Divorce Rates at Lowest Level; but So Are Marriages

December 8, 2015

Though it may seem that everyone you know is getting a divorce, the divorce rate has actually declined by 23% since 1970!scissors

This is according to a new report published by the National Center for Family and Marriage Research Family Profile (NCFMR), Divorce Rate in the U.S.: Geographic Variation, 2014 (FP-15-18), issued by Bowling Green State University in Ohio. After peaking in 1979 (22.8 divorces per 1,000 married women), the divorce rate declined until 2000 when it began to rise again. The divorce rate fluctuated between 2005 and 2010, but since 2010, it dropped steadily. In 2014, 17.6 women divorced per 1,000 married women – a 23% drop since 1970. (Data is based on statistics from 1970-2000, National Center for Health Statistics; 2008-2014, U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 1-yr est.) http://www.bgsu.edu/ncfmr/resources/data/family-profiles/eickmeyer-divorce-rate-us-geo-2014-fp-15-18.html

Married couples do not get along better than they used to . . . couples simply skip the marriage step and head right to parenthood.

If there is no marriage, of course, there does not need to be a divorce. When asked about the declining divorce rate, Wendy D. Manning, co-director of the NCFMR, clarified that “I think it is important to consider that the marriage rate is also declining so there are fewer men and women marrying.” https://www.bgsu.edu/ncfmr.html

However, just because a mom and dad do not get married, does not mean that they do not have a relationship, live together, parent together and, from the child’s perspective, enjoy a family life together just like their married counterparts.

“Living together” can have devastating financial consequences to families when mom and dad break up.

From my perspective as a family mediator, parental break-ups – without the “benefit” of divorce —  mean that the children born of those relationships will suffer through the same repercussions as do children whose divorcing parents were married – but without many of the financial protections that are built into the divorce process.  

Often times, parents have spent many years building a life together.  However, unless they are married, there will be very little financial protection for the economic life that they built as a couple.  If both parents are working and make a good living, this is not always the end of the world. But, in those cases where the mom or dad is a stay-at-home parent, such a break-up can be financially devastating to that parent and child.

What is stopping couples from getting married today?

From everything that I have seen over the 14 years that I have worked with countless families in my practice as a divorce mediator, divorce lawyer and family court hearing officer, unless both parties have at least a bachelor’s degree and some money in the bank—or at least access to money—couples are often choosing to not get married in the first place. The traditional “family order” is being reversed at an increasing rate: Kids are being born first; mom and dad may or may not decide to get married in the future; and mom and dad may or may not live together, without tying the knot.  This has become the norm.

Top 3 Reasons Couples Hold Off the Wedding Plans:

  1. Couples are waiting to have enough money in the bank to have their “dream ceremony.”
  2. Couples are waiting until at least one of them has his or her career on track.
  3. Couples have lived through their own parents’ awful divorce—and it scared them to death.

Are miserable married couples staying together in greater numbers than they used to?

Though the statistics are not completely clear, it seems that couples are trying harder to stay together.  In my mediation practice, the vast majority of clients have done of everything in their power to stay together before they make the decision to divorce.

Top 3 Reasons Couples Avoid Divorce:

  1. These days, many married people have already been through a divorce – their parents’ divorce. They do not want to repeat the pain.
  2. Married couples with children (as opposed to parents who are not married) tend have higher levels of education, higher incomes, are older when they have children, and might just be better prepared to weather the storms of marriage and kids.
  3. Divorce is very expensive.

It is not only expensive to get divorced, but it is incredibly costly to maintain two independent households on less money than the couple originally had when they were maintaining only one.   Most couples know this and, for the most part, would rather see their hard earned money and savings be used for their children and building a new life for themselves, rather than disappearing into the pockets of their divorce lawyers.

If divorce is impossible to avoid, settling with a mediator is a much less expensive and emotionally damaging experience than litigating with a divorce lawyer.  Mediation is also an excellent settlement choice for unmarried parents who are working on custody and child support issues.  

Posted by Robin Graine, JD, Virginia Supreme Court Certified Mediator

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.


Just the Facts: Spousal Support in a Virginia Divorce

April 29, 2014

alimony-spousal-support“Alimony” and “Spousal Support” are the same thing. In Virginia, alimony is called “spousal support”. Also, alimony is sometimes referred to as maintenance. To the IRS, though, it’s all the same: “Alimony”.

Spousal Support is not guaranteed in Virginia. In Virginia, Spousal Support is neither presumed to be appropriate in any particular type of divorce case nor is it presumed unnecessary in any particular type of case in divorce case. Spousal Support is awarded on a case-by-case basis (both in the courts and in mediation).

