicly lists the names of parents with delinquent child support.

Are banks allowed to list all those who are late with their payments? A bank would probably be slapped with a huge lawsuit, but I guess the government doesn’t have to follow the same rules.

Where’s The Money – According to Uncle Sam

So where are these agencies focusing their efforts? You can’t nail it down for all states, but the Department of Health and Human Services provides a clue about where recoverable money resides for those in arrears.

HHS reports suggest that once a parent with delinquent child support made over $20,000 per year, their debt was mostly collectable. But, only 17% of the “deadbeats” fall into the collectable category.

The rest – the vast majority- had little or no income.

The data shows that about three-fourths of the debtors have no reported income, or make less than $10,000 per year! This income group is also categorized by this same agency as one whose arrears are virtually “un-collectable.”

But hey, this is where the debt resides, so the agencies choose to focus considerable efforts towards collecting child support debt from those that can’t afford to pay it!

It’s pretty clear how bloated the budgets are for federal and state collection and enforcement agencies. The government collection agencies could pay off the total child support arrears in the country in just a few short years with only their fat annual budgets.

The government collection agencies could pay off the total child support arrears in the country in just a few short years with only their fat annual budgets.

But these agencies are getting results, and their results are widely publicized in the news. As an example, let’s look at New Mexico again.

The Poster Child For Child Support Collection

New Mexico proudly received a national child support enforcement award for the “Most Improved System”.

This year, they are on track to exceed $140 million in back-due child support collection. That’s a pretty impressive number – that leaves out the crushing impact to those who pay into the $140 million.

The New Mexico Division of Child Support Enforcement has an annual budget of $34 million, roughly 25% of the collections. So, for every dollar the tax payers put in, they received four. Sounds good, but there’s more to the story.

The problem with just showing the raw collected amounts is traced to the Bradley Act in 1986 that allowed states to add interest to arrears. So how much of that $140 million is actually money that was due to the parent versus interest that goes to the state? The answer is not advertised, but we have great examples from real folks.

A Payment Scheme Like You Wouldn’t Believe

Recently, a reader shared his story. Let’s call him Joe. His kids are now grown and out of the care of their mother. He made scheduled child support payments until he hit hard times and missed some. Eventually, Joe got back on track and made payments until his kids were grown. Now he’s making his payments for the overdue amount. Joe pays $100 per month.

Sounds good. He’s paying his debt. Right?

The story gets ugly though, when Joe shares the breakdown of his debt payments. About $25 of his payment goes to his ex. The rest? $75 goes to interest on his debt and goes to the state. Yeah, they can charge interest, remember?

Math time! 75% of that collection goes to interest…only 25% to the parent. Apply that to New Mexico’s success story.

Just Suppose …

$140 million in collections…outstanding! 75% back to the state, or $105 million. So $35 million goes to the parent that’s due. Considering that their annual budget, invested by the taxpayers, was, $34 million, the result was only $35 million to the parents and kids that needed the money, the kids that needed school supplies.

That’s pretty close to a 1 for 1 ratio, meaning the taxpayers gave the state $1 and the state gave $1 to the parent in need. After that, the state made over $100 million profit from interest. This is interest collected from people struggling to meet their child support obligations, struggling to make ends meet.

We aren’t talking about making $100 million from creating an industry that provides products and jobs for the community resulting in taxes collected on industrial revenue. This is money “taxed” on the poor.

Essentially, the states are cracking down on struggling parents to fund their programs. The states are publicly vilifying struggling parents, while crushing them with insurmountable interest and debt.

Wouldn’t the agency funds be better spent by educating parents, improving their income, and then taxing their income? The kids would have a better quality of life and the state would be funded to serve the people, not turn them into indentured servants.

There’s Gotta Be A Better Way

We must create a better system. The money invested is clearly wasted.  Currently we are treating the symptom of the problem, missed payments, as criminal behavior. The state is spending countless taxpayer dollars to collect back due child support from those that can’t pay, as well as interest to pad the state’s bottom line.

We need a system to treat the cause of the problems. Unpaid child support is caused by low incomes, poor job skills, and skyrocketing child care costs.

Children of divorce will be better served if the funds budgeted for child support enforcement and collections are spent fighting the poverty cycle!

Are you fed up with the broken child support system?  What is your child support experience? Share your opinion in the comments below.

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