Are you outraged about the money you pay your ex for child support? Do you spend a lot of time wondering what she does with your money that doesn’t involve support of your children? Do your thoughts about your money and your ex consume a great deal of your time and energy?
Fighting over money can wreck relationships and is one of the most significant sources of post-divorce conflict too. If you find yourself caught in this trap, you can benefit from understanding painful triggers and how to decide when to fight over the money you pay your ex.
I have four tips for managing money issues successfully with your ex post-divorce. If you can set aside all of the preconceptions you bring to the table about your ex-wife and your money, and how it impacts the children, you can do this.
That’s asking a lot, but your children’s happiness is worth it. You may need to re-frame the way you have been thinking of the ex since the divorce, but you can make the shift with some hard work and determination.
The first thing you can do is to recognize that money you pay your ex through child support is intended to equalize, to a limited degree, the homes in which the child lives. This means their mother may benefit from the child support too. This concept probably wasn’t introduced to you during your divorce negotiations, but makes it clear that it’s okay for an ex-wife to have some benefit from the child support payments. The idea is that when children have less disparity between the two households where they reside, it is good for them.
Also, your views about money should be considered. Have you always been a “cup half full” person? Do you worry that there isn’t enough to go around? Or do you always expect to have enough money but sometimes come up short?
Whatever the case, take notice of what you bring to the table regarding money, perhaps based on your childhood, and acknowledge it. Although you may want to think otherwise, your ex isn’t responsible for all of your money issues. You play a role in how you manage money, and how you think about money, and it’s up to you to take responsibility for this. If you can do that, and use the four tools below, you are well on the way to creating a system for keeping money in its place in your life and with the ex!
1. Recognize It’s Good for Your Children If Your Ex Isn’t Struggling Financially.
Simply put, child support is intended to equalize income, to some limited extent, between homes. Whatever your “beef” with your ex, don’t make this one of them. You cannot control how she spends the money so let that go. Assume she, like you, is doing the best she can to take care of your children too. If you’ve spent a long time believing otherwise, this isn’t an easy task. But, it’s an important one.
When you begin to let go of the need to “punish” your ex for perceived misdeeds of the marriage, or your divorce, it will help you to allow the space for her to move forward successfully too. The expression, “A rising tide lifts all boats,” applies here as your children are surely well served by having two financially secure parents.
2. Stop Talking About Money All the Time
Start by paying what you owe on time and not commenting negatively, for one month, on any money issues. If there is a real problem, you will deal with that, as needed. But, not right now. You should create a budget for yourself, including the money paid to your ex, and make a plan to live within it. If you consider the money paid to your ex simply part of your monthly operating expenses, rather than an unnecessary burden, it may be simpler to stop thinking about it all of the time. Take the steps necessary to limit focusing on it. That will help you and your children.
Also, free yourself from the repetitive mantra of, “She’s a witch and is spending all of my money.” Instead, if it’s impossible to see her as a partner in co-parenting right now, acknowledge, if nothing else, she has the kids when you don’t. It’s good for them to be happy and secure when they are not with you. Your money helps them. Period.
3. Don’t Talk to Your Kids About The Money You Pay Your Ex
There are no exceptions to this rule. Just don’t. They won’t think better of you if you tell them the money is all yours or that you are the only one who provides for them. They love their mom too, and they should, and this only makes them uncomfortable and insecure. You must choose to prioritize your children’s emotional health over your own need to feel as though you have somehow been victorious over your ex. There are no winners when children are put between their divorced parents. Their esteem is tied to what you say about their mother too.
4. Keep Your Disagreements Civil and Simple
You are well served to have a system in place to address disagreements that arise outside of court. Perhaps you can develop a quarterly reconciliation of expenses outside of support, preferably by email, that works for you. Limit your comments to the expense itself and do not infer intent in your communication with your ex. It doesn’t solve the problem and is likely to only heighten the conflict.
Think carefully before escalating the dispute to the legal arena. It is much preferred, for the benefit of your children, to consider mediating expense conflicts outside of court. As a last resort, take your disagreement to court. Of course, if your income changes and modification of an order is necessary, you may need to use the legal process. Just remember to keep it matter-of-fact and don’t make it personal to your ex. She has her own money pressures and adding your negative energy will only hurt your children.
