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Posted on July 14, 2021 3:00 PM by Gina
Categories: General
Settlement Agreement
 
When you are facing a life-changing decision like divorce, what do you think
you will find more valuable? Having someone on your side who offers only
comfort but no practical solutions, or having someone who will give it to you
straight. I feel strongly that not enough professionals in the world of divorce
truly tell it like it is. They tell you what you want to hear which can lead to
some pretty costly, but completely avoidable, mistakes.

I tell it like it is. Your household income as a couple will now be supporting
two households, so yes, things will change and your financial life will not be
the same. However, if you understand the pitfalls and risks, you can
comfortably navigate your marital transition and come out on the other side
with a stronger financial future than before. Let me guide you through that
change with some simple points.
 
Property Settlement Agreements are negotiated and agreed to by all parties
before they are finalized (though sometimes the terms are ordered by a
Judge if the parties cannot reach agreement on their own). I frequently
meet with clients who have agreed to terms without understanding (or even
reading) what they are signing, and which will become a lasting, binding
contract with a permanent impact on their futures. They are then confused
and upset, but it is too late. Here are the top three mistakes I see so often,
but with a little knowledge, are entirely avoidable.
 
#3 – The settlement agreement doesn’t take taxes into effect –
AT ALL!
We all know that Uncle Sam will dive into our pockets at every
opportunity. Absolutely do not agree to a settlement without knowing and
understanding the tax implications. What people often find is that the tax
burden on their half of the marital assets is significantly higher than their
spouse’s, making their “half” of the assets worth significantly less than they
thought. You need to consult with a tax or financial specialist like a CDFA to
fully understand the implications BEFORE you sign the agreement. More
pointedly, don’t expect your attorney to understand and/or explain the tax
benefits to you. Attorneys are not accountants or financial advisors and a
lot of attorneys don’t understand the full or long term tax ramifications of
these agreements.
 
#2 – Pensions may be split 50/50 but no one knows what that really
means.

Over and over and over I see divorce agreements that order pensions to
be split 50/50 or split pursuant to a particular legally-recognized formula,
but the parties are not counseled as to when or how that will actually happen.
What type of account is it? Do I just show the pension plan the
judgment of divorce and they will write me a check? When do you start
collecting? Is there an option to take a lump sum? Will there be a cost of
living increase each year? What if you or your spouse dies? Will it keep
paying? Will it double? Do I need a separate order for the pension and if so,
are there any costs associated with this? When I ask these questions, no one
has ANY IDEA what the answers are. How can you possibly agree to a
settlement without understanding something so crucial to your financial
future and your right to receive retirement benefits?
 
And … drum roll….The biggest avoidable and costly mistake I see is…
 
#1 – Keeping a house you cannot afford
I understand that people are emotionally tied to the family home and
really want to stay in their house or in the house their children live or grew
up in. However, before you even consider this option, you must prepare and
analyze a realistic budget. To fully understand this and to factor in all of the
hidden costs and considerations, you should meet with a financial advisor
and a mortgage broker. A CDFA can help you create a realistic and workable
budget, enabling you to survive the marital transition process and come out
stronger and more independent with a home you can truly afford and love. I
have witnessed where one or two years down the road, the spouse who
“won the house” has run out of cash and realized that they can’t sell a
window to put food on the table. They can’t refinance because now they
don’t have enough income, and they have no choice but to sell. So now they
will have to eat the selling costs which are about 8% of the sale – all of
which would have been split 50/50 with the ex if they had sold as part of the
divorce. Knowledge in this scenario is truly power.
It is critical during your time of marital transition to realize that you don’t
know what you don’t know….but there are professionals available to help
you. Your professional divorce team should be made up of experts who
can ensure that you have the information needed to make the best
decisions for you and your family! Don’t go this alone. As we say at WNY
Divorce Financial Advisors, LLC “Think with your head and not your
heart!” Let us help, contact us today at gina@wnydfa.com to schedule a
confidential introductory call.
Posted on April 13, 2021 8:27 PM by Gina
Categories: General
 
 
Lost. Scared. Lonely. Sad. Angry. Bitter. Relieved. Hopeful. These are just some of the stops along the emotional roller coaster that is divorce. It’s not something that you have to endure alone. Now that divorce is so common, there are many resources available to help you survive -- and thrive-- throughout the process.
Emotional Support
Friends and family -provide a wealth of much-needed emotional support.  These resources are great for a shoulder to cry on, to remind you that you are loved, and to provide distraction from the mentally draining process you are no doubt going through.  However, do not rely on friends and family for objective or professional advice (unless that person is a licensed specialist in that field).  Also, it is not suggested that you run to your circle of friends with every sordid detail or piece of legal and financial information; you will quickly drain this valuable resource. For true healing and positive growth, you will need the help of a trained professional. 
 