Spousal Support is often awarded to SAHM’s (stay at home mothers), spouses who have a much lower income than the other spouse, spouses who have the potential to be financially independent (but need help getting there), and spouses who remain in an expensive-to-maintain family residence (usually for the sake of the children). Spousal support that is temporary, and designed to financially assist the receiving spouse while she (or he) prepares for employment, is referred to as “Rehabilitative Support”.

Need-Based Calculations versus Formula-Based (Pendente Lite) Calculations. In Virginia, the divorce courts utilize specialized calculations, called pendent lite spousal support calculations. This formula, originally intended to be a temporary calculation used for emergency situations, but now used often by the courts, lawyers and mediators when trying to determine a “fair” amount of spousal support, holds a lot of clout in the courthouse (Fairfax, especially). If your case looks like an alimony case, it is usually recommended that you run the pendente lite calculation to see what the “risk” is to the payer, and what the possible monthly award will be to the recipient.

To determine a more “real life” amount of necessary spousal support, a basic need-based approach is also helpful. Need-based calculations require both spouses to list their expenses (and projected expenses). These expenses are then compared to the net income available to support two households (which also includes the child support to be paid).

Often times, there will be a shortfall in both parties’ ability to pay their expenses. With budgeting adjustments, creativity and planning – alimony often being a chief player in the mix – Graine Mediation is able to help couples settle most cases despite the financial hurdles involved.

What are the tax effects of spousal support? The recipient is taxed on alimony at her (or his) tax rate. In other words, alimony is considered “earned income” by the IRS. The payer of spousal support is allowed to deduct the alimony paid, dollar for dollar, from his (or her) gross income, thereby decreasing the income upon which he (or she) will be taxed. In other words, the payer’s adjusted gross income is decreased by the amount of alimony paid. The party who receives the spouse support, on the other hand, will pay taxes on that money at the same rate as her (or his) earned income is/would be taxed.

What is the effect of spousal support payments on child support? Since alimony (spousal support) increases the gross income of the receiver, and decreases the gross income of the payer, the payment of spousal support decreases the presumed child support amount when calculated using the Virginia Guideline’s formula.

Is Spousal Support modifiable? Spousal support is modifiable – both in terms of the amount and/or duration – depending on how the Mediated Property Settlement Agreement is written (i.e. what the parties agree to). If a couple agrees that the spousal support award is to be modifiable, the terms of that modifiability must be stated very clearly in the Mediated Property Settlement Agreement. Otherwise, the court may base a future decision regarding modification of a spousal support award on the “default” standard: “Whether or not there has been a material change in circumstances not reasonably contemplated by the parties”.

Can there be no spousal support awarded at divorce, but a window left open for an award at a later date? The possibility of a future award of spousal support may be left open in a Mediated Property Settlement Agreement. The term for this is “Reviewability”. Clients may leave a period of review open — whether or not there is an actual dollar amount of spousal support to be paid. The period of time in which the parties may seek an award of spousal support (the review period) may be whatever is agreed upon by the parties. If a period of review is left open, but no time period is specified, the “default” in the law is 50% of the length of the marriage.

Leaving a period of review open is useful if the potential recipient feels insecure about his or her future earning power, but there is no actual need for alimony at the time of settlement.

How long does Spousal Support last? There is no clear law on this, but the rule of thumb in Virginia, when spousal support is deemed appropriate, is 50% the length of the marriage. It depends, of course, on the purpose of the spousal support (e.g. to help get a mother back on her financial-feet, to allow time for a parent to get re-trained/degreed, to offset the costs of living expenses for a specific period of time, to provide full and ongoing support to a former spouse, etc.)

In marriages of greater than 20 years, where the spouse seeking support was not an income earner, or her (or his) income is relatively low compared to the other spouse, permanent alimony (or at least up until the other spouse’s retirement) might be appropriate. This is not the law, but both parties should be aware of this legal trend in Virginia, especially where the spouse seeking the support is on the older side.

Is adultery a bar to spousal support? If the spouse against whom an award of spousal support is sought (the bigger earner) is able to prove the ground of adultery against the spouse seeking the support, there will be no alimony awarded. However, proof is often hard to come by. Also, if the court finds that a denial of spousal support to the adulterer would be “manifestly unjust”, the judge can award it to her (or him) regardless of the marital transgression.

What happens when the party receiving spousal support gets remarried or cohabits: Unless otherwise agreed by the parties, remarriage or cohabitation “in a relationship analogous to a marriage for a period of 1 year or more” (statutory definition) will result in the cessation of all spousal support payments. Of course, the term “relationship analogous to a marriage” is not clearly defined in the law and, in some mediations, clients are urged to discuss and determine what that phrase means to them (in order to avoid future litigation).