You are Your Kid’s Example
You can decide when to fight over money you pay your ex. Knowing when to let it go is likely the most important thing you can do for your own well-being and to take care of your kids. Recognize when you are triggered by money and your ex and always take a pause. Use the four tools above to limit your unnecessary interaction with your kids and their mother over money and make a plan to address when there is a dispute. You have a choice and can only control how you behave. Make sure you do to benefit you and your children, now and into their adulthood. Teaching them how to manage money, even when it’s difficult will help them now and long into their future. It’s really up to you!
(c) Can Stock Photo / AndreyPopov
If you’re a divorced dad who hasn’t started saving for college, you’re not alone. Most parents want their child to go to college, but less than 40% have a plan to pay for it. With less than 25% of funds currently spent on college coming from savings, it’s no wonder student loan debt is so high.
Annual college tuition and fees are now averaging nearly $35,000 at a private, four-year institution. They are almost $10,000 at a public four-year college and $3,500 at public two-year schools. As costs continue to increase the struggle to pay for them will too.
Results from the 10th annual study, How America Pays for College 2017, show parents are paying 31% of these costs through savings or loans, with students picking up 30%, family and friends covering 4%, and scholarships funding for the remaining 35% of advanced educations.
As a divorced dad, saving for college on top of child support payments, everyday living expenses, and your future retirement, may seem impossible. Yet, with a bit of planning and perhaps some creativity too, you can start saving today. Thus, making advanced education an affordable option for your children in the future.
It’s Not Too Late to Start Saving for College
Choosing to attend in-state versus out-of-state schools is one way students themselves can reduce the overall cost of college. Earning college credits in high school, or attending community colleges for one or two years before moving on to four-year institutions are others. Living at home instead of at college, or living with one or more roommates, help as well.
Applying for scholarships and working while in high school are additional ways your child can help. This will minimize the impact later on your wallet and theirs too.
Even if your son or daughter is now a sophomore in high school, it’s not too late to start saving for college. Any savings is beneficial but the sooner you start, the better of course. According to Finaid.org, stashing away just $50 per month from your child’s birth to the time they turn 17 would provide $20,000, assuming a 7% return on investment.
Before starting college savings, however, experts suggest:
- Paying off any credit card debt or other high-interest loans.
- Establishing an emergency savings account with 3-6 months of expenses accumulated
- Regularly contributing to your tax-advantaged retirement savings accounts – 401ks, Traditional IRAs, etc.
Additional College Saving Tips
Cut non-essential expenses to provide more money for savings. Track your spending to see if there are any expenses you can eliminate to increase your savings for college. Think cable TV, gym memberships, subscriptions you don’t use or eating out less. $5, $10, or $25 savings add up over time.
Increase your income. Ask for a raise at work or apply for a promotion. Seek a position at a competing company offering a larger salary and benefits. Turn an interest or a hobby into a side hustle and create an additional income stream or pick-up a part-time job.
Keep substantial savings in your name with your child as beneficiary, to avoid any loss of student aid. For every dollar above $3,000 saved in your child’s name, 20 cents is subtracted.
Make savings automatic. Make it easy on yourself by automatically depositing a portion of your paycheck into your savings.
Where to Stash Your Money
529 College Plans
More than 30 states offer a 529 college savings plan with full or partial tax savings benefits. Also known as Qualified Tuition Programs (QTP), 529’s are funded with after-tax money you’re allowed to withdraw later tax-free, including any gains, for use on qualified education costs, such as tuition, fees, and books. These state plans offer various investment options and expenses, and contribution limits vary.
A 529 account owner is allowed to withdraw funds at any time for any reason – but the earnings portion of non-qualified withdrawals will incur income tax plus a 10% penalty tax. Should your child not end up going to college, you can typically transfer the account to another beneficiary.
Most plans allow you to change your 529 plan investment options twice per calendar year and allow for a rollover of funds into another 529 plan once per 12-month period. 529 programs have no income, age, or annual contribution limits, but may have lifetime contribution limits – $235,000 to $500,000 depending on the plan.
