What Virginia Divorce Courts Consider When Dividing Property & Debt

October 13, 2012

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In Virginia, the courts are required to consider very specific statutory criteria when dividing property and debt pursuant to a divorce.  Like most states (all on the east coast), Virginia is in equitable distribution state.  That means that courts must make decisions on how to divide property and debt based on what the judge feels is “fair” (equitable) . . . and  “fair” does not, necessarily, mean “equal”. In mediation, we consider the very same set of criteria, with emphasis on those areas that our clients feel are most important to their case.  This list is straight from the Virginia Code, Annotated §20-107.

  1. The contributions, monetary and nonmonetary, of each party to the well-being of the family;
  2. The contributions, monetary and nonmonetary, of each party in the acquisition and care and maintenance of the marital property of the parties;
  3.  The duration of the marriage;
  4. The ages and physical and mental condition of the parties;
  5. The circumstances and factors which contributed to the dissolution of the marriage
  6. The time period and circumstances of when and how specific items of property were acquired;
  7. The debts and liabilities of each spouse, the basis for such debts and liabilities, and the property which may serve as security for such debts and liabilities;
  8. The liquid or non-liquid character of all marital property;
  9. The tax consequences to each party under differing distribution options;
  10. The use or expenditure of marital property, by either of the parties, for a non marital separate purpose or the dissipation of such funds, when such was done in anticipation of divorce or separation or after the last separation of the parties; and
  11. Such other factors as the parties deemed necessary and appropriate to consider in order to arrive at a fair and equitable distribution of their marital property and debt.

This blog and its materials have been prepared by Graine Mediation for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal advice.  This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.  Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.

 


In a Bind? A Few Ways to Get Money from an IRA Penalty-Free

December 12, 2011

Lost your job?  Unexpected HIGH expense?  Unless you have a good nest egg put away for a rainy day, you might be scrambling for funds to cover unexpected expenses, and your IRA might be a place to look for that needed cash.

Are you aware that funds withdrawn from an IRA are taxable, and if you are under 59-1/2, you will pay a federal penalty of 10% and possibly a state penalty too?

Withdrawing funds early from your IRA will affect your standard of living when you retire.  We hope that you never have to do that, but if you do, here are a few ways to beat the early-withdrawal penalty.  (Of course, you still need to deal with the IRS and income taxes – no way to get around that)

·       Annuitize: Under IRC Sec. 72(t) you can avoid penalties by taking a series of substantially equal periodic payments until you are 59-1/2 (but not less than five years). To estimate how much you can withdraw each year, use the 72(t) calculator at Bankrate.com (See:: http://www.bankrate.com/calculators/retirement/72-t-distribution-calculator.aspx

·      Buy a Home:  If you have been renting, had alternative living arrangements, and have not owned a home for at least two years, you can withdraw up to $10,000 to buy a house in your name or in the name of a spouse, child or grandchild.

·      Pay for Education: You can go back to school, or withdraw funds for college tuition and related expenses (books, materials, fees) for your spouse, children or grandchildren.  Be aware that certain income limits apply.

·      Cover Medical Expenses: If your medical expenses (for you, your spouse or dependant) exceeds 75% of your income, you can withdraw from your IRA penalty-free.

·      Pay Medical Insurance Premiums: If you have been unemployed for at least twelve (12) weeks, and receive unemployment compensation, you are eligible to withdraw funds to pay for your medical insurance premiums.

·      Pay Back Taxes to the IRS:  If the IRS has placed a levy against your IRA, you can withdraw funds to pay the back taxes.

·      Disability: If you are “totally and permanently disabled” by IRS definition, you can take distributions from your IRA without penalty.

·      Death: Did you know that when you die, your beneficiaries must begin taking distributions from your IRA, and there will be no penalty to them.

This blog is written based on my observations and experience.  I am and not a CPA, tax planner or tax attorney.  I am a mediator and former family law attorney. All data and information provided on this site is for informational purposes only. wpthemesplugin.com makes no representations as to accuracy, completeness, currentness, suitability, or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use. All information is provided on an as-is basis.



Divorce & Taxes Series: Part 3

September 16, 2011

Tax Snippet #6 – Alimony (Spousal Support) has a Big Tax Affect; Child Support is a Wash.  It’s boon and bust with alimony.  Alimony is a boon to the payor, because it is deducted right off the front page of his/her 1040, thereby decreasing his/her Adjusted Gross Income (taxable income) by the amount of the alimony paid.3 Of course, that means that the receiver of alimony gets taxed on the money received, just as if it were ordinary income (like a salary).

In contrast, child support has no tax affect.  It is not considered income to the recipient or a write-off for the payor.  Instead, the IRS views the payment of child support simply as money spent for the support of one’s children – money that would have been spent on the kids whether or not there had been a divorce.  Therefore, the payor does not get to take a deduction for child support (like he/she would have for alimony) since it is usual and ordinary for parents to support their children with post-tax dollars from their employment with little opportunity for write-offs, etc.  Similarly, the recipient of child support does not have to categorize child support as income, for tax purposes, because child support is supposed to be used, as directly as possible, for the support of the kids and, of course, that money was already taxed at the payor’s end.

