Finding Good Advice and a Good Divorce Lawyer

Finding Good Advice and a Good Divorce Lawyer

Divorce. Yeah, it’s the one word we men hate. It evokes all kinds of unsettling emotions. And, in no uncertain terms, during your break up, separation and divorce you’re extremely vulnerable, emotionally, financially, and God forbid, maybe even physically. And, good advice is hard to find, especially during divorce.

Recently, there’s been a whole cottage industry devoted to providing good advice for men. And there in lie the opportunities – to make money off your troubles, to push an agenda, and any host of other insidious schemes to be ‘your pal’ and provide the things you need, when you need them. And, be forewarned, this is opportunity time for divorce attorneys. Here are a few things to be wary of.

Good Advice for the Divorcing Man

Divorce Lawyers, especially the ones that advertise, don’t necessarily offer good advice. Come on, we’ve all seen it before – billboards, radio ads, TV ads, newspapers, even flyers in the mail. Lawyers typically don’t need to advertise their services. The ones that do are usually only in it to drum up business. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. It’s the American Way. But there’s one firm I can think of, here in my faire city that’s especially slimy about it, and they’ll go so low (or so I’ve been told) as to charge you for the staples they use to bind your documents together.

Mind you, unscrupulous lawyers are just as much a part of the American milieu as cowboys and wagon trains. And one particular law firm is hardly the problem all by itself. But the minute words like “We’re fighting for your rights as a father” start coming out of mouths, research the law firm you’re thinking about hiring. Father’s Rights is a particularly coded way of claiming “We think the law is lopsided in favor of women and by golly we’re going to prove that!”

There is no evidence of this whatsoever. In fact, speaking from experience, my own Ex was under the impression that we lived in a “Mother State” and therefore, despite the fact she had given up on the kids, she thought she was going to skate. Haha, well…

Make no mistake: lawyers are absolutely essential in some divorces, especially if a custody battle is in the works. But there are options out there other than the ones who advertise on the back of the phone book. Check your state or country’s legal aid services, for one. Google law firms in your area too, and see what past clients have to say about them. Even better – know a lawyer? You may not get pro bono work out of them, but s/he can at least point you in a better direction. Or consider a divorce mediator. They are non-confrontational, non-adversarial, and they mediate, without taking sides.

Long story short – anyone who advertises that they’re there for you, and for all men, are only out to get your money, which you’re going to need to support your kids, custodial parent and/or yourself.

Extremists. In recent times, there has been a sharp increase in the rise of men’s extremism. One of the many ways this has manifested has been in the so-called “Men’s Rights Movement.” On the surface, the MRM says they are just looking out for men in this world, much like Father’s Rights proponents, trampled as they are by the law and society more inclined to side with the biological mother and women in general.

Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong in this world with finding like-minded persons in similar situations as yourself to socialize with and get into support group situations with. However, outward misogyny or any concerted efforts to antagonize your Ex using Your Rights and Your Kids as sticking points is not time well spent.

Men’s support groups are fine. Most men’s support groups worth their salt don’t encourage internet harassment campaigns against women who have an opinion that differ from yours. If you feel like you need to be amongst “your own people,” I would suggest looking into groups that foster positive advice and positive messages of some kind, religious or otherwise, which best suits your emotional needs. There are groups that focus on men, not as a method of extracting revenge against your Ex or fostering other agendas, but to better yourself, to take stock of what your failures might have been, take responsibility for what may have happened with your ex and your children, and to improve on them, for yourself and your relationships, present and future.

Again, nothing wrong with that at all! Everybody on this earth has room for improvements in their lives. Just don’t let that be a springboard for other, less scrupulous opportunists to further their potentially harmful agenda.

These are but three examples of good advice and what to watch out for. The moral of the story, however, is this: don’t let your personal pain and hardships become an open door for predators. There are people in this world who actively seek out men who are going through divorce, especially when kids are involved. And not necessarily for altruistic reasons, either. Anyone who says they’re your friend when they’re trying to sign you up for something, typically isn’t. Be smarter. Do your research. And, watch your back. The consequences of being the next mark can last a lifetime.