Roth IRAs, popular as tax-advantaged retirement savings vehicles, can also be used for college savings. As with a 529 plan, you contribute after-tax money to a Roth IRA, and any investment gains can later be withdrawn tax-free, typically for retirement after age 59-1/2. But a Roth IRA also allows you to remove funds tax- and penalty-free, after five years, when used to pay for qualifying educational expenses. Should your child not attend college, you can use the funds for your retirement.
There are income and contribution limits with the Roth IRA. Single taxpayers earning more than $129,000 per year are not eligible, and contributions are limited to $5,500 per year ($6,500 for those over age 50).
Coverdell Education Savings Account
Coverdell ESA’s may be used to cover not just college costs but also any educational expenses, including private school tuition at K-12 institutions. Like a 529 college savings plan, the Coverdell ESA is typically tax-advantaged when utilizing the savings for education expenses.
You may contribute $2,000 per child per year, although contributions phase out for anyone earning more than $95,000 per year.
Similar to the 529 and Roth IRA, money in a Coverdell ESA is considered your asset, not your child’s for financial aid purposes. Please note, however, funds not utilized before your child turns 30 may be subject to taxes and penalties.
Prepaid College Tuition Plans
Prepaid plans allow you to pay for a portion of your child’s college tuition today, locking in current costs and in turn protecting you from future tuition hikes. Like 529 college plans, monetary gains in these programs are typically exempt from federal taxes. A dozen plus states offer prepaid tuition plans but this not the most recommended method of saving for college, as it severely limits educational choices to the state they are purchased.
UGMA / UTMA Custodial Accounts
The Uniform Gift to Minor’s Act (UGMA) and Uniform Transfer to Minor’s Act (UTMA) accounts are custodial accounts to hold and protect assets for minors until they reach adulthood. Because the assets are considered the property of the child, they provide some tax benefits, but less than a 529 plan would. Additionally, unlike other saving plans, they can be considered your child’s asset affecting federal aid amounts your child qualifies for.
A custodian can initiate withdrawals for the child’s benefit provided the expenses are for a legitimate need. Unlike other college savings accounts, payments are not limited to education costs. Once your child becomes a legal adult, they may use the money for any purpose without custodian consent.
Other Ways to Save for College
- Sign up for Upromise – Register for a free at Upromise.com and earn cash back for college with your shopping, dining, and travel. You earn money by using your registered credit, debit, and loyalty cards at participating businesses. Accumulate savings in a savings account, a 529 plan, or have a check sent to you.
- Credit Card Rewards – Find a credit card specifically designed to earn college savings or use any cash back rewards card to amass savings for college. By using your credit card to pay for items such as your utilities, your cell phone bill, groceries, and insurance and paying off the balance in full each month, you’ll accrue some additional savings for college. Of course, utilize any credit card responsibly and don’t go into credit card debt trying to save.
- LEAF College Savings Gift Cards – Leaf provides family and friends a way to gift a monetary amount for your child’s education. A gift card is purchased via LeafSavings.com and sent to you via email, Facebook, or postal service. You then redeem the gift card on Leaf’s site and transfer it to your 529 college savings plan.
No matter how or where you decide to save for college, get started as soon as possible to take advantage of time and compounding interest. You and your child will be thankful you did. Remember, every little bit helps.
Sources and Recommended Resources:
What is a 529 plan?
Choosing the Best 529 College Savings Plan
(c) Can Stock Photo / karenr
It’s the punchline of a thousand bad movie jokes…but what does it actually mean? What does it entail?
What It Means
The word “alimony” is derived from the Latin alere, meaning “to nourish”, and the concept is simple: it is the legal obligation of one spouse in a marriage to provide financially for the other after separation or divorce. If it helps, think of your marriage as kind of like a cell phone contract; you can break that contract, but you’re gonna pay for doing it.
In the past, the paying spouse was invariably the male spouse…but as social norms have changed, and with the advent of same-sex marriage in many states, that’s no longer always the case.
