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11 Costly Financial Mistakes in Divorce Settlements

Divorce is expensive even without mistakes. Read on to learn of the top eleven most common financial mistakes made in divorce.     

1. Mis-Specifying Marital vs. Separate Assets

What’s considered marital property and subject to division? Most will say that any comingling of assets (e.g., depositing the funds in a joint account or using marital funds to pay the mortgage) constitutes an asset as marital. And in some states and counties, even if a portion of an asset that was separate on the date of marriage will, over the years, transition to marital. This can impact considerations of real estate, retirement, inheritances, and more.

2. Dividing Each Asset 50/50

Too often, lawyers, hearing officers, and judges take the easy way out by forcing division of each asset equally. Why? It’s easy and not easily challenged. This approach, though, fails to consider the needs and wants of each spouse, as well as the tax consequences of and administrative effort in dividing each asset.

3. Not Considering an Alimony Buyout

No one likes alimony. Payors hate writing the check and the recipient hates depending on it. Plus, if the payor dies or is disabled, the payments stop (an example of why insurance is important post-divorce). Instead, if there are sufficient assets to cover it, calculate the present value of the stream of anticipated payments at an appropriate discount rate and build it into the division of assets.

4. Errors in Valuing Executive Compensation

If there’s one financial topic that befuddles many, it’s how to treat deferred compensation, including stock options, both qualified and not qualified, as well as restricted stock and restricted stock units. Are they marital or separate? Are they based on past or future performance? Can they be transferred to a spouse/former spouse? What is the correct valuation method: intrinsic value, Black-Scholes, or the binomial method? How are taxes accounted for?

5. Not Considering the Possibility of Hidden Assets

Given the opportunity and motive, many a spouse will start stashing away funds in anticipation of a divorce, whether for financial security, sense of ownership, or vindication. Tax returns, W-2’s, credit card statements, and bank account statements are all sources to identify diverted funds. Even when not suspected by a client spouse, a quick review of these documents may reveal otherwise unidentified assets.

6. Not Looking at Creative Settlement Options to Meet Each Spouse’s Unique Needs

What if a spouse wants to keep the house for and can’t get approval for a mortgage buyout? It’s easy to just say “sell” and move on, but there are ways to facilitate the desire of a spouse who wants to remain in the home for a period without undue legal or financial burden to the co-owner spouse. As another example, maybe retirement funds are of utmost concern and alimony/cash flow not so much? A skilled divorce financial expert will come up with alternative settlement options to address the unique needs of each spouse.

7. Mistakes in Retirement/Pension Valuation and Division Orders

Retirement plans, and especially pensions, are widely misunderstood in divorce. The one who’s name is on the retirement plan thinks they are the rightful owners. Some incorrectly think the “current value” on a pension statement is the value of the pension. Pensions of all kinds, and especially military and federal pensions, require an expert for valuation and drafting of appropriate orders for submission to the custodian.

8. Failing to Consider Tax Consequences

All assets are not alike when it comes to splitting them in divorce. $250,000 in a 401k is not the same as $250,000 of equity in a house. The former is taxed at an ordinary income tax rate upon withdrawal while the latter may be largely excluded from any taxation and otherwise taxed at the capital gains rate.

9. Allowing One Spouse to Keep the House When it’s Not Financially Feasible or Beneficial

The marital home is an asset laden with emotion and sentimentality. It’s common to want to keep the house for emotional stability without consideration of the impact on future financial health. Houses don’t necessarily appreciate significantly over time, maintenance expenses are often overlooked or discounted, and a house is not a liquid asset. An objective evaluation is critical before deciding to keep or sell the marital home.

10. Not Properly Accounting for a Closely Held Business

If a spouse owns a business, is it a source of income, an asset to be valued and divided, or both? If a source of income, do we just look at the tax returns for the business? If to be valued, do you pay a business valuation expert thousands of dollars to get an accurate figure? Get the advice of a divorce financial expert is necessary if one of the spouses owns a business.

