It’s important for divorcees to review and adjust their W-4 payroll withholding or start to make quarterly tax estimates following their divorce. Often, they are so relieved to have reached settlement, they fail to think about these housekeeping items. If divorced in 2018, this is especially important if transferring taxable spousal maintenance. The payor spouse can likely change their payroll withholding to increase their net income. The payee spouse will need to withhold additional tax dollars on their salary or make quarterly estimated tax payments, to account for taxes on the spousal maintenance payments received. If the payor spouse doesn’t adjust their W-4, they may not be able to meet their budget during the year and would probably receive a large tax refund when taxes are filed. If the payee spouse doesn’t adjust their W-4 or start quarterly estimated taxes, they could have a large tax liability when they file their return. Even if there isn’t taxable spousal maintenance, individuals still may need to adjust their withholding. Things that can impact taxes and often require an adjustment are a change in their filing status, pre- tax payroll deductions (retirement contributions, health savings account, health insurance premiums), and itemized deductions such as real estate taxes and mortgage interest. Making these adjustments now will help cash flow match what was projected during the divorce process and save the headache later of a tax surprise.
It is important to review and discuss tax planning for the year in which a divorce was completed, especially for high earning individuals who receive incentive compensation and plan to be divorced by December 31, 2018. As part of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, many tax law changes became effective in 2018. One change was to the flat tax rate that is withheld by companies on incentive income such as bonus income, commission income, exercised stock options, and vested restricted stock. As of January 2018, the federal rate changed from 25% to 22%. The Minnesota state rate remains the same at 6.25%. Most highly compensated individuals have marginal tax rates above 22%, so tax on the above income types is under-withheld. To avoid an unpleasant tax surprise come April 15th, be sure to address this potential additional tax liability and come up with a plan to handle it. Some options to consider are:
- Estimate the tax liability now and include and allocate it as part of the property division.
- Include language to share in the tax liability when return(s) are filed next year.
- Consider whether it makes sense to load-up itemized deductions from the year to the higher earning spouse to help offset liability (i.e. real estate taxes, mortgage interest, charitable contributions).
When a joint investment account is divided, the financial institute will use only one Social Security number to report the earnings and thus only one 1099 will be issued for that account. For example, following their divorce, Dick and Jane divided their joint investment account and transferred their own share into an individual investment account solely in their own name, on November 1st. If the “primary” Social Security number on the joint account is Dick’s, he will receive one 1099 for the joint account earnings earned from January 1st– October 31st and a second 1099 for the individual account earnings earned on his individual account from November 1st – December 31st. And, Jane will receive only one 1099 for the individual account earnings earned on her individual account from November 1st – December 31st. If the goal is to share the tax liability for the joint investment account earnings, this can be accomplished in a few ways.
- The tax liability is projected during the divorce process and an adjustment is worked into the property division.
- The spouse who received the 1099 adds the investment income to their tax return and language is added to the decree outlining the agreement on how to share the tax liability at tax filing time.
- The spouse who received the 1099 can “nominee”the correct portion of investment income to the other spouse by filing a 1099 and 1096 with the IRS and furnishing a 1099 to the other spouse.