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I’m Not Locked In Here With You

I’m Not Locked In Here With You

I’m not locked in here with you. You’re locked in here with me.
— Rorschach in Watchmen, by Alan Moore

Let’s get one thing straight from the start. You’re divorced. You have kids with the Ex. The truth of the matter in dealing with your Ex is this – YOU HAVE TO. It’s a necessary evil. You’re locked in to having to deal with your Ex.  I realize you don’t want to. Neither did I. I get it. But, you’re going to have to deal with her about visitations, child support, alimony, kids activities, and any of a countless number of other things.

Locked In With the Ex

Your kids, like most kids in this nuclear world, are going to be involved in any number of outside activities, science fairs, dance, concerts, sports, plays, graduations. Most of these activities will be reason to run into the Ex, and may involve collaboration with the Ex. No matter how much you wish it NOT to be so, it’s going to happen. It’s inevitable.

Sorry to bring the stark fatalism into this article, but I’m just sayin’. You made babies with this woman, you’re gonna have endure some social functions as her Ex when the kids are involved. So, the best thing to do is swallow your pride, and make the best of what is surely a tough situation.

There are a few ways this can be achieved, of course. One of the easiest is to be on opposite sides of the space, whatever it is. If she sits stage left, sit stage right. At a basketball game, go to the other set of bleachers to cheer your daughter or son on. Just because you are in the same place, doesn’t mean you have to actively engage her. It’s probably going to happen, even if it’s just in passing. But there’s nothing that says you need to be locked in with each other as she or he delivers that Shakespearean soliloquy.

Another way is to come to an agreement beforehand – you want a few minutes to talk to him after the game (or she does, if you are the custodial parent), then you definitely should be allowed to, in peace. But don’t just walk up afterwards and usher your daughter away either without so much as a Hello. Work it out beforehand. Communication, as it turns out, does work wonders, even in the most hateful and contentious of breakups.

In fact, that is probably the best bet for most things regarding your kids – come to agreements. This will inevitably end up involving compromises, whether anyone likes it or not. Not everyone can get their own way all of the time. Not even the most virulent case of “affluenza” will achieve that goal. Sometimes, as much as you can say No, others will be telling you No as well. Learn when to say Yes.

And I know that sometimes, especially with big life-events such as graduations or weddings, it’s not going to be just your former spouse present. Chances are, your former in-laws will be there as well. If you’ve maintained great relationships with them, fantastic! If not… well, best be on your guard there, and then some. You can’t help how others will act. But you can help how you react to others’ poor behavior. Lashing out, especially at a public event centered around your children’s achievements, is always poor form, bar none.

It may be easy to say “take the high road,” but it’s a lot more difficult to actually do it. Fortunately, there’s plenty of time to get used to the idea. That’s why you’re here, right? We all could use a little leg up from time to time. I know I still do to this day.

All that said – whatever you do, don’t panic. Nobody ever died from being locked in the same room as their Ex. At least, not for that reason. Just remember one thing most important of all – the reasons you may be in the same place at the same time is for the kids. It’s their events, it’s their time to shine. Swallow your pride, and realize, ultimately, it’s them what matter during these times. Save the drama for… another time.

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A Gentleman’s Guide To Attending Your First Public Function Together…But Apart

A Gentleman’s Guide To Attending Your First Public Function Together…But Apart

Congratulations. You made it through your divorce. But at some point, you’re inevitably going to need the “Gentleman’s Guide” to attending your first function together post divorce. Sure, you show up to a function and discover – your Ex. It’s awkward. It’s uncomfortable. It’s painful. You don’t want to be there with her but then again, your attending this function to see old friends and acquaintances or maybe your own child at one of their functions.

While it’s perfectly normal to feel weird and uncomfortable, you need to suck it up and get through it.  Here are four easy tips to make the process as painless as possible.

The Gentleman’s Guide for the Divorced Man

Stay Classy. Plain and simple: stay classy. What does that mean? Keep it clean, keep it elegant. Look and feel your best, carry yourself in the best way possible.