11. Not Accurately Budgeting for Your Post-Divorce Life

Do you have a good hold on where your money goes? Have you really assessed how much you will need post-divorce? Your choice in divorce settlement options needs to be balanced between short-term cash flow needs and long-term net worth.

Work with a qualified divorce financial professional, i.e., a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® (CDFA®) to help you avoid costly mistakes in divorce. You only get one chance to get it right.

Take Control of Your Future

When you consider divorce, or if you know someone who is contemplating divorce, one of the biggest realities for those in the divorce process is the financial settlement and financial analysis post-divorce. Get the assistance of Berni Stevens, a Mediator and Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® (CDFA®.)

Berni provides step-by-step guidance on matters related to divorce. With a wide range of experience and expertise related to divorce issues, Berni will simplify the process and provide much-needed clarity in areas such as long-term tax consequences, asset, and debt analysis, dividing pension plans, continued health care coverage, stock option elections, protecting support with life insurance, and much more.

Schedule Your Complimentary Divorce Strategy Session Today!

How to Win in Divorce

In our most recent blog post, we looked at whether it is possible to “win” at divorce. There are many lawyers who claim they can do just that, and they will be happy to take your hard-earned money while they fight your war for you. The reality is, in the vast majority of cases, you’ll wind up no better off than if you’d negotiated to begin with while funding your lawyer’s kids’ college education instead of your own. 

Winning might instead be viewed as getting through this divorce transition with integrity, keeping more of your own money, and maintaining your and your children’s emotional health throughout. Ideally, you’ll do this without ever stepping foot into a courthouse or even speaking to an attorney. 

So, how do you get better outcomes, at a lower cost and without judges, courts, or even lawyers? If you have minor children and marital assets, don’t attempt a do-it-yourself divorce unless you want to risk costly mistakes that cannot later be reversed. If you want an easy, affordable, and legal solution, seek a qualified divorce mediator. 

You will want to find a mediator who has the knowledge, skills, and experience to guide you and your spouse to a financially optimized settlement agreement and, if applicable, with a parenting plan that preserves the integrity of your family. A mediator with the divorce financial expertise of a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA®) is ideal. 

How, though, to address the legal piece of your divorce? You will find that legal agreements and divorce papers are straightforward in a mediated case. These can be easily facilitated by your mediator so that you never even have to work directly with an attorney to process your divorce. (It’s never a bad idea, though, to have an attorney review your agreements before they are finalized, and this can be done at a minimal cost.)

Rationally approaching your divorce, along with a dose of grace, can result in a lower-cost and faster process while addressing your financial needs and preserving your family’s emotional well-being. Now, wouldn’t you agree this would be a “win” at divorce?

5 Steps to Championing Your Divorce

Divorce is Not for Sissies” is about the realities of divorce and how it too often leads to painful and long-term emotional, financial, social, and parenting consequences. Unless you’re made of steel, pain in divorce is unavoidable. Long-term trauma can be mitigated if you assume the position of a winner or champion in your divorce. There is, of course, no true winning in divorce but there is surviving, mitigating damage, and putting you and your family on track for a better future.

Whichever end you’re on—initiator or responder—you need to decide that divorce will not define you. At the same time, it’s going to be a dominant force in your life for a bit. That bit of time may be short or quite long depending on your circumstances and how you manage the process.

So, what are the essential steps?