If you want a respectful, affordable and uncontested divorce without breaking the bank, you’ll want to consider a Collaborative Divorce. Do you have a reasonable level of trust and ability to work together with your spous if you have the help of professionals? Does your family makes $60,000 or less per year? If so, then you should apply for the Sliding Scale Fee Program of the Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota. One of the most frustrating topics when thinking about divorce is “How much will this cost?” Thankfully, when you come to agreements in our Sliding Scale Fee Collaborative Divorce program you will almost certainly pay a fraction of what you would pay with any other professionals charging full price for their divorce services. Collaborative Divorce saves you money. How is that? First, we apply best practices to help you make the most of the time each professional spends working on your case. We think of this as using the right tool for each step of your divorce. Each of you will have your own attorney for legal adivce and advocacy, but you will do most of your work with specialized mediators to make efficient progress. This makes the process less polarizing and more focused on finding win-win solutions that meet both spouse’s needs as best as possible under the circumstances. Since our professionals don’t have to worry about fighting in court on your case, they can focus on helping you find the best solutions. They don’t waste time drafting time-consuming, hurtful and wasteful affidavits and other documents for contested court hearings for clients who are fighting. Second, in the Collaborative Divorce Sliding Scale Fee Program each professional works at a significantly reduced hourly rate. If your family makes $60,000 or less per year, then our Sliding Fee Scale provides that each professional will help you at a significantly reduced hourly rate (often a fraction of their normal hourly rates). For example, outside of the Sliding Scale Fee program, an attorney in the Minneapolis area will typically charge around $250-$350 per hour. In our program, the highest hourly rate is only $60 per hour. Our attorneys and mediators do not go to court in this program. They are here to help you get everything done in your divorce without setting foot in a courtroom. That frees them up to provide an exceptional Collaborative Divorce process to clients. There isn’t any other program like this in Minnesota. What makes this program different? There are only a few sliding scale fee attorney programs and they only provide one attorney on a sliding scale fee. There are no other programs that provide each spouse with a sliding scale fee attorney and specialized mediators to work with the couple on financial and parenting schedule issues, all in one package. In summary, this Sliding Scale Fee program provides a team of professionals so that we can apply the right professional for each step in the uncontested divorce process. Who is this program designed for? We can help couples who have income within our sliding fee scale and who are willing to pay a reduced hourly rate. This is not a pro bono program with free attorneys. It is significantly less expensive but it is not free. Also, you will need to be willing and able to communicate with your spouse and work together with mediators to resolve your financial and parenting time issues in your divorce, with the help of your own attorneys who will be assigned as part of this program. Who will you be working with? You will be working with attorneys, mediators and other professionals who are members of the Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota who volunteer to take part in this program and accept a lower hourly rate for these cases. What’s the first step? What should I do next? The first step is for one spouse to submit a Sliding Scale Fees Intake Form (found on the Sliding Scale Fee page of our website). Then the Sliding Scale Fee Committee will reach out to you within a few days to help decide if your case is a good fit for the program and what you can do next to move the process forward.
Spousal support that lasts more than a couple years may be subject to cost of living adjustments (COLAs). This is negotiated as part of your divorce settlement. As the cost of living goes up, spousal support can increase as well, to meet its intent of maintaining the ex-spouse’s standard of living. Fortunately, the State of Minnesota’s Office on the Economic Status of Women (OESW) provides a booklet that contains a worksheet and instructions for calculating the cost of living increase for spousal support, as well as child support. The OESW’s A Guide to Child Support & Spousal Maintenance Cost-of-Living Adjustments also has template forms for notifying the paying ex-spouse of the increase and an Affidavit of Service by Mail form. Why an Affidavit of Service by Mail form? Because if the paying ex-spouse does not increase the support as requested, the affidavit is proof that they had been notified. All these forms and worksheets should also be filed with the court administrator where the decree was filed. This is a lot of paperwork, but OESW’s guide also has a checklist to make sure all of the involved parties get the correct documents. One additional piece of information needed to complete the COLA calculations is the Consumer Price Index Table. This table is also maintained and available for download at the OESW website. The index numbers on this table are used to show the increase in the cost of goods and services over time. These index numbers are used in the calculations to determine how much spousal support (and child support) should increase to keep up. The table shows over 20 years of data but, if one is being diligent about requesting increases, only the index numbers from the past couple of years should be needed. The Consumer Price Index Table contains sets of price index numbers: the CPI-U shows how much prices have increased on average for the entire United States; the CPI-U MSP shows how much prices have increased in the Twin Cities Metropolitan area. Your divorce decree will likely indicate which set of index numbers you should use. Note that while using the CPI-U MSP can most accurately reflect the increase in prices in Minnesota, this set is updated twice a year, in January and July, and it takes an additional month for the updated figure to be published. OESW’s A Guide to Child Support & Spousal Maintenance Cost-of-Living Adjustments is easy to follow and doesn’t require too many calculations. If you are not good at math or filling out forms, it is a good idea to get help from a financial professional or your family law attorney. Link to the Guide Link to the Consumer Price Index Table