So what does that mean for you? Will you have to pay support? Can you ask for spousal support? The answer is: it depends. Financial support is not an automatic right, but either party can ask for it during divorce proceedings. In many cases, the terms of financial support can be handled privately between both parties. But if you and your spouse can’t come to an agreement, the courts can step in, and that’s where it gets complicated.
State Laws Vary on Alimony
How support is assigned, and how much and how long, varies wildly depending upon where you live. Each state is different and your divorce lawyer will be intimately familiar with the laws in your jurisdiction. In many states, spousal support is only awarded if the marriage lasted over ten years or if you have children. (In that case, spousal support is still handled separately from child support, which is a whole other massive deal.) Some states factor marital fault into support proceedings: if you cheated on your wife, you might end up literally paying for it.
Some states have limits on how long spousal support must be paid; in Kansas, for example, payments cannot last more than ten years and one month, while in Utah, it can’t last longer than your marriage did. On the other hand, if you live in Mississippi, Massachusetts or Tennessee, you might be expected to pay until the day you die or your former spouse dies or gets remarried.
Some states have alimony pendente lite, which is basically “separation spousal support” that is paid from one spouse to another during the separation period, until the divorce is finalized. If you’re a house husband or stay-at-home dad and your wife kicks you to the curb, you can ask for “rehabilitative support” from her, which will only cover you until you can get a job and a place and get on your feet.
Where and How Much
But let’s assume you’re the one who gets saddled with making payments. How does the court determine how much you’re going to be shelling out each month? Again, it depends on where you live, but it’s also going to depend on how much you make; the standard of living you provided for your spouse during the marriage; whether your spouse supported you at any point during your marriage…the list goes on and on.
And it’s usually not going to be cheap. Generally, you won’t be asked to pay more than you can afford and still cover your own bills, but it’s important to remember that most courts consider spousal support more important than voluntary debts (like credit card bills or car payments) and won’t take those into account, which might leave you in a tricky position. The one upside is that the federal tax system allows you to deduct spousal support when filing your taxes. (If you’re receiving support, though, it’s considered taxable income.) Negotiating court-ordered support is what your lawyer’s for, but you can also use this handy-dandy calculator to get a ballpark figure.
Try To Reach an Amicable Agreement
For childless couples, negotiating spousal support can be the nastiest part of divorce proceedings. In the long run, it’s going to be a lot cheaper and less painful if you and your spouse can negotiate the terms of alimony between the two of you, and come to an amicable agreement without bringing your lawyers (and their billing departments) and a judge into it. If you can find a way to make sure that everybody gets what they think they’re entitled to, for as long as they need it, it will make the transition out of the marriage that much easier.
On the Origin of Alimony A Modern Opinion on an Antiquated Practice Groucho Marx once said, “Paying alimony is like feeding hay to a dead horse.” Ironically, that works when you think of the word alimony. The word itself comes from the Latin words ‘Alere’ and ‘ment’ - ‘Alere’ means…
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Alimony has its place in divorce, but far too often it is like a punishment for men. Alimony has traditionally been used as a way to get them to stay in a marriage they possibly did not want anymore.
Talking about prenuptial agreements may seem like the least romantic discussion to have with your bride to be in the weeks or months preceding the big wedding day. I get that. Who starts to plan for a divorce before even saying “I do?” The thought of mentioning the words to your starry-eyed lover may send shivers up your spine, but with more than half of marriages in our country ending in divorce, it may just be the smartest conversation you ever choose to have.
Prenuptial contracts aren’t just for celebrities and millionaires. They make sense for a lot of everyday couples, and they by no means increase your likelihood of getting a divorce.
What are Prenuptial Agreements?
Prenuptial agreements (commonly referred to as prenups) are legal contracts made by a couple before they get married covering the ownership of assets should the marriage end in divorce. Without an official prenuptial agreement, the state will determine who owns everything following the divorce, up to and sometimes including the property and assets you owned before you were marriedWho Needs a Prenuptial Agreement?
Couples all over the financial spectrum are turning to prenuptial agreements, and they are becoming increasingly popular. There are many situations that a marrying couple may benefit from a prenup. Here are just a few:
You have children from a previous marriage or relationship.