Growth and Grief
A Good Therapist  There is just so much emotional trauma caused  by divorce that you really need to talk it through with a qualified professional. A therapist will help you explore your role in the end of the marriage so you can get clear about your goals for the next phase of your life. This is the only way you can hope to form new relationships that aren’t doomed to repeat your past.
 
Financial Advice
CDFA® or Financial PlannerThe most common and paralyzing fear that nearly everyone feels in divorce is “Will I be ok financially?” It’s inevitable. Before you agree to any property settlement for the disposition of your marital assets, you really need a second set of eyes and some financial projections so you understand the ramifications of the agreement on your future. Of course, I’m biased and would prefer that you find a CDFA® specifically trained to understand and navigate the finances of divorce.
 
Education and Healing
The Internet –  Divorce has become big business. New resource sites pop up every day offering a wealth of free information, downloads, blogs, referrals, directories, etc. It can be somewhat overwhelming so just pick out what you connect with and leave the rest. Meetup.com is a great resource for local divorce support groups. Going to a few meet-ups is a good idea but don’t let yourself stay in this phase too long.  Divorce has become big business. New resource sites pop up every day offering a wealth of free information, downloads, blogs, referrals, directories, etc. It can be somewhat overwhelming so just pick out what you connect with and leave the rest. Meetup.com is a great resource for local divorce support groups. Going to a few meetups is a good idea but don’t let yourself stay in this phase too long. Recovery is supposed to be about getting better. Too many people stay mired in the grieving process that they are never truly able to recover and move on.   Use a support group to move through the process and then – move on. Go slow. Be kind to yourself.
 
Free Resources
Nonprofits  -Almost every community in the country has a non- profit that offers divorce support resources. In Buffalo, NY we have EBCA Volunteer Lawyer Project, https://ecbavlp.com/ for those who qualify.  The Center for Hope provides healing from leaving a Narcissistic Abuse relationship https://centerforhopewny.org/
 
This is going to be a challenging time in your life. Ultimately, you will be stronger and happier,  as long as you surround yourself with the right support to help you move on. Use the resources available to you to make good decisions for yourself. Today truly is the first day of the rest of your life.
Posted on January 13, 2021 10:13 AM by Gina
Categories: General
Is all truly “fair” in Love and Divorce?
Once you realize that you are headed toward a potential divorce or
separation, your thoughts will turn to the future and fears of your new
reality. You may think, “I don’t make enough money to live on my own” or
“How much of my income will I have to give up to support my spouse and
the kids?” or “I’ll be living in poverty”. You may feel like you’re thrust into a
world of frightening unknowns. Despite the stereotypes around revengeful
and nasty divorces, my experience is that the vast majority of couples truly
and sincerely want what’s fair for all involved.

The problem is that every person’s idea of “fair” is different. Depending on
how much emotional turmoil the couple has been through, or the lingering of
perceived wrongs and apologies that remain unspoken, each spouse’s
concept of “fair” may be clouded by years of conflict and resentment. This is
the simple truth that has created a multi-billion-dollar divorce industry. I
think there is a different answer.

What if you let go of the need for fairness? I know it sounds crazy, but try
this on for size. What if each party didn’t worry about what they were “giving
up” to the other person or what their spouse was “getting,” but instead they
sit down with a certified divorce financial analyst and simply figure out what
they need for themselves to be financially comfortable, stable and secure?
And then the couple can work with a mediator and start from there? It
doesn’t have to be “equal” to be “fair,” it just has to be acceptable and
workable for everyone involved. That is a truly a win/win solution.
Let go of the traditional concepts of equal or fair. Focus on the next phase
of your life and how you can move on in a healthy, happy way that will
preserve your family unit, and your financial security, for the future.