When divorcing, whether one spouse stays in the family home is often a pivotal decision. For most, there are several considerations that go into deciding whether to sell or stay. The tax impact of selling the marital home is unlikely to be at the top of that list, but with home values on the rise, it is worth understanding. The current tax rules are quite favorable to people realizing a gain on the sale of their home. The IRS allows each taxpayer to avoid paying capital gains tax on the first $250,000 of capital gain on the sale of one’s residence. That means that a taxpayer filing “single” could exempt the first $250,000. A couple filing “married filing jointly” can avoid paying taxes on $500,000 in gains. The capital gains tax on a $250,000 gain can range from $0 to about $75,000 so it is worth it for divorcing couple to make sure they cover this in their divorce arrangements. To qualify for the exemption, the IRS requires that the home meet the principal residence test, which is based on ownership, use and timing. For ownership, you need to have lived in the home for at least 2 years, (24 full months) in the 5 years before the sale. These 24 months do not need to be continuous. The use criteria require that the home be your principal residence for those 24 months. This can be an issue if one spouse was employed in another city, where they kept a second residence. One spouse meets the use test, but the other does not. Finally, the timing criteria requires that you have not excluded the gain on the sale of another home in the past 2 years. Tax law gives divorcing couples some leeway in these criteria. Transfer of home ownership between divorcing spouses is not considered to be a taxable event by the IRS. If ownership is not transferred during the divorce, detailing the home ownership arrangement in the divorce decree is key to minimizing taxes when selling the home later. An ex-spouse that continues to be an owner of the home but does not live there, can still use the exclusion if there is written documentation in the decree that lays out this arrangement. Dealing with home decisions during the divorce can be a complex. Be sure that in your home decision analysis, you are clear on your tax implications! And keep in mind that cabins, vacation homes and investment real estate generally will not meet the principal residence test, so they may have tax consequences when sold. For a comprehensive review of your personal situation, always consult with a tax or legal advisor. Neither Cetera Advisor Networks LLC nor any of its representatives may give legal or tax advice.
While researching for this post, I came across a number of divorce-related blogs. The blog medium provides an efficient and concise opportunity to share information and educate the public. This blog focuses on the collaborative process — where clients commit to an out-of-court, non–adversarial process. Here are some other blogs that may provide additional information as you navigate the divorce process:
- Jeff Landers writes in Forbes Magazine about complex financial issues that women face in divorce. He is a Certified Divorce Financial Planner who has extensive experience with high asset divorces. His blog is informative and financially savvy.
- Divorced Girl Smiling is a personal blog written by a woman during – and now after her divorce. It is a personal account of her experience, as well as a gathering of resources for others who may be going through the same thing. The archived blogs provide a great path through the litigation process, and provides some insight into why a non-adversarial approach may be better.
Nearly every celebrity seems to have a divorce under their belt, but what about our local public figures – our children’s teachers, our mayors, city councilmen – how does the pubic feel about “those” public figures when they are facing divorce? About midway through the year I had noticed my daughter’s teacher’s name on Facebook (we have mutual friends) going from FIRST MARRIED to FIRST MARRIED MAIDEN, and I thought a divorce must be imminent. Admittedly my first thought was how a divorce might affect her teaching abilities for MY child. Selfish? Perhaps. Or are those type of reactions expected with public careers? Her private life is certainly none of my business, but is it easy to check your feelings at the door? Certainly not. The University of Minnesota is currently doing a study on the impact of divorce on a person’s career. Those results will be interesting to see, especially as there are careers can have a big impact on the public sector. Some may say that their divorce was the best thing that ever happened to their career. Perhaps work was a necessary distraction as their marriage crumbled at home. But on the other hand some people admit that they simply could not focus at work with their marriage on the rocks. Sometimes people can attribute their careers to actually being the CAUSE of their divorce. A husband that travels all week, a wife who tends bar on the weekends, a stay at home parent who never gets a break, and more often than not, simply the demands and stress of a person’s career can tear apart a marriage. Some careers are statistically at a higher risk for divorce, almost as if divorce is beyond their control. A few months later as school was coming to a close I noticed my daughter’s teachers name on social media is now: FIRST MAIDEN. Admittedly, my feelings changed from worrying about the affect her divorce would have on my own daughter to feeling horribly sympathetic towards her and her own children. As I leaned more I realized her husband holds a local political office and I began to wonder about the effects the divorce may have on his political career. It’s important to remember that everyone is human, divorce does not define a person, and even if you feel like your divorce is in the spotlight, remember that this too shall pass. Please share your thoughts about public divorces in the comment section below.