What does “Child Contingency” and “Recapture of Alimony” mean? The tax law related to alimony is fairly complex. Two areas, in particular, often come up in a divorce mediation: Child Contingency and Recapture of Alimony.

The Child Contingency rule has to do with the IRS’s sensitivity to taxpayers classifying payments as alimony (to get the tax deduction) when, in reality, those payments are really a form a support for the children (child support). The Child Contingency rule can be triggered when an award of alimony ends at the same time, or near the same time (within 6 months to a year, depending on the specific circumstances), of a child-related event (e.g. child turning 18 years old, graduation from high school). For more detail, see my Fairfax Divorce Blog article at https://fairfaxdivorceblog.com/?s=contingency

In a Recapture of Alimony situation, the IRS is looking for deductible alimony payments made, during the first three years following a divorce, which are actually more in the nature of a property distribution. Once again, the IRS is very sensitive to parties classifying payments as deductible alimony when those payments are more aptly classified as some other sort of non-deductible payment such as part of the equitable distribution and division of property (which includes the transfer of money from one spouse to another and may be in the form of a lump sum or paid out in periodic payments). For more detail, see my Fairfax Divorce Blog article at https://fairfaxdivorceblog.com/?s=recapture

Seek Professional Guidance: The law regarding spousal support in Virginia and the Federal Tax Code is fairly complex. Not only that, but the relationship between spousal support, child support and the equitable distribution of property and debt can be overwhelming and easily misunderstood. If you think that your case may involve a need/request for alimony, seek professional guidance from a lawyer-mediator. We are here to help: Robin Graine, JD – Graine Mediation – 571-220-1998.

Posted by Robin Graine, JD, Virginia Supreme Court Certified Mediator

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.


Child Support Calculation in Virginia – Rebutting the Guideline’s Amount

April 8, 2014

moneyIn Virginia, the Child Support Guideline amounts come from a table which is set forth in the Virginia Code §20-108.2. That Guideline’s Table dictates the “presumptive amount” of child support to be paid in various situations. (See http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?000+cod+20-108.2) That child support obligation (a single dollar amount that Virginia says your child will need in order to “make it” in the world based on his/her parents’ financial status) is then divided up between the parents, based on their percentage share of income produced and, in certain situations (see last bullet point below), the amount of time that the child spends with each parent. The parent that earns the most money is usually the parent who ends up actually paying child support to the other parent (though not always, depending on the custody share arrangements).

To calculate the presumptive amount of child support, you need the following information (which become the variables for the calculation):

  • gross monthly income for both parents (usually pretty simple except in cases of small business owners and sales professionals);
  • the actual cost of health insurance for the child (not the entire family);
  • the costs of work related childcare (though this is often factored outside of the calculation);
  • and, in cases where the child spends greater than 90 days (24 hour periods) with the non-primary parent (which also includes 50/50 custody cases), the number of days the child spends with each parent per year;
  • and, in cases where there is also a spousal support obligation, that amount, too, is usually put into the calculation.

The best way to calculate child support is with a professional – a divorce mediator or attorney. Unfortunately, most clients leave out key information or miss a variable when they try and figure their own child support amount with online calculators. At least, that has been my experience. It’s never a bad idea to get some preliminary numbers, but a professional should really assist before you get committed to (or get upset by!) a child support amount.

Once the parties agree/the judge determines what the correct variables are to run a Virginia Child Support Calculation (i.e. gross incomes, cost of health insurance, etc.), the amount calculated is presumed to be correct. However, in certain situations, a parent(s) does not agree with that number – and therein lies a big problem.

A battle over whether or not to apply the presumed child support amount in a Virginia divorce – whether in terms of ratcheting that number above guidelines or pushing it below guidelines – is one of the areas where the flexibility and low cost of divorce mediation should be considered. The “legalese” for this modification of the presumed guideline’s child support number is “deviation.”

Anyone considering deviating from the Virginia child support guidelines amount (especially if that parent is seeking a below-guideline’s number) needs to be aware that courts tend to like formulas. That means that if you do not think that the Virginia guideline’s calculation suits your family’s needs best, you will need to prove it. That means evidence. And that means lawyers and big money (if you choose to litigate instead of mediate).

Further, judges who follow the letter of the law must be very particular about the details of the evidence presented. Child-related matters are highly sensitive – and no judge wants to deny a child the basic support that is presumed needed (at least as far as the Virginia General Assembly is concerned) for anything less than a very, very good reason. (It is notable that the receipt of child support is the child’s right and not the custodial parent’s right. So, technically, even the custodial parent does not have the right to waive child support/agree to a below guideline’s amount of child support on his/her own since it is not that parent’s right to waive the child’s right to financial support!)