How does this matter to parents in the middle of a divorce situation?  My experience is that it matters a great deal – or, perhaps, should matter a great deal — to many people.  It can mean big dollars for some divorcing couples and is an excellent tool in the divorce settlement negotiator’s toolbox.  Determining how to divvy-up support between the child and spousal support sides of the ledger can add civility to financial settlement negotiations.  Why is that?  Because a positive tax benefit to one parent does not necessarily create a negative tax burden to the other.  It’s just does not always work that way.  Do the math with your accountant, bring it to the table, and you may be able to allow both parents to walk away with something good in the deal.

The Tax benefits to the payor of spousal support may turn a spouse, who is otherwise emotionally resistant to the concept of alimony, into a willing participant.  Many people do not like paying alimony.  It rubs them the wrong way.  A little massage by Uncle Sam, though, can turn that frown into a smile.

With all this negotiating over tax bennies and smacks, is the IRS standing by idly and waiting for your numbers to come in.  Of course, not.  Where there is play in the tax code, there is the taxman overseeing the game.  Be aware that questions bearing on whether dollars sent from one household to the other, post-divorce, are actually “alimony” or “child support”, are usually answered with the IRS’s default: “Child Support”.

As long as a legal amount of child support is clearly being awarded in a divorce case (in Virginia and most other states there are statutory guidelines that must be met), the characterization of support as “alimony” or “child support” is often negotiated in divorce settlement talks.  Be aware, however, as the IRS may not always agree with your and your ex-spouses characterization of support as “alimony” or “child support” regardless of how fair the two of you think the deal is.  And, they are the boss when it comes to taxes.  See Tax Snippet #7, below and, of course, your CPA, if there any questions on this slippery area of divorce tax.

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3A deduction is an exact dollar amount by which your gross income (income that is taxable) is reduced.  In other words, deductions lower the final amount of income that Uncle Sam can tax.  After subtracting deductions from gross salary (page 1 of your Federal Tax Return – Form 1040), the dollar amount remaining is referred to as your Adjusted Gross Income. (Other deductions include IRA deductions, certain educator expenses, health savings account contributions, student loan interest, moving expenses, and a few others.) Deductions are not the same as credits.  Credits are taken off the top of what you would have owed to the IRS if you did not have the credits.  Credits do not lower your taxable incomes.  Instead, they lower the actual tax bill owed to Uncle Sam. (Page 2 of your 1040) The IRS allows, as credits, certain child and dependent care expenses, the child tax credit, residential energy credits, and a few others.)  To further confuse you, the Fed’s also have one more deduction that has a different name: Exemptions.  Exemptions (page 1 & 2 of your 1040) include the tax breaks you receive for: (a)  just being a human being and; (b) for the other human beings who are your dependents (children, dependent relatives).

*  *  *  *  *  *

Tax Snippet #7 – Don’t Mess with the IRS when it comes to Labeling Support as “Child Support” or “Alimony”.  Many parents feel that the minimum guidelines for child support in their state could not possibly meet their child’s needs, but the tax affect of child support (being a wash) does not sit well with the payor.  In these cases, divorcing couples often negotiate a division in the characterization of support into both camps: The Minimum Statutory Guidelines Amount = Child Support; The rest of the Support Money = Spousal Support.  This can often work well, financially, for divorced parents.  Beware, however, that the IRS does not always go along with parents’ tax planning decisions.

In particular, divorcing parents need to be careful where a big change in the amount of alimony is automatically triggered around the time (within 6 months) of a major event in a child’s life (such as graduation from high school).  In those cases, the IRS may very well re-characterize those alimony payments as child support and come looking for the payor to pony up.  Remember: Don’t mess with the IRS.  See your CPA and your divorce attorney.

These Tax Snippets are written based on my observations and experience.  I am and not a CPA, tax planner or tax attorney.  I am a mediator and former family law attorney. These are, however,  some of the key issues that I see over and over again with my clients.  This series of articles is intended to help you “get your feet wet” in this mucky area of divorce.  If you think any of these issues might affect you, see your tax professional for up-to-the-minute and personally-tailored tax advice.


Divorce & Taxes Series: Part 2

September 11, 2011

Tax Snippet #3 – The Exemption for a Dependent – Who Gets to Keep It? The IRS will, in most circumstances, dub the person with whom the child lives the majority of the time as “The Custodial Parent”.  This is true unless your settlement agreement and/or divorce decree clearly states otherwise, e.g. one parent is officially named the “primary custodian”.2 Why is it important, for tax purposes, which parent the IRS views as the “custodial parent”?  Because, the custodial parent, by default, gets to keep the child exemption for a dependent child – a good savings for most people.