  1. Acknowledge that you can’t do it alone. Build your support team. Initially, it might be your best friend and sister or mother. But don’t stop there! Your best friend can’t fix this for you—they don’t have the skills or knowledge.
  2. Build your divorce team. You need emotional, psychological, financial, and “legal” help. A divorce coach, therapist, divorce financial planner, parenting coach, mediator, real estate and mortgage professional who specializes in divorce and maybe a lawyer 
  3. Stop burdening your family, friends, and children. Especially your kids, whether young or adult, don’t want to shoulder your divorce! If they are young or teens, you can create long-term damage for them. Your family and friends will be there for you, ask questions, call to check in, but they can not fix this for you and trashing your soon-to-be-ex is going to grow very old very fast.
  4. Get organized. Gather your financial statements, tax returns, trust documents, will, insurance policies, business documents and financial reports. Put them in a safe place (electronically or physically).
  5. Develop a plan. Do NOT pick up the phone and call a lawyer! You are setting yourself up for an unnecessarily miserable and expensive divorce. Call a divorce coach, a divorce financial analyst, a mediator. Make a plan to champion your divorce. It does not start with an attorney, even if eventually you need the services of a lawyer to deal with a contentious divorce.

You got this. It’s going to be hard but you can do it and you’ll be glad you took charge.

4 Things to Do BEFORE You Divorce

before you divorce

If you’re reading this, then obviously you’re thinking about ending your marriage. Before you initiate your divorce, I’m going to ask you to take a few steps to ensure the best outcome for you should you decide to move forward. This is not a decision to be taken lightly and a little preparation can go a long way.

The reality for lots of couples that have invested in each other for many years is that if you’re going to end the relationship, you now have to stop thinking emotionally and start thinking financially.

#1 Evaluate What You Really Know About Your Finances

If your answer is anything but “Oh, I handle all our finances, I know exactly where we are,” then you have work to do. If you have been out of touch with your family finances for more than five years, don’t even try to get caught up. Get yourself to a CDFA® (Certified Divorce Financial Analyst) ASAP! You can find one in your area by going to the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts. Do this BEFORE you tell your spouse you want a divorce. Your CDFA® will help you do a little digging to get some information before the information mysteriously disappears. They’ll also help you see what your financial life after divorce might look like.

#2 Gather Documents Before your Divorce Starts

This is the one thing you can do to save yourself a ton of money in the divorce process. Anything you can gather before you meet with either an attorney, a mediator, or a CDFA® will reduce the amount you ultimately have to spend out-of-pocket. Here a quick list of must-have documents.

  • 3 years of tax returns
  • 6 months of bank statements on all accounts
  • 6 months of statements on each of your marital and separate investment accounts including 401k, deferred
  • compensation, ESPP, ESOP, 403b, 529, IRA, etc. If you are baffled by those different account types or you’re not
  • even sure if your spouse has a retirement plan, get to a CDFA® now!
  • Most recent 4 paystubs
  • Most recent mortgage statement on any properties owned
  • Copies of all insurance policies and annuities (the policies themselves as well as statements)
  • VIN numbers and mileage on vehicles owned
  • Most recent statements on debts, credit cards, car loans, etc.
  • Details of any business interests, e.g. S Corps, LLC’s, and partnerships

#3 Get Organized

Once you’ve gathered all the data, find a way to keep it all organized. Some people create a 3-ring binder with tables for each section, others put all their documents in a protected electronic environment like Dropbox, iCloud, or Google Drive. This is best when you need quick and easy access in a mobile format. Again, this will save you a lot of money down the road.

#4 Research Alternative Divorce Processes

There are several ways to get a divorce, each with its own pros and cons. Which method you choose will be largely dictated by the relationship between you and your spouse. If you are afraid for your or your children’s safety for any reason at all of it your spouse is denying you access to enough cash to survive, get a lawyer.

If you believe you and your spouse will be able to rationally discuss and negotiate the details of your divorce and be fair and honest, you might consider a do-it-yourself divorce or use an internet service to guide you. Beware: just because you and your spouse are getting along today doesn’t mean it will always be this way.

Your county’s divorce website will most likely give you an overview of the process and forms you’ll need if you going the DIY approach. There are lots of cheap internet services, too, that can produce divorce forms for your jurisdiction, but not all counties accept their forms as-is. These cheaper alternatives may seem attractive upfront but the money it may take to correct any mistakes you make along the way could cost you thousands of dollars.