Determining who is best qualified to help you reach your financial goals, understanding what they can do for you, and getting clarity on how they get paid for their services may be a challenge if this is all new to you. Here are some useful tips to find the right financial professional to help guide you through your financial matters. Designations The finance industry excels at creating financial designations for every conceivable financial situation. If you are looking for a financial planning generalist who can help you with most issues, look for someone with either a CFP®, ChFC® or CFA® designation. A Certified Financial Planner® (CFP®) is the dominant designation for financial planners. The Chartered Financial Consultant® (ChFC®) designation is similar to CFP®. A Chartered Financial Analyst® (CFA®) is an expert in investment management, but has also studied the basics of financial planning. In addition to one of these designations, many financial advisors who work in the divorce area also have a CDFA™ designation (Certified Divorce Financial Analyst®). Background Check Once you find some candidates with the right credentials, do your homework and check out their website to see how much experience they have and if they indicate any specialty. You should also look into whether they have had any disciplinary issues with regulators, by performing a FINRA BrokerCheck® search. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) has a file on every advisor working with a FINRA-registered brokerage firm at www.finra.org/Investors/ToolsCalculators/BrokerCheck Initial Meeting Questions Most financial planners will be happy to sit down with you for an initial meeting at no cost or obligation. The initial meeting is your chance to learn more about the financial planner and their business, to explain your situation and learn what services the planner offers. The following are some essential questions to ask at the initial meeting. What experience do you have? The financial planner may have significant financial experience but it is the experience they have counseling individuals that really matters. What is your approach to financial planning? Ask what types of clients and financial situations the advisor typically works with. For example, a planner that specializes on working with business owners may not be the best choice if you are newly divorced and in need of budgeting help. What services do you offer? Some financial advisors may focus on helping you with your investment needs, where others will also provide comprehensive financial planning (i.e. retirement, education, estate, tax and budget planning). Many planners expect to manage your portfolio along with the other services that they offer. Financial planners may also be good resources for and work closely with tax accountants and attorneys. Do you work alone or with a team? Financial planning is often done with a team approach where several specialists will assist the lead planner. When your financial planner is in meetings, it is good to know if there is someone else in the firm who can answer your questions or take care of basic requests in a timely manner. How much do you typically charge? How do I Pay for your services? Financial planners may charge for their services in several ways. If they are only creating a plan for you, it may be a set project price or by the hour. If they are will be managing your investment portfolio on an on-going basis, they may earn a commission on the investments or a charge a fee based on the size of your portfolio. There are numerous questions that you should consider based on your own situation. Remember that you are under no obligation in this meeting. If you intend to work with this planner over the long-term, it may take more than one meeting to determine if they are the right fit for you. Whatever planner you decide to work with, make sure you know what services will be provided and how the planner will be compensated.
One of the challenges of divorce is separating income that used to be joint income, along with separating into two households versus one. This is a recipe for cash flow drain for most couples. All of the sudden the same income(s) that supported one household must now support two households. I want to share an example of how cash flow solutions can be achieved through the collaborative divorce process. Assume we have a couple struggling to make their cash flow positive which is often the case with divorce. A substantial strain on their living expenses is secondary private school tuition for two more years for their child. This amounts to approximately $15,000 for tuition the first year and another $18,000 for the second year. They are attempting to make these payments from existing income. The strain of these payments coupled with divorce has become unbearable. The parents are both determined to keep their child in this private school through the eighth grade. Additional assumptions include this couple having a small first mortgage on their home. This mortgage requires a monthly payment of approximately $1600. In our example, we would research refinance options including home equity loans. After researching options an acceptable bank loan could provide them with the flexibility needed to lower the monthly cash flow shortage from over $1300 to approximately $220. While this does not completely cover the entire cash flow shortage, it improves it significantly. The parents could draw from other savings if needed to make up this shortfall or look to further reduce some expenses. An agreement could include that each parent would pay one-half of the cost of the second year private school tuition. They both would have the flexibility to pay their share of the tuition from income sources, from savings, or some combination of the two. Structuring this part of their plan allows them to accomplish several goals. One is to keep their child in the private school for the two additional years until graduation. Secondly, it allows one spouse to stay in the home until the child enters the public school system and graduates from high school. At that time, the spouse retaining residency in the home could either buy out the other spouse’s interest in the home or the home could be sold with sale proceeds being shared between the two spouses. Not all cash flow challenges can be so easily resolved. What makes this situation work is everyone knowing what the goals are and everyone working together to help the couple find solutions that are in the best interest of the family and their children. Collaborative divorce, with the use of selected experts in their fields, can help divorcing couples navigate difficult issues with money, children, relationships, and emotions. To learn more about collaborative divorce visit www.collaborativelaw.org and be sure to check out our blog site on a variety of topics at www.collaborativedivorceoptions.com.