- If this isn’t your first marriage or if you have children from another woman, you can use a prenup to spell out legally what those children will receive in the case of your death or divorce. Without that agreement in place, your spouse may be entitled to claim a large percent of your property which would leave your children with much less. If you have children from another woman, a prenuptial agreement may be the only way you can protect their inheritance.
You (or your fiancée) has debt.
- Debt is an unfortunate reality for many people. Whether you or your fiancée is carrying debt from a previous marriage, college education or another reason, that debt could be at least partially transferred to you in a divorce. Prenuptial agreements protect you from your partner’s debt and vice versa.
You own a business.
- Divorces can get messy when it comes to the division of a business. Your spouse may get rights to part of your business in the divorce, including the right to sell her portion to the highest bidder. Prenuptial agreements can lay out exactly what rights your spouse has to your business (if any) should your marriage fail.
You (or your spouse) sacrificed your career to support your partner.
- If you or your future wife has chosen to give up or modify your career to support the other person, a prenuptial agreement can ensure that you (or your spouse) be compensated in a fair manner following a divorce.
You want to avoid arguments in the case of divorce.
- We all know that divorces are commonplace, and we have all heard the horror stories that ensue when couples fight over money, property and other assets. Prenuptial agreements can help you avoid arguments and potentially lots of money and time in court by making these decisions before the start of heated divorce battles. A prenup can help you get back on your feet a lot quicker if a divorce occurs.
What Prenups DO NOT Cover
Prenups are for property issues in the case of divorce. They do not cover personal preference such as which partner will clean the toilet or pick the kids up from school. And if you try to include such items, the court may throw out your entire agreement. Requirements for prenuptial agreements vary from state to state, and you should always check with your local laws or with an attorney to make sure your prenup is valid.
In most states, a prenuptial agreement will not hold up in court if it:
1) Encourages divorce or incentives divorce
2) Waives right to alimony or spousal support
3) Determines child custody or child support
4) Was not officially agreed to by both spouses in writing
If you are considering a prenuptial agreement, you may want to speak with a family law attorney to make sure your agreement meets the letter of the law. There are many qualified attorneys in most areas, so take your time and find one that meets your needs.
How to Talk to your Future Spouse about a Prenup
No one likes to talk about divorce, especially before you even get married. You may be dreading the conversation with your bride to be, but it doesn’t have to lead to an argument. Here are a few tips to having a successful conversation regarding the decision whether to have a prenuptial agreement.
- Start early. While you may not want to bring up the prenuptial agreement discussion on the same day you propose, don’t wait until the night before the wedding either. If you want a prenup, bring it up early. It may take some time to address and maneuver through the emotional and technical issues that come up. Take the pressure out by starting the process early.
- Decide the terms of the prenup together. If you come to your spouse with a pre-drafted prenup, she may get defensive right away. Instead, treat the document like a collaboration so that both sides are on equal ground. After all, this is an opportunity to discuss what each person expects from the marriage.
- Be honest. If there is something you want from the agreement, own up to it. By being honest, not only are you more likely to get what you want but you also choose to start your new marriage off with trust. Explain the history or your beliefs that make you want the specific terms you desire. The more transparency and honesty you portray, the smoother the process is likely to go.
- Listen to your fiancee’s thoughts and concerns. Your partner will probably have a slightly different perspective than your own. Being open and truly sensitive to her needs will make the prenup process (and marriage as a whole) better. Listen with your heart and be creative about solutions to any disagreements.
- Be flexible. Your life today may look a lot different than your life the day you choose to get a divorce. Make sure your prenup is flexible enough to account for anything that may happen in the future. For example, your spouse may give up her career to raise children or take over most of the business responsibility. Come up with terms in your prenup that allow for change.
A prenuptial agreement may be the last thing on your mind as you prepare for an upcoming marriage. These agreements tend to come with a negative connotation – as if you are giving up on your marriage before it even starts. However, divorce is a reality for more than 50% of marriages in America today, and prenuptial agreements are becoming more popular than ever.
