Many collaborative law attorneys offer a free consult – 30-60 minutes to meet your potential new attorney and get some questions answered. The consult serves two main purposes: learn about your options and get to know your potential attorney. Until you have hired an attorney, you do not have confidentiality or a legal relationship with the attorney. The consulting attorney cannot give you legal advice or answer legal questions with certainty during this first meeting. The consulting attorney can talk to you about the processes available to you – litigation, collaborative law, or mediation. The consulting attorney can tell you the main legal issues that need to be decided during a case – such as child custody, parenting time, spousal maintenance, or property division. Because the consulting attorney does not have a client relationship, you and your spouse could meet with the attorney together. This is often a good way for you both to hear information together about the process. When you receive the same message, you often feel less adversarial and more like you are both seeking a guide for the process. Indeed, one of the most important aspects of a consult, is the opportunity for you to meet a potential attorney and see if you will be comfortable working with them. Your attorney is your guide. You may cry or express anger in front of this person – you need to feel comfortable doing so. In addition to legal adeptness and zealous advocacy, you also must be comfortable and trust your attorney. This is perhaps the most important element of the relationship.
Thanksgiving, Christmas, and all of the holiday season seen through the eyes of a child is a magical time. After all, we hear that “it’s the most wonderful time of the year,” from a very young age. It’s as we age that we begin to realize just how hard the holidays are for so many people. The losses people have suffered, both throughout that year and during their lifetime, divorce, cancer and other major illness diagnoses in their family and friends lives, job losses, miscarriages, and so many defining moments that seem to come to a head during the six week winter holiday season. Holidays are centering moments in our lives, full of memories – the Thanksgiving where the turkey was inedible, the year the kids opened all of the Christmas presents before you and your ex woke up, Grandma Irene’s prized pumpkin pie – all memories that for better or for worse make the holidays an especially easy time to feel an absence. The absence of a loved one, a marriage, the family you once had, or maybe the family you imagined, you get the idea. Additionally, the stress of the holiday season is only made worse when you are grieving these losses. Something small may trigger your heartache like a Christmas card addressed to both you and your ex-spouse, or perhaps being the only singleton at the Thanksgiving dinner table. It’s all too easy to feel like we are all alone in holiday sadness, after all, look at all those smiling faces on the Christmas cards and on social media posts. It’s important to remember that those are just that – snapshots, and not reality. Behind many of those smiling faces also lie someone that is grieving in one way or another. It’s not easy to navigate the holiday season, but use gatherings of friends and family to serve as reminders that you are not alone. Allow for these occasions to provide an opportunity to take a break from the grief you are feeling from your divorce. It may offer you hope that holidays after divorce are bearable, and, maybe not today, but will one day even be enjoyable.
An entry of divorce is a big step in the process. However, there is often a lot of follow-up needed to make everything final. Here are some of the things that need to be addressed post-divorce:
- Certified copies. You should obtain a certified copy (official) of the divorce decree for your records.
- Notice of Entry. Your attorney will draft a Notice of Entry to confirm everyone is aware of the entry and final outcome.
- Assets should be divided. If you agreed to split bank accounts, pay off debt, or pay an equalizer to finalize a property settlement, these things should be divided and paid off.
- Vehicle titles can be transferred. You can sign over the title on vehicles as outlined in your agreement. This can usually be finalized without attorney work.
- Real estate title transfer. A quit claim deed or order from the court (called a Summary Real Estate Disposition Judgment) can be recorded with the county real estate office to transfer title in your real estate.
- Retirement division. Some retirement accounts can be divided with notification from the clients. Other accounts, specifically 401k’s, 403b’s and pensions usually need an order from the court to divide. This order is called a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO). A lawyer usually drafts this order.
Being in the tax season moment, my next few blogs will address some common tax issues and implications resulting from divorce. The first issue/implication I will write about are name changes. It is quite common for a spouse going through divorce to request a name change as part of the divorce process. Requesting a name change can occur for a variety of reasons, divorce being only one. This blog will not attempt to address the reasons but rather focus on actions to take when changing your name. You may be asking yourself what in the world does a name change have to do with my taxes? The answer is plenty. Here are five action steps to take:
- Make sure you let your attorney know you want to change your name. It is quite easy for your attorney to order this when filing the divorce decree with the court. There are additional steps you must take to ensure a smooth transition by reporting the change to the appropriate agencies.