Classy also means your demeanor. Even if you hate your ex or the person she may have brought along, staying classy means that no one should be able to read your mind based on your body language or the look on your face. Pull one from the politician playbook: you’re walking around shaking hands and kissing babies, being so very gracious. How will you know if you’ve succeeded? When you hear people sincerely say with a bit of amazement in their voice, “Wow, you look really good.”

Be The Bigger Man. Unless you lived in a cave prior to this outing, it’s highly likely that the rest of your social circle are also aware that this is your first venture out in public, together yet apart. It’s also highly likely that they feel tension and are dreading the possible negative outcomes. While some may root for a cat fight, others would rather avoid any and all drama. You have the ability to play to the second group by being the bigger man.

The Gentleman’s Guide would suggest this is a public function and neither of you are the focus of the attention. Any and all tension will be diffused by your taking the initiative, and approaching her with a greeting, a polite hello, a firm handshake to her guest perhaps, and then moving on. Then, wham, it’s over.

How will you know when you’ve succeeded? When you hear people, maybe even her companion, sincerely say with a bit of amazement in their voice, “Wow, he is a really cool guy.”

Stay Distant. Now that you’ve diffused any tension and gotten over the hump of the first greeting, you are going to keep things civil by simply keeping your distance. Find something else to do. Find other people to talk to you. The greetings have been made and that’s enough, this time. Maybe next time you can make small talk, but for now just leave well enough alone. Maintain a healthy distance. Don’t spend the duration rubbernecking to find out exactly where she is, simply trust your instincts. You were married to her, you can sense her whereabouts. Stay out of her force field and carry on as your usual, wonderful self. Keep in mind the reason you came to this function in the first place and make that your focus.

How will you know when you’ve succeeded? When you hear people sincerely say, “I’m so glad you came, I know this had to be awkward. Thank you for making the effort.”  Then, you’ll know the Gentleman’s Guide was right.

Stay Sober. This is easily the most important of all four points from the Gentleman’s Guide. Even if you ignore the other three final boarding calls, you will miss your flight entirely if you disregard this advice. A drink might very well help your nerves…but anything beyond that will not. Instead, it will demolish all of the other stuff we’ve talked about: instead of keeping it classy, you will be the drunk hot mess stumbling around with his clothes disheveled, spilling on yourself and quite likely on someone else; instead of being the bigger man and making a good impression, you will overstay, overplay and overspeak; instead of staying distant, you will hover, invade her space with either your person or your comments. You will decide that you have very important, very personal things to say and you will tell them to everyone who will listen and you will repeat them at greater volumes to those who won’t.

Just stay sober. This is the only time you will ever have to handle your first public function apart; do it like the  Gentleman’s Guide suggests and all future functions will be that much more enjoyable.

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Divorce: For All The Right Reasons

Divorce: For All The Right Reasons

Well, it’s that time of year when we all celebrate the coming of a new year and new opportunities. It’s also the time of year where we reflect on the past, and think about what has gone well, and what has not. And, then the dreaded thoughts start – Why can’t I have a partner who cares about me? And, if I divorce, will I divorce for all the right reasons.

These thoughts may lead to disenchantment with the marriage they forged with their partner many years ago. And, if the thought process continues unabated, thoughts of real divorce are not far behind. The thoughts of ending a marriage are devastating, for both parties. No one escapes the tragedy of divorce once the process starts.

Ending a marriage is one of the most devastating emotional hits a person takes in life. Truthfully, I think it’s worse than death. Death is a natural part of life and marriage; we make a vow to love each other ‘until death do us part’. Happily married couples will avoid even thinking about it except to draw up wills or buy life insurance. Divorce, on the other hand, isn’t natural. What person, genuinely in love, marries another human being with expectations of anything other than building a long and happy life together?

Down in the southern Bible Belt where I was raised, the bedrock belief that marriage is a sacred, forever thing was strongly instilled. D-i-v-o-r-c-e was not even spoken above a shameful whisper. If there were problems between a husband and wife, the solution was that you did whatever was necessary, working together to work it out. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that with the majority of relationships this kind of ‘stick with it’ approach still works. I’ve known couples who value their marriage and buckle down to do whatever needs to be done to restore the happy state of the union. Sometimes in today’s fast and disposable lifestyle it can just seems easier to toss out things that are less than perfect. I’ve seen love thrown away like this and it’s always sad, especially when children are involved. And then there are times when no amount of effort or determination can fix things.