Think of them as an insurance policy. You have it for protection, but you hope you never have to use it! In fact, discussing a prenuptial agreement is one way to start your marriage off with open communication. You never know – it may just put your marriage at better odds of never needing one!
Prenuptial agreements aren't sexy or fun. But, they can save you time, energy, and a whole lot of money if your marriage ends in divorce.
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For some men, grocery shopping is akin to having a tooth pulled: a dreaded experience to be delayed as long as humanly possible. You put off going until you can’t stand the pain or, in this instance, the cupboard is so bare that the mice have moved out. At least the dentist has anesthesia. But guess what? We’re about to give you some (pain) killer advice to take the “ouch” out of food shopping for you and your wallet.
Grocery Shopping 101: Make a List
Let’s start with the one absolute essential: a list. A list is important for several reasons, not the least of which is actually coming home with what you went for in the first place. In his book Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping, psychologist and market researcher Paco Underhill writes that supermarkets are “places of high impulse buying… Fully 60% to 70% of purchases there were unplanned.” Honestly, I can’t even begin to count the number of times I went to get one or two things, got neither one and brought home three or four “unplanned” sacks. Golden Grocery Shopping Rule numero uno is know before you go.
Store Loyalty Cards
All the big chain stores have phone apps and customer loyalty or reward cards, and you should have one! The app for our favorite local store, Smith’s, has a built in list and loads digital coupons to your card. Kids need shampoo or a notebook for school? If they have the app, you enter your loyalty card number and they can add what they need to the list from their own phone or device like an iPad mini. (Beware the “soda” and chips requests….)
There is most definitely a science to shopping, which grocery stores use to their advantage. When it comes to “getting your money”, nothing is left to chance. Familiarizing yourself with your local store is both a time and money saver.
The stores themselves aren’t just randomly laid out; there are carefully researched psychological reasons for everything – from the placement of aisles and specialized areas for things like produce and meats to how packages are specifically placed on the shelves, counters and racks.
Store brands, bulk and discounted items are down near the floor because things on the bottom shelf typically get overlooked by a majority of shoppers. Why? Because that two-thirds majority often wear skirts in which they avoid bending down. Nowadays guys are cutting into those numbers and grocery stores know it.
The next time you go in, take a peek at the books and magazine rack (near the front by the cash registers where those in line are more likely to pick them up). The Times they are a changing’. Once filled with romance novels, Women’s Day and Cosmo, you are just as likely to find books by Clive Cussler and Steve Berry right alongside Wired and GQ today. The traditional image of a female dominated, domesticated shopping environment is fading. All of this makes it easier for you to be a shopping king!
Men Are Savvy Shoppers
Men armed with just a few insider tips, like we’ve given here, actually make better shoppers. They tend to overlook the marketing tactics that females fall for. Researchers discovered that given a choice between two identical items, women will almost always pick up the one with the most eye-catching packaging, even though it cost more.
The attention grabbing item for men is typically meat and in that department, more often than not, guys make better, more practical choices. On the other hand, men average a lot less time in the store and spend more money. Golden Grocery Shopping Rule number two: slow the heck down! Take time to smell the roses in the floral section and leave less of your own green stuff behind. Or grab a seat at the increasing number of in-store coffee and sandwich bars opening up.
Once upon a time, grocery stores wanted you to shop hungry, believing you’d buy more. Why not use what they already order in bulk in a different way? Customers can buy freshly prepared food to enjoy instantly and the ingredients to take home later. Of course, this isn’t an example of saving a lot of money, but it is a great way to strike up a conversation with the redhead at the next table! You could tell her about Golden Grocery Shopping Rule number three…
The Secret Power of Unit Pricing
Every box, bag, can, carrot or egg carton has a ‘cost per unit’ label located either on the shelf beneath it or attached to the bulk bin and rule number three is to never buy anything without at least glancing at it. This little gem is the single most over-looked shopping tool consumers have at their disposal. It displays the item’s individual barcode, utilized by dozens of apps that can tell you everything from ingredients and allergy info, whether a coupon is available, best local price and MSR to whether or not the manufacturer is on a boycott list somewhere.
