Sure it’s an emotional time. Your marriage is coming to an end whether you initiated it or not. Many couples start out amicably and want to handle the divorce “fairly”. As time goes on, divorce may bring out the worst in someone. The horror stories you hear about women getting ripped off become very real when you are personally put in that place. Most importantly, remember that whatever happens during the divorce will impact you the rest of your life. It is a serious financial challenge that will determine your future success or failure.
1. Keeping the home
Often in a divorce settlement, women want to keep their family home. It minimizes the trauma of a move, especially if there are children involved. It seems like a great idea because it transitions the family instead of displacing the family. The husband, in return, receives all the liquid assets such as investments and cash. Liquidity is the ease of turning an asset into cash. Many attorneys will see the distribution as 50-50%. All too often, women realize 2 or 3 years later they cannot afford the property tax and maintenance and are forced to sell. Considering the cost of selling a home and the tax consequences, the value may be significantly less than the liquid assets the husband received. Parting with the house may be emotionally difficult but should be considered. A house is just brick and mortar, a home is where the heart it. Ask yourself, is the house truly an asset or an anchor?
2. Not all assets are created equal
Certain assets have tax advantages over others. For example, $50,000 cash and $50,000 IRA are not equal. After taxes and penalties, the IRA value may be as little as 25,500 to $37,500 depending on your tax bracket. It is not uncommon to “feel the inequity” of the settlement years later after the divorce. Reality sets in when the woman needs a new car or a big repair on the house. The cash is tied up in retirement or illiquid assets. Meanwhile, the ex-husband’s accounts continue to grow. Other assets may be subject to long term capital gains tax of 15% to 20%. Stock options are subject to ordinary income tax. After tax, $150,000 of stock options may only be worth $90,000.
3. Failure to identify Hidden assets
Divorce is a “premeditated” process by the individual who starts the process. That individual has the time and knowledge that leads to hiding assets, removing items from the family home and a variety of illegal activities. Often the emotion “greed” takes over in an effort to protect what they feel is “their money”. Unfortunately, this prevents a fair settlement. There are professional forensic accountants that will be able to assist in this area. Please seek their help as soon as you suspect any unusual activity in bank accounts, brokerage accounts, new accounts opened with custodial responsibility or any unusual behavior. Take note that “old cars” may have collector value and if that old car suddenly disappears, it may be of value that is being hidden from you.
4. Assuming Alimony is Secure
After the divorce, women may feel beholden to their ex-husband because they rely on the alimony. Unlike child support that is enforceable through garnishment of wages, you are relying only on your ex to make alimony payments. If he does not make payments, you’re back in court to try to enforce it. In addition, alimony or spousal maintenance to the recipient is taxable as ordinary income. Assuming you receive $50,000 in alimony, your net after a 28% federal tax bracket is only $36,000. Given some flexibility in choosing assets, it might serve you better to swap out other assets in favor of highly taxable income like alimony.
5. Unaware of Back Taxes Due
Beware if your husband has not paid taxes or even filed. The IRS does not care who was responsible, only who will pay the bill. You may be stuck with paying a portion or all of it. The IRS can hold you responsible for up to 3 years after a divorce and may also question joint returns for seven years. It would behoove you to contact IRS, check County Property Tax records and consult with a tax consultant.
The divorce decree should also state how the last return will be filed. Married, filing jointly may save considerable taxes for both parties. The following year after the divorce, you will file single or if you qualify, head of household.
6. Not Understanding Retirement Accounts and Penalties
Often women receive the majority of their settlement in the form of equity in their family home or in retirement accounts. When one spouse receives the assets from the other’s retirement account, a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) is used to transfer ownership. The QDRO eliminates any penalties and taxes. Without a QDRO, withdrawals are considered distributions and are subject to ordinary income tax, penalties and possibly a mandatory 20% tax withholding. If you receive retirement assets as a check, you must deposit the money into an IRA within 60 days to avoid being considered a taxable distribution.
7. Not Evaluating Debt and Credit Scores
Many women are surprised to find new accounts in their credit reports when they are reviewing their “pre-divorce” credit. There are a lot of surprises that pop up during the months between when the divorce papers are served and when the divorce becomes final. Understand that any joint credit remains your “joint” responsibility. If your ex is required to zero balance a credit card and doesn’t, a creditor may come after you for payment. The IRS can also hold you responsible for up to 3 years after a divorce and may also question joint returns for seven years. Ideally, the divorce decree will have a paragraph that describes the actions that will take effect should one party not do what was expected relative to payment of debt. Remember also, that your credit scores will change when you become single.
8. Not Maintaining Insurance Policy Records
You are promised child support and/or alimony. What will happen if your ex dies? Most of the time, the divorce decree will require a life insurance policy to cover the value of child support, alimony and other needs such as college tuition. It is critical that you are either the owner or the irrevocable beneficiary of the policy. If you are not the owner, request duplicate copies of statements and correspondence. Your “ex” could easily stop premium payments or change the beneficiary and you would never know about it until it’s too late. Take responsibility for your future financial stability and cover your bases by putting the correct processes in place.
9. Avoiding Discussion on College Tuition
Many couples save for college educations for their children. Remember that most women will have less income to make contributions after the divorce.