 
 
Posted on October 15, 2019 12:00 AM by Gina
Categories: General
We’ve all heard the horror stories. Spouses being antagonistic, fighting over the children, spending tens of thousands of dollars on attorney’s fees to argue over property, etc. It’s not surprising that these situations are extremely stressful. Yet, even relatively amicable divorces can cause levels of stress that negatively impact not only a person’s emotional health, but also the ability to make good choices in her divorce settlement. On the Holmes-Rahe Scale of stressful life experiences, divorce and marital separation rank second than third respectively, after the death of a spouse or child, and before incarceration and death of a close family member. As a result, those in marital transition are at relatively high risk for developing stress related illnesses. A combination of fear of both the known and the unknown are primary causes. With all of this in mind, it’s not difficult to imagine how a person’s elevated level of stress can also have a negative effect on her decision-making skills before during and after a divorce, resulting in repercussions that could be long lasting. In an effort to reduce the impact of stress, I recommend the following dos and don’ts to my clients in the midst of marital transition.
 
Do
 
Educate yourself
Learn as much as you can about the divorce process. Schedule a consultation with a CDFA and matrimonial Attorney or Mediator as soon as possible once you begin to seriously consider divorce. Understanding what is involved in the divorce process as well as your rights and responsibilities will empower your decision making from the start, and eliminate much of your “fear of the unknown.”
 
Put your health first
Marital transition is stressful for all family members, but if you don’t attend to your own needs first, you won’t be in a position to help anyone else.
 
It’s more important than ever to:
  • Get enough sleep
  • Maintain healthy eating habits
  • Prioritize physical fitness
  • Consume alcohol responsibly
Build a network
A major contributing factor to the stress of divorce is the impact it has on relationships outside of the marriage: in-laws, mutual friends, even your own family members. Any of these relationships can be strained or even lost as people feel the need to choose sides. However, having a strong support system is critical for your emotional well being during a divorce.
 
Strive for the following:
  • Nurture your positive relationships and acknowledge that your divorce is also stressful for your family and mutual friends.
  • Consider joining a support group for those experiencing a marital transition.
  • Aim to expand your social circle by pursuing your hobbies and interests.
Seek professional help
It’s unreasonable to assume that you can manage all of the obstacles you will encounter during divorce on your own. In addition to retaining the services of a CDFA and Attorney or Mediator, depending on your circumstances, you may also want to consider seeking the services of a:
 
  • Mental Health Counselor
  • Life Coach
  • Personal Trainer
Don’ts
In moments of high stress, your judgment can be flawed. Here are a few scenarios you should be cautious of.
 
Don’t put your children in the middle
Few topics of marital transition are more emotionally charged than children. During times of high stress and animosity, it can be tempting to use access to your children and/or child support as a means to punish your spouse. This can have a negative emotional impact on your children, put you in legal jeopardy, and prolong your settlement proceedings.
 
Don’t seek legal or financial advice from anyone who isn’t a professional
Divorce is one of those times in life when you’ll receive a lot of well-meaning, but inaccurate legal and financial advice. Everyone’s neighbor’s cousin’s best friend has a story of how they gamed the system or got the better of their spouse and it can be tempting to heed this misguided advice. However, while there are standard legal guidelines determined by your state, divorce settlements are ultimately subjective, based on the unique financial circumstances of your marriage. 
 
Don’t make settlement decisions based on emotion
The road from marital transition though finalizing a divorce settlement can be exhausting, causing even those in relatively amicable splits make decisions based on emotion rather than logic. Whenever possible, take the opportunity to step back, regroup and be sure that you are agreeing to the terms that will be in your best interest for years to come.
 
Where to begin
With all of the emotional and practical issues needing to be addressed, you can easily become overwhelmed. Take control by getting organized. Download my
Marital Transition To-Do List to organize your priorities, set deadlines, and track your progress.
Posted on August 9, 2019 1:11 PM by Gina
Categories: General
 
 
Did you know that couples over the age of 50 have the highest rate of divorce? A recent article in Forbes quoted a Pew Research study, which found that while there has been a 21% decrease in the divorce rate of couples between the ages of 25 through 39 over the last 25 years, the divorce rate among those in the 50+ age group has increased 109% during the same time period. 
 
A further negative impact on this increase in “gray divorce” is the additional complexity of dividing assets following a long term marriage. Two areas, in particular, accumulated wealth and retirement income present much greater challenges to divorcing couples over the age of 50 when compared to younger couples.
 
Accumulated Wealth
The equitable distribution of property can be significantly more complex when couples divorce later in life, simply because there is typically more to divide.  Laws determining the division community property (owned by both parties) vs. personal property (owned by only one of the spouses) varies by state.
 