Don’t get me wrong, the barcode information is fantastic, but for now we’re interested in the tiny little box in the lower left-hand corner: the unit price. This is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. The real truth in advertising! Is that sale price really the best price?
Your first task is to define the unit. This might say “per ounce” or even “per sheet” – in the case of paper towels. How is this useful? In about two seconds you can determine how much more you pay for a name brand product compared to the store brand. It tells you that the great deli cheese on sale is actually cheaper than the prepackaged stuff in the dairy case. More is less? You bet! The price you pay for that larger jar of mayo may appear higher, but the cost per ounce is significantly lower. Getting into the habit of quickly scanning the unit price of surrounding items saves you money and takes mere seconds.
Let Someone Else Do The Shopping
Did you know that more and more stores let you shop online and simply stop in to pick up your order? Stores like Walmart and Kroger are offering this service at no additional cost to the customer.
You get to select your items, including review unit pricing, and schedule a time to stop by for pickup. Some stores will even load the car for you. You can’t beat this option for time saved, convenience, and the money saving benefit of avoiding impulse purchases, since you aren’t setting foot in the store.
Have you tried online grocery services yet? Let us know what you think in the comments below.
Know any guys who need help shopping?
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No one believes divorce is easy. Parting ways, rebuilding, and adjusting to a new normal is a turbulent process. When a family business is involved, the complexity is amplified. In addition to separating home and family life, your split goes one agonizing step further, to include your career.
Divorce involving a business partner brings extra issues that need to be addressed. Depending on the level of mutual civility, the specifics of your business, and your priorities, you and the ex can come up with an agreement that leaves your livelihood, if not your heart, in good shape.
Let’s take a look at the issues.
Common Issues with a Family Business
1. Is it in writing?
If you have a clear agreement in writing things will go more smoothly. This is why the mantra of lawyers is “get it in writing”. When you set up your family business did you file a certificate of incorporation, create bylaws and a shareholder’s agreement? If your business is structured as a general or limited partnership, do you have a partnership agreement? If you are a limited liability company, do you have an operating agreement?
If so, these documents will help determine legal ownership of the business, who runs the business, what happens to profits and losses, and other matters covered in writing. Make sure everyone is aware of these contractual agreements to help streamline the process should the courts get involved.
Many family businesses start without proper documentation. Probate and Family Court have the power to step in and fill in the blanks. Their power extends to dividing the business as a marital asset.
2. Are the roles well defined?
Small businesses and startups usually require entrepreneurs to wear multiple hats. This can muddy the waters when deciphering what responsibilities and roles you and the wife played in the business, especially if there is no documentation defining clear duties and titles.
Do you believe your wife is an administrative assistant who supported the day to day operations and she sees herself as head of operations? Even if job titles were agreed upon, titles only go so far. This can be one more point of contention in overall divorce negotiations, where spouses often have differing perspectives on how family and business worked in the marriage.
3. How do the books look?
Running a family business is hard work. It’s common for bookkeeping to take a back seat to more urgent priorities in a bustling business where you are both owner and operator. When outside parties delve into them to do a valuation or to determine how much cash flow is available to pay child support, things can get messy if the books are not complete and accurate.
Did you frequently mix personal expenses with business expenses? It’s not uncommon for a family business, and it’s also a recipe for confusion. As a couple, did you mix your business and personal assets for a business loan? Again, this adds a layer of complication.
Options for Disposition of the Family Business
Now that we covered some of the major issues, let’s talk options.
Co-ownership is an option when both parties want to keep the business intact. In this scenario, the business does not become a communal property asset to be split. Instead, you and the ex-wife own an interest in the business, as partners.
If you and your ex-wife can be civil and put aside your personal grievances for the sake of the family business, this can work. If seeing your ex on a daily basis will cause undue stress or hinder you from moving on, this choice is not ideal. Be honest about what how it will affect you, and the business. If your divorce is mutual, amiable, and you can trust your ex, this may be the right move for you.
2. A buy-out
A second possibility is one spouse buys out the other spouse’s interest. One spouse then continues to own and operate the family business while the other is free to move on and invest in a new venture. The advantage to this option is a clean break from your ex-wife. In an acrimonious divorce, especially one where there is no mutual trust left, this may be the best strategy. Feuding exes trying to run a business together may run it into the ground.