- The best place is to start with the Social Security Administration. All the paperwork you need occurs when the court enters your divorce decree into the record. This includes the order for the name change. Changing your name with the Social Security Administration is necessary so your new name on IRS records will match up with your Social Security Administration record. Problems arise when processing tax returns and names do not match up. Save yourself some time and headache by reporting the name change to the Social Security Administration immediately upon order of the court.
- Be sure to request a new Social Security card by filing Form SS-5, Application for a Social Security Card. Obtain Form SS-5 from www.ssa.gov or call 1-800-772-1213 to order it. You can also accomplish this by going to your nearest Social Security office. The new card will show your same social security number and your new name.
- The next step is to notify your employer. If you have not already done so, complete a new W-4 for claiming withholding exemptions factoring your new tax filing status. Remember you will no longer be filing a joint tax return but rather you will be filing as a single individual or as head of household.
- Here is a list of other entities to report your name change
- Department of Motor Vehicles for your driver’s license and update voter registration
- Passport amendment
- Health care exchanges If you purchased health insurance through one of these, especially if you are receiving any type of subsidy
- Financial Institutions where you do business including banks, credit unions, investment companies, insurance companies, loan companies, credit card companies etc.
- Other businesses such as utility companies
- Notify the Post Office
Late night browsing on HBO recently brought me to a refreshing and wonderfully honest documentary on kids of divorce. The 30-minute film focuses on children who have recently gone through divorce – it asks them questions and captures their honest and candid responses. So much wonderful information can be gleaned form children. They offer unique perspectives on the realities they face. Even more refreshingly, they offer unique insights and rules for their parents. As always, children can guide parents through these tough transitions and help them move forward in ways that really matter to kids. Indeed, these little minds are often more grounded and reflective in their views than their parents. Some of the many words of wisdom from this documentary, are:
- Keep reminding me this isn’t my fault – I need to hear it over and over again.
- Be honest with me – talk to me honestly. I can handle it or I will le tyou know if I can’t.
- Don’t put me in the middle, but remember I am important.
- Don’t have me spy – get your own information.
- There is not a big bright side of things – but try to look on the bright side. Point out to me the things that are good out of this and why I will be okay.
- I miss my other parent in my heart. Know this and keep it in mind.
- Give us more love than we need.
Don’t Divorce Me! TrailerIf you have children and are contemplating divorce, check out Don’t Divorce Me! Kids’ Rules for their Parent’s Divorce on HBO ON DEMAND or www.hbogo.com
It will really help your efforts to organize your financial affairs if you know how long you need to keep statements or documents. A survey by Consumer Reports showed that only 40% of respondents thought that they could find a document at a moment’s notice. Only a slightly larger percentage (49%) thought they could find it after looking for a while. An organized and efficient filing system that only holds the necessary documents will go a long way toward removing the stress of keeping track of your financial assets. There are certain essential documents that you should hold onto for the rest of your life – birth certificate, death certificates, marriage license, divorce decree, adoption agreement, military service records and social security card all fall into this category. You should keep the originals for these important documents in a safe place. A safety deposit box tops the list for safety, but is not always the most practical option. Documents that you may use often, such as your social security card, would best be kept elsewhere (in your wallet though is the least desirable location). The best option if you don’t have a safety deposit box, is to purchase a water-proof, fire-proof lockbox or small safe. Other documents that deserve storing in a safety deposit box or lockbox include your most recent estate documents (wills, power of attorney and trust documents), titles to property, savings bonds, and an inventory (with photos) of your significant household assets. Make sure that you make a list of the documents in your safety deposit box or lock box, along with instructions on how to get access to those documents. Give the list and instructions to those who are responsible for taking care of your affairs if something happens to you. Keep your tax returns for 7 years. Keep any documents that are connected to your tax return for the same period, such as the bill of sale for property listed on the return. Also keep your year-end investment statements for as long as you own the investments, and then for 3 additional years after the investments have been sold. Keep the year-end reports from banks and credit card companies for 5 years, and then for 3 additional years after closing the account. The only reason to keep monthly bill statements or credit card bills after paying them is to help you keep track of your budget. Most of this information can be found online if needed also. Shredding is the best way to dispose of statements and make sure that your personal information does not fall into the hands of identity thieves. Properly securing essential documents in a safe place, creating files for property and tax related documents and shredding nonessential documents will go a long way towards clearing the clutter that is blocking you from gaining control over your financial situation.