What happens if your settlement agreement/divorce decree states that custody be “shared equally” by the parents?  Confusion and trouble, if you don’t make some decisions.  To help in these situations, the IRS has implemented default criteria to determine who, in fact, is the “custodial parent”.  The IRS looks at whether:

  • Your child is under age 19 at the end of the year (or under age 24 at the end of the year if a full-time student);
  • Your child has lived with you for more than half the year;
    and
  • Your child has provided less than half of his/her support for the year.

The trouble comes when two taxpayers meet all of the criteria above and their settlement agreement/divorce decree is silent as to which parent gets the dependency deduction.  What to do?  The IRS has made a tiebreaker for these circumstances:

  • The custodial parent is the one with whom the child spent the most number of nights in the tax year in question.

But, what if the parents truly shared time with their child (ren) on a 50-50% basis?

  • The IRS will grant custodial parent status on the parent who has the highest adjusted gross income.

Is the dependent child deduction “bargainable”?  Yes.  Some people trade off the exemption (every other year), some split up the children (e.g., dad takes the boy, mom takes the girl), some negotiate the deduction in exchange for something else of value, and some couples (smart ones) go to an accountant to see what the true benefit would be to each of them before making proposals and engaging in negotiations regarding the dependent child exemption.

As of this writing, the IRS requires the custodial parent to complete and sign IRS Form 8332 and have it attached to their and the other parent’s tax return if the primary custodian is giving away her/his right to the deduction.  (This has not always been the case and you should check on the rules each and every year that you file your taxes to see what the IRS has cooked up on this one.

__________________________

2Of course, if your child’s living situation directly contradicts your divorce paperwork, this can create lots of problems and you may want to consider renegotiating your written parenting arrangements sooner rather than later.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Tax Snippet #4 – Head of Household.  Somewhere in between “married”, “married filing separately” and “single” is the divorced taxpayers’ best friend: “head of household” status.  What is that?  Filing as “head of household” usually nets you:

  • A lower tax rate than if you claim a filing status of single or married filing separately;
  • Allows more liberal income limits before the IRS puts a damper on your child tax credit (same for retirement account contributions);
  • You may be able, if you are still married, to claim certain credits (such as the dependent care credit and the earned income credit) that you cannot claim if your filing status is married filing separately;
    and
  • It increases the income limits that reduce your child tax credits.

You must meet the following criteria to be eligible to file as “head of household”:

  • You file a separate return (if you are still married);
  • Your spouse did not live in your home during the last 6 months of the year (whether or not you are yet divorced);
  • You paid over half the cost of keeping up your main residence;
  • You qualify to claim your children as dependents (whether or not you have kept or given away the dependency deduction to the other parent); and
  • Your home was the main home of your child for more than half the year.

These Tax Snippets are written based on my observations and experience.  I am and not a CPA, tax planner or tax attorney.  I am a mediator and former family law attorney. These are, however,  some of the key issues that I see over and over again with my clients.  This series of articles is intended to help you “get your feet wet” in this mucky area of divorce.  If you think any of these issues might affect you, see your tax professional for up-to-the-minute and personally-tailored tax advice. 


Interview with Fairfax County Guidance Counselor: Patterns Seen in Children of Divorce

September 2, 2011

Divorce affects the entire family, not just the two separating parents.  Just ask Kathy Wilds, a Fairfax County, Virginia Guidance Counselor for over 25 years.  She has seen, first hand, how divorcing parents’ behaviors affect their children. Ms. Wilds has observed that many children of these parents exhibit similar patterns: “First comes sadness, then anger.  Finally, resignation is reached.”  Divorce doesn’t have to end in despair, however.  Be aware of where your are children are in the process and be patient with them. Encourage them to talk and do everything you can to make them feel safe and loved.

Ms. Wild’s has some advice for divorcing parents: Do your best to never involve the children in ways that “put the wrong idea in their minds; it could make the children feel resentment toward the other parent, or cause feelings of guilt.  This does not help the children move forward.” Don’t make disparaging remarks about the child’s other parent and do what you can to nurture the child’s parent-child relationship with both parents.

Ms. Wilds makes a point to emphasize that “children are resilient.  The younger they are when the divorce happens, the better adjusted they are.”

Ms. Wilds (who I have observed to be a very good mother) also recommends that you “call your child every day just to say hello or goodnight.  It is important that the children feel safe.”  Giving children structure and schedules, as much as possible, helps ensure their feelings of security.  Act civilized around your soon-to-be-ex, but not corporate.  Overly business-like behavior confuses children and does not ease the pain of divorce.   Ms. Wilds also advocates that parents ease their children into counseling groups that deal with “changing families”. This helps the children learn “that they are not the only family going through divorce, and they can see that it is not their fault.”

Key warning signs that your child is not doing well in a divorce situation and needs more help include: “crying in school, anger towards self or others, and not obeying a parent at home.”

If your child is going through a tough family situation, like a divorce, let the school know.  Your child’s counselor may be able to help.


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