So when do you divorce for all the right reasons?

As an immature 19 year-old, I and my infant son endured horrific abuse at the hands of my first husband. Why did I stay as long as I did? Because I was brought up to believe that a divorce was a straight ticket to hell and damnation. I was afraid I wasn’t up to the responsibility of raising myself and a child. I literally believed him when he said no man would ever want me again. And no one believed me when I tried to tell them what was going on. Not even the police.

Later I married again, this time to a man who, on the surface, appeared to be genuine, loving and kind. It took seven years to uncover that his sole motivation for the courtship and marriage was to gain for himself a manly, ‘good old boy’ veneer in order to survive and prosper in the homophobic atmosphere that was Texas in the last century. He wasn’t gay but transgendered. By marrying me and adopting my son, he could hide and protect his secret. No, he didn’t beat me but the scars he inflicted were just as deep and real.

I may be a woman but we certainly don’t own exclusive rights to victimhood. Statics are revealing a marked increase in the number of reported domestic violence cases against men. Women are finally achieving notorious equality as the perpetrators they’ve always been capable of being.

Male or female, physical, emotional and sexual abuse are the top reasons to run – not walk – away. These are issues that lead to divorce for all the right reasons. It may sound logical and obvious but where the heart is involved, it becomes incredibly easy to ignore wisdom and reason ourselves right into denial. You tell yourself that there’s no way that this person with whom you have shared so much would actually, intentionally hurt you in any way, shape, form or fashion. As a former crime reporter, I can tell you I heard this a lot. Unfortunately in many cases it was too late to hear it first hand.

When in doubt, walk out, and divorce for all the right reasons..

HelpGuide.Org is a non-profit resource guide.

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7 Commonly Missed Tax Deductions

7 Commonly Missed Tax Deductions

Tax season is right after the holidays. Rather than flood you with articles about divorce and the holidays, which are important, this article seeks to prepare you for the gift that keeps on taking right after the holidays. With money always tight, and especially tight after divorce, it’s important to squeeze all the juice out of every possible deduction you need, especially with the upcoming changes to alimony and taxes!

It’s that time again! The tax filing deadline is fast approaching. Before you file, take a look at this list of some commonly lost and forgotten tax deductions to make sure you’re not paying more than your fair share to Uncle Sam.If you haven’t filed yet, it’s time to get serious about gathering up your documents to prepare your return or request an extension of time to file.

Dig through your documents from last year, and let’s see what we can find. If you have any of these, you might be able to use it for a tax deduction.

1. The Sales Agreement for Your New Car (or Boat or Airplane)

You are allowed to deduct either the amounts you paid for state and local income tax or state and local sales tax. While the deduction for sales tax usually makes sense primarily for those who live in states that do not impose an income tax, in some cases your sales tax deduction may be higher.

The IRS has an online calculator to help residents of states that impose a sales tax calculate how much you can deduct based on the sales tax rates in your area and your income level. However, if you made a large purchase, such as a vehicle, boat or airplane, you can add the sales tax paid for those items to the amount calculated by the IRS.

The same goes for purchases of home building materials, so if you constructed a home or performed a major remodel, dig out those receipts.

2. Receipts for Charitable Contributions

Are you generous? Don’t miss out on these tax deductions. You probably won’t forget about large charitable gifts you made during the year by check or payroll deduction, but there’s been a big increase in online giving in the past few years and many people forget to save online receipts for tax time. Before you file, search your email inbox for keywords such as “gift” or “donation.” Even small donations here and there can add up to big tax savings at year end.

You are also allowed a deduction for miles driven for charity. Whether you’re delivering meals or driving to drop off donations, keep track of the miles you drive for charity.

3. Child and Dependent Care Expenses

Parents are often eligible for a variety of tax deductions. If your child or dependent is under the age of 13 and you paid for daycare expenses while you worked, or actively looked for work, you may be able to claim a tax credit for those expenses. The amount of the credit is a percentage of the daycare expenses you paid. The percentage depends on your Adjusted Gross Income.