10. Divorcing Shortly Before Your 10th Wedding Anniversary
This can be a very expensive mistake to make regarding your Social Security Benefits. A divorced woman will be eligible for divorce spousal benefits based on her ex-spouse’s work record if the marriage lasted at least 10 years. Divorcing before that 10 year anniversary may cost you lost benefits as much as $100,000 or more over your lifetime. If possible, defer the divorce settlement until after your 10th wedding anniversary.
This is a very sad topic to read. I understand that sometimes divorce is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to be. If you are reading this article, it is likely that you or someone that you know is not happy. Having been in that situation myself, I know, first-hand the overall cost to your emotional, physical, financial, and relational health with extended family and friends. This comment is to encourage you to think of an alternative to divorce. I am Clinical Behavior Coach and I have a 100% success rate in working with couples who are at this point in their marriage. I urge you to check out my LinkedIn profile, website, or find me on Facebook and contact me for a consultation. Instead of spending hundreds of dollars in legal fees, costly attorneys, and emotional heartache, reach out to me so that you’re fully informed of all your options. I have extensive experience with the courts and will help you navigate that process intelligently. I am so confident in my services that I will help you pay for your divorce if you are not able to keep your family together.
Absolutely agree…divorce is not always the answer. I commend Kate wholeheartedly for rebuilding marriages. In my case, I divorced and didn’t have a choice since my loving husband of 25 years was loving another woman. He married her 25 days after leaving our family home when the divorce was final.
Women come to us when they are overwhelmed with the financial turmoil associated with the splitting of assets in divorce. A recent client came to us to “see” what her financial status would be after a divorce and decided to make the marriage work. We advise on what assets will allow the woman liquidity and make sure that her 50% is not all of the “heavily taxed” assets.
I believe we both agree that divorce is devastating. Be knowledgeable about your finances and make good choices. In the situation where divorce is “inevitable” you don’t have to struggle through it alone. There are very strong and smart women who can help you through the maze. You don’t have to do this alone.
Sue, I am definitely with you on encouraging women to seek help in sorting through the maze of divorce uncertainty and that you are providing a service of protecting assets.
In those cases that divorce is “inevitable,” I provide a “Post Divorce Recovery” program to help the family adjust to living separately but working together. My goal is to guide the family to reach a consensus on what is in the best interest for the child(ren). Building conflict-resolution, problem-solving and healthy communication skills within the family unit, I aim to empower each individual in the family (children included) to have a voice and to be heard. My coaching approach builds rapport within the family team and transpires into collaboration and brainstorming creative ideas to create unique “family parenting plans.” In the cases that there is intense high conflict, I use an Enhanced Educational Mediation technique and/or Intensive Co-parenting Facilitation techniques to help the family navigate emotional distress barriers and parenting differences to see a “bigger picture” perspective for long-term success and healthy family functioning. I offer programming to benefit the family and to hopefully mitigate the unethical lawyers out there that keep their clients in continual litigation until there is nothing left to liquidate.
Case in point, and I’ll bet you see this a lot, a client of mine (who was passive and trusting – did not question the other spouses motives and outright obvious behaviors of stealing money from the marital estate and having multiple affairs for years.) Being completely blindsided by being served without warning, (by a vicious attorney who used the legal system to drain the marital estate through continual litigation,) my client, under duress, made poor decisions from the very beginning that affected the entire 2 1/2 year litigation that emotionally and financially devastated (retirement and investments were liquidated) a well-thought out savings plan and retirement package that would support a lifestyle that was hard-earned.
Unfortunately, the emotional pain and confusion, the dwindling retirement assets and utter betrayal of being used and disposed of so viciously by the other spouse left my client unable to make strategic decisions in order to protect the best interest of the child from the very beginning. This set a precedent that would not be heard or overturned in a courtroom because there was no money left for a final trial. In the end, the emotional and economic abuse caused my client to lose primary custody of the child (and this person was a stay-at-home parent from birth.)
As a result, sleep-deprivation, poor nutrition, and circumstantial depression led to bitter rage and emotional flooding. At every “visit,” my client would be triggered by the child’s reports of being so “happy” and having “a great time” at the other parents house. (Which was being subsidized by a huge child support payment.) Unfortunately, this kind of story is common in the family court system and the children are used as pawns from all the confusion and litigation nonsense.
Currently, through my Post Divorce Recovery Program, this client has been able to overcome severe depression and is beginning to have clarity and peace of mind. Through coaching, my client has increased self-awareness of destructive behaviors and is now able to identify triggers and controlling abusive manipulation and economic bullying by the other parent. Each day, my client is recovering from a life of emotional and verbal abuse that created the passive walking-on-eggsehells mentality that went on for 17 years and looking forward to finding a “loving” relationship that is abuse-free.
I am very sorry to hear that your “loving” husband was “loving” on some other woman. I am sure that you realize that you’re so much better off without a cheating liar. In my programs, “Unhappy together,” and I begin the “investigation phase” prior to the initial consultation to uncover “hidden truths” that are being kept from the vulnerable and trusting spouse and help them to decide for themselves if their marriage is salvageable. Perhaps, in the future, you will refer me to clients that you feel, in your opinion, would glean benefit to my coaching services. http://www.tldeducationcenter.org