Therefore, pinpointing the details of all property accumulated during the marriage should be made as early as possible when divorce is being considered. Examples of what to catalog include the description, title, and value of all:
 
  • Community property
  • Personal property
  • Community debt
  • Personal debt
 
Retirement Income
After alimony, retirement income this is the biggest source of contention during a divorce settlement, according to an American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers survey. The settlement of joint retirement income is a primary concern in gray divorce, for the simple reason that there is less time to recoup any losses. Considerations to be made during negotiations include:
 
  • What percentage of your spouse’s 401k or pension are you entitled to?
  • At what age can you begin collecting from your spouse’s 401K or pension?
  • What will you need to do post-divorce to restore /increase your retirement savings?
 
Where to Begin
While there are many common areas of concern in any divorce, it’s important to remember that the financial details each couple brings to the table are unique, so retaining the services of a CDFA®  is an ideal first step when considering divorce after the age of 50. The CDFA® can assist you in assessing all financial options based on your unique situation before you commit to a divorce settlement.
 
Download my free checklist Charting Assets to help you get started. Having this financial information organized will allow empower you in your decision making throughout the marital transition process. 

 
Posted on June 21, 2019 8:14 AM by Gina
Categories: General
married couple in marital transition
 
The decision to leave one’s marriage is an extremely difficult one, fraught with emotion, and a seemingly endless series of complex, far-reaching decisions that could impact your children, your income and assets for years to come. It’s no wonder that those experiencing marital transition often become overwhelmed, leading them to make decisions against their best interest.
 
What is Marital Transition?
The process of divorce is clearly defined as a legal dissolution or termination of a marriage. However, marital transition is a bit broader and can include any of the following stages, pre, and post-divorce:
 
  • Considering divorce, but no decision made yet
  • Filed for divorce or have been served with notice of divorce filing
  • Currently in the divorce process
  • Divorce finalized, but new financial concerns arise
 
At any of these stages, engaging the services of a Certified Divorce Financial Advisor (CDFA®) is a worthwhile investment in your peace of mind that sound financial decisions are being made.
What is a CDFA®?
 
What is a CDFA®?
A CDFA® acts as a liaison between the client, and divorce mediators and matrimonial attorneys, specializing in guiding clients in navigating all financial issues and decisions surrounding divorce from assessing their options for fair and equitable settlements.
 
Certification is granted by the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts to applicants who complete a four module independent study program. Eligible applicants must possess a Bachelor’s degree and at least three years experience in the financial or legal fields, including:
 
  • Financial professionals
  • Accountants
  • Matrimonial attorneys Annual reinstatement of CDFA® certification is required, in addition to fifteen hours of continuing education every two years.
 
Why Should I Hire A Certified Divorce Financial Advisor?
While your mediator or matrimonial attorney will focus on the legal aspects of the divorce, throughout the marital transition, the CDFA® professional assists the client with:
 
  • Identifying the short- and long-term effects of dividing property
  • Addressing any tax concerns
  • Analyzing options for dividing pension and retirement plans
  • Recommendations regarding the marital home
  • Evaluating the client’s insurance needs
  • Establishing projections on inflation and rates of return
 
With the ability to collect financial and expense data, develop budgets, identify future goals, and assess the financial impact of a proposed divorce settlement, a CDFA® is an essential member of your marital transition team.
 
In fact, given their ability to provide practical and actionable information from the get-go, CDFA®s are quickly becoming the “gatekeepers of divorce”, a role historically held by therapists as the ideal first professional to consult with prior to beginning divorce proceedings.
 
If You’re Considering Divorce
Engage the services of a CDFA to ensure that your interests are addressed as early as possible. Prior to your first meeting, it’s a good idea to make note of the priorities for both you and your spouse in terms of:
 
  • Division of property
  • Finances (ex. spousal support, division of debts, division of retirement assets, etc.)
  • Children (ex. Child support, custody, and visitation)
 
Download my PDF worksheet: Divorce Priorities Checklist to help you get started. Laying out the high-level priorities will help structure the planning that you will do with both your CDFA and attorney.

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Gina Phillips is NOT an attorney or CPA and does not provide legal or tax advice. Changes in tax laws may occur at any time and could have substantial impact upon each person’s situation. You should discuss tax or legal matters with the appropriate professional.