Even if your child is in school during the day and you’re not paying for full-time daycare, you may be paying for before or after-school care or day camps during the summer months. Those expenses are eligible as well.

If you don’t know how much you paid for daycare during 2016, before you start combing through bank statements, ask your daycare provider. They can often print out a summary of the expenses you paid during the year.

You’ll also need your daycare provider’s name, address, and Social Security or tax ID number to complete Form 2441 for the credit.

4. Closing Documents for Purchases or Refinancing Your Home Mortgage

Whether you bought a home or just refinanced your existing mortgage, you’ll want to take a look at the closing statement before you file your return to take advantage of these tax deductions.

When you buy a house, you can deduct the points paid to obtain the mortgage in the year of purchase. When you refinance, you can deduct the points over the life of the loan. For example, you can deduct 1/30th of the points each year for a 30-year mortgage. The points are often referred to on the closing statement as loan origination fees.

When you pay off the loan, whether you sell the property or refinance again, you can deduct the remainder of the points not yet deducted.

While you’re reviewing the closing statement, look for any real estate taxes paid out of closing funds. You may be able to add these to the deductible real estate taxes reported on the Form 1098 Mortgage Interest Statement by your mortgage lender.

5. Job-Related Costs

If you are looking for work in the same area of work that you had in the past, you can deduct job-hunting expenses as miscellaneous itemized deductions.

Eligible costs include cab fares or parking fees, employment agency fees, fees for printing resumes, and the cost of postage. You can also deduct any food, transportation, and lodging expenses if you have to go out of town for a job interview.

If you pay for work-related expenses that aren’t reimbursed by your employer, you can deduct those expenses as miscellaneous itemized deductions as well. Eligible expenses may include license fees, continuing education, union dues, or uniforms.

6. Health Insurance Premiums

If you pay for your own health insurance, you may be eligible for a tax break. Normally, medical expenses have to exceed 10% of your Adjusted Gross Income for you to receive a benefit as an itemized deduction. If you are self-employed, you can deduct 100% of your premiums as an “above the line” deduction, meaning you don’t have to itemize to receive a benefit.

Self-employed people can also take an above-the-line deduction for any Long Term Care Insurance premiums paid.

7. Investment Expenses

If you itemize, you may be able to deduct fees for financial planning, investment advice, subscriptions to investment publications, and other costs related to your investments. You’ll need to exceed a percentage of your Adjusted Gross Income to get a tax benefit from miscellaneous itemized deductions, but you can add investment expenses to other miscellaneous expenses such as job-related costs, safe deposit box rental fees, and tax preparation fees. The more you find, the more likely it will be that you’ll be able to get a benefit for the deduction.

Are You Missing Important Documents to Support Tax Deductions?

Missing documents are not uncommon. Fortunately, most tax-related documents are easily replaceable.

If you lost a W-2, 1099, or K-1, call the issuer and request a replacement. Most banks, investment brokers, and student loan servicers now have 1099s available to download online.

If you are concerned you’ve forgotten something, the IRS is able to provide transcripts for prior year returns, account transcripts showing estimated payments made on your account, and Wage & Income transcripts showing all of the income reported to your Social Security number. You can request these transcripts by calling the IRS, or sign Form 2848 authorizing your CPA or tax preparer to request that information on your behalf.

When You Need More Time

If all else fails, you can request a six-month extension of time to file a complete and accurate return. Remember that the extension is only an extension of time to file, not an extension to pay. If you anticipate owing money, you may want to work with your tax advisor to estimate the amount due and pay it with your extension to avoid interest and underpayment penalties.

If you do request an extension, do yourself a favor and try to gather the information to file soon. October will be here before you know it and you don’t want to be scrambling to gather your information all over again in a few months.

Are you able to itemize tax deductions this year? Tell us in the comments below.