If your financial situation is a bit more complex, e.g., there’s a pension involved or one party is self-employed, or the idea
of DIY frightens you, then you should consider using a CDFA® as a financial neutral as part of a collaborative team
or as a mediator to help you craft a fair settlement. Your CDFA® may also be able to get your legal documents
prepared for you, too. When couples go this route, they are more likely to remain friends—it’s a respectful, honest way
to go through the process and saves both parties significant money by not having to pay expensive lawyers.

As a last resort, if one or both parties can’t manage to cooperate at any level and seem determined to go to war, then hiring attorneys may be your only option. Unfortunately, you’ll need to say goodbye to about $15,000 per spouse, at a minimum. A little preparation before you move forward with a divorce can go a long way towards reducing the cost of your divorce and creating a fair settlement. Wishing you a gentle divorce and a bright future!

The divorce process can be scary and overwhelming. Starting with a plan and professionals that you trust to guide you through the process can be key in making sure you’re ready for your future. If you’re thinking about divorce schedule your complimentary divorce strategy session where we’ll explore your options and connect you with any resources you might need.

I Want a Divorce…Now What?

It’s no secret that over 50% of marriages end in divorce, even more if you’re in your 2nd or 3rd marriage. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing depends on your perspective. I’m a believer that life is short and everyone is entitled to their happiness. My guess is that if you’re not happy in your marriage, your spouse isn’t either.

If you’re thinking about ending your marriage there a few steps you need to take before you initiate your divorce. These will help to ensure the best outcome for you should you decide to move forward. This is not a decision to be taken lightly and a little preparation can go a long way. The reality is that you now have to stop thinking emotionally and start thinking financially.

#1 Get Real and Start Planning

Divorce may be the toughest this you’ll ever do. Believe me, I know. Right now all you may be thinking about is how miserable you are and that you have to get out. Before you pull the plug though, take a deep breath. Then start planning so that you (and your children) have the best foundation for a happier future.

Start by assessing your current lifestyle and what you’d be able to afford on your own. What’s your current budget and spending? How much will it cost you to live on your own? How much more will you need to get by? Will this come from child support, alimony, a new job? If child support or alimony, best get some help figuring out how much that will be. If you need a new job, will that require more schooling or training? Do you want to keep the marital home? If so, can you refinance it in order to keep it? Can you really afford it? Too often this is an overly emotional decision. Will the kids really be happier in their current house if you’re struggling to pay the mortgage and utility bills?

Finally, what do you want your life to look like in five, ten, twenty years? What other situations in your life have you encountered where you had to call on your best qualities to succeed? Which qualities will you need now to get you where you want to go? How will you define a “successful divorce”? How will you take care of yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually over the next difficult months to ensure that success?

# 2 Get Divorce Support

Now that you’ve taken stock and assessed what you’ll need. What kind of support will you need? A good therapist for emotional strength? A Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA®) or a CDFA®-Mediator to help you plan financially and for what a realistic settlement will look like? A divorce coach to help with all the decisions you’ll need to make along the way? A lawyer if you think litigation is inevitable?

A piece of advice, your first phone call should not be a lawyer! Assess your alternatives and ask for support where applicable but don’t assume you’ll need a lawyer for your divorce.

#3 Protect Yourself Financially

You will need to prepare for divorce and set some things up financially before your spouse is aware that you want a divorce or has reason to make life difficult for you. Start by opening your own checking and savings accounts and make sure there’s enough in them to get you by for two or three months. Get your credit report and start monitoring it periodically. Apply for a credit card or two in your own name. Last, consider you will, as well as beneficiaries on investment accounts and insurance policies. You should make appropriate chances in case something happens to you.

The divorce process can be scary and overwhelming. Starting with a plan and professionals that you trust to guide you through the process can be key in making sure you’re ready for you future. If you’re thinking about divorce schedule your complimentary divorce strategy session where we’ll explore your options and connect you with any resources you might need.