The buy-out can be a simple cash sale, or it can be swapped for community property. For instance, the husband agrees to give up the ownership of the family home to his ex-wife, and she gives him the family business in exchange. The disadvantage to a buy-out is that one spouse must have the money, or the assets, to afford the transaction.
A third option is to sell the business and divide the profits. This decision offers a clean split and puts money in your pocket at a time when you probably need it.
There are a few downsides. Depending on the nature of the business and the current market, it may take a while to find a qualified buyer and close the deal. You could take a hit if you sell too early. Maybe there’s a new product about to launch or big investor coming in, but if you sell before it happens, you take a substantial loss.
When deciding to stay or go, take into consideration what your life will be like after the sale. Are you emotionally tied to the business? Does it give you a burning purpose that gets you out of bed in the morning, excited to start your day? Is it more than a job; is it where you have the majority of your friendships and the foundation of a rewarding career?
Also consider that when couples stop being life partners they sometimes form a better working relationship as co-owners. If you and the ex-wife can honestly talk, problem solve, and make decisions when it comes the family business then maybe selling isn’t the best strategy. Either way, this decision requires lots of thought on both sides.
Business Valuation for Divorce
Let’s say you decide that you can’t work with your ex-wife, your next decision is whether you want to sell, buy out your ex, or let her buy you out. Whichever you choose, you must determine the value of the family business and what each partner owns of it.
Who owns what?
Ownership of a family run business falls into two categories, community property (meaning it’s owned equally between the spouses) or separate property (owned by one spouse because it may have been owned before the marriage or bought with separate property money, such as from an inheritance). Of course, the laws vary by state, so it is best to consult a lawyer where you live.
Main factors which determine community versus separate property:
- Date of the marriage and date the business was founded
- Source of the funds used to start the business
- The financial and labor contributions of each spouse to the business during the marriage
Community interests may include:
- Joint funds invested in the business, whether startup capital or additional funds invested later to grow the business
- Financial appreciation in the value of the business during the marriage, especially as a result of joint financial or labor contributions
- Each person’s contributions to the business, especially when those contributions played a role in the operation or growth of the business
Community versus separate interest is not black and white, it’s a fuzzy grey area. It’s best to seek advice from an attorney and financial specialist in your state.
What is the business worth?
Valuing a business is substantially more complicated than appraising a residence. A business appraiser first collects all the relevant information, which includes everything from financial statements to tax returns, and your books. The appraiser selects the appropriate valuation method for the type of business and applies it to the information gathered.
There are three generally accepted valuation methods:
- The market approach where the business is valued in comparison to similar businesses that have recently sold.
- The income approach which estimates the value of the business by converting projected profits or cash flows into a value. This is generally based past and current profits.
- The asset approach which values the assets and liabilities of the business.
Choosing an Appraiser
Choose a professional business appraiser you and your wife can trust. The safest approach is to go with a Certified Business Appraiser (CBA) or Accredited Senior Appraiser (ASA). There are other certifications, but these certificates have the most rigorous requirements, by far. Appraisers who have reached this level of expertise can be found at the American Society of Appraisers (ASA) and the National Association of Certified Valuators and Analysts (NAVCA).
The cost of an appraiser will run from about 3,000 to 12,000 dollars. The type and size of the business and the level of service (the depth of analysis and reporting) all factor into the cost. To help save time and money it’s wise to be organized and gather all your documents in advance.
In an acrimonious divorce, there may be little trust, in which case you and your ex may request separate appraisals. This doubles the cost and may take longer. To save even more time and money, try to agree on an appraiser you both feel comfortable with.
More Knowledge Equals Less Risk
Divorce involving a family company is serious business. While the information covered in this article is meant as a starting point to familiarize you with the general ins and outs, it by no means replaces legal advice. If you are considering co-owning, buying out your spouse’s interest, or selling your business, the first step is to research the exact laws in your state and seek competent professional advice. Being un-informed makes any divorce risky business.
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