 

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When You’re Home For The Holidays

When You’re Home For The Holidays

Ahhh, the Holidays. That glorious time of year that we get to celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years with our loved ones. Or do we? That’s certainly questionable if you’re home for the holidays and having to negotiate with your Ex as to whether or not you’ll see the kids. It’s certainly reasonable that the kids will regard the custodial home as “their home”. That home is more typically with Mom as opposed to with Dad as the Family Court system has traditionally not been kind or understanding to Dads during the divorce process.

Regardless of who is the custodial parent, we must always understand that it’s not our needs that need to be addressed, but the needs and wants of our children.  Kids clearly have the holidays off from school, and they have family and friends that they want to share time with. Dads Want to be and need to be factored into the schedule, but when? Negotiations with the kids and with the Ex are in order if you want to have a reasonable opportunity to share valuable time with your kids.

Some divorced families stick to rigid scheduling around holidays that have either been agreed to previously, or are perhaps court ordered in a support stipulation agreement. While it can certainly ease tensions to have clearly defined dates set far ahead of time, I also believe it is valuable to think about having flexibility.

After our separation, the mother of my daughter and I actually did have a fairly complete support agreement to rely on when issues arose and used that as the final say, though in most circumstances we simply communicated effectively about what our needs were, what our child’s desires were, and sought to find resolutions among our choices that would best benefit our kid.

I recommend having at least one holiday a year that is “yours” and one holiday a year that is “hers” and work to keep those traditions in line as much as possible. I would also suggest that these holidays are not the big ones like Christmas and Easter (or Hanukkah and Pesach if you’re a Jewish family). Making permanent schedules for minor holidays can help to ease the tensions surrounding the major ones, and also ensures you will have the opportunity to have at least one special time of year with your kids, where you can instill traditions, knowledge and that cherished feeling of family togetherness.

Home for the Holidays This Year 

For example, Thanksgiving has always been a pretty big deal for mom’s side of the family. My daughter’s mother has a fairly large extended family with three great aunts and many cousins. One of the great aunts had made it a tradition, years before my daughter was born, that she would visit the rest of the family every Thanksgiving. Now, by turn, while my family isn’t really small, we also have not ever really had long standing Thanksgiving traditions. Of course I would love for my daughter to spend that holiday with me, however, in this situation, while I could easily have argued for my rights within the stipulation agreement, where it outlines we trade holidays yearly, the only real point in doing so would be to disrupt her family’s traditions and assert my own egotistical needs. Instead, when we first looked at holiday times, we decided since Thanksgiving was an important one for her family, mom would always have our daughter for Thanksgiving, and I would always have my daughter for Halloween (which happens to be one of my favorite holidays). From the time my daughter was old enough to trick or treat, until the year she graduated high school, we have had almost every Halloween together, and over that time we also established life long friend for her that joined us in our celebrations. Equally over that time, my daughter has enjoyed the richness of her mother’s traditions concerning Thanksgiving and will hopefully want to continue those into her adult life. Personally, I really look forward to a Halloween evening out with my adult daughter some year.

Over the course of my daughter’s life, there have certainly been one or two times when this has changed for various reasons (one year the great aunt was sick, and my sister in Texas asked if we could join them, so we switched it around that year), though for the most part, those holidays have become the least stressful of our planning year. My daughter came to expect Thanksgiving with mom and Halloween with dad, which also created ease for her.

Concerning the major winter and spring holiday breaks for schoolchildren, I would recommend a flexible approach that places emphasis on raising the children with the influence of both families over time. An “every other year” policy seems to be the best, at least from what I have seen.

Again, it is important to listen to your kids. Ask what they want concerning when they’ll be home for the holidays (once they are old enough to reason, of course) and do your best to accommodate.

Bottom line: When you’re going to be home for the holidays, work to plan far in advance with your ex. If you know that next spring break your side of the family is planning a reunion, don’t wait until three weeks from break to start asking your ex and your child how they feel about the vacation. Start negotiating as soon as you know.

My ex and I were pretty good at this, and we often had our daughter’s summer schedule worked out by late winter, which made long term planning much easier on us both, and gave our daughter the comfort and security of knowing where and when she would be while on school breaks far enough in advance to also make plans with other kids where she would be travelling (or staying at home).

Next time we’ll talk about handling scheduling conflicts towards fair resolution.

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