Courts are required to abide by the following protocol and criteria if and when there is a request by a parent to deviate from the Virginia Child Support Guideline’s Presumed Amount (pursuant to §20-108.1 of the Virginia Code):

The Court must make written findings that:

A. The application of the guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate in a particular case; and

B. There is justification as to why the child support obligation ordered by the court varies from the presumed guideline amount based on relevant evidence pertaining to: The ability of each party to provide child support and the best interests of the child, as follows:

1. Actual monetary support for other family members or former family members;

2. Arrangements regarding custody of the children, including the cost of visitation travel;

3. Imputed income to a party who is voluntarily unemployed or voluntarily under-employed; provided that income may not be imputed to a custodial parent when a child is not in school, child care services are not available and the cost of such child care services are not included in the computation and provided further, that any consideration of imputed income based on a change in a party’s employment shall be evaluated with consideration of the good faith and reasonableness of employment decisions made by the party, including to attend and complete an educational or vocational program likely to maintain or increase the party’s earning potential;

4. Any child care costs incurred on behalf of the child or children due to the attendance of a custodial parent in an educational or vocational program likely to maintain or increase the party’s earning potential;

5. Debts of either party arising during the marriage for the benefit of the child;

6. Direct payments ordered by the court for maintaining life insurance coverage pursuant to subsection D, education expenses, or other court-ordered direct payments for the benefit of the child;

7. Extraordinary capital gains such as capital gains resulting from the sale of the marital abode;

8. Any special needs of a child resulting from any physical, emotional, or medical condition;

9. Independent financial resources of the child or children;

10. Standard of living for the child or children established during the marriage;

11. Earning capacity, obligations, financial resources, and special needs of each parent;

12. Provisions made with regard to the marital property under § 20-107.3, where said property earns income or has an income-earning potential;

13. Tax consequences to the parties including claims for exemptions, child tax credit, and child care credit for dependent children;

14. A written agreement, stipulation, consent order, or decree between the parties which includes the amount of child support; and

15. Such other factors as are necessary to consider the equities for the parents and children.

At Graine Mediation, we follow similar protocol to the courts when clients are considering a deviation from the Virginia Child Support Guidelines. However, in the Fairfax and Northern Virginia area – where lifestyles tend be quite expensive in terms of the stepped-up extracurricular activities, tutoring, overnight camps, etc. that children are involved in – there is rarely a case where a below-guideline’s child support obligation is agreed to by parents in mediation. (Remember: The guidelines were developed by the Virginia General Assembly for state-wide application – and most Fairfax/Northern Virginia families do not live the lifestyle or raise their children, in terms of dollars spent, like most of the families in other parts of Virginia.) Thus, below-guidelines agreements are rare in my mediation practice. However, above-guidelines deviations are often discussed but, even then, obligating parents to above-guidelines monthly child support amounts are often disregarded in favor of other more practical and creative solutions to award the support necessary while, at the same time, satisfying (as much as possible) each parents’ need for financial stability and control.

Posted by Robin Graine, JD, Virginia Supreme Court Certified Mediator

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.


Military Divorces 101, Part 2

May 15, 2013

Military divorces present unique challenges and far-reaching ramifications for our clients.  This area of law is a complex mixture of several Federal and State statutes which are balanced against the servicemember spouse’s particular branch procedures and the standards and practices in your jurisdiction.  At Graine Mediation, we know the jargon, understand the issues, and are skilled at making sure that both parties have all the information they need in order to make the best settlement choices they can mutually agree upon for themselves and their children.

In this special, three-part blog post, we’ll try to demystify this process for you.

child-support

CHILD SUPPORT

Child Support is Calculated Using Virginia State Minimum Guidelines: At Graine Mediation, minimum guidelines child support is calculated using the Virginia State Guidelines.  Our software used for calculations, “VADER”, is the calculator used by most attorneys and judges in Northern Virginia. The various branches of the military, too, have their own minimum family support calculations.  However, the military child support guidelines tend to be lower than state guidelines and are really only intended to provide a temporary solution in an emergency situation.

Gross Income: Child support is based, in large part, on the parties’ gross monthly incomes.  For a servicemember or retired servicemember, the Leave and Earnings Statement (LES) and the Retiree Account Statement (RAS), are essential to determine gross monthly income.  In Virginia, the courts broadly interpret the term “gross monthly income”.  That means that just about every form of income that a servicemember receives is includable in the gross income variable for the child support calculation.  For military clients, the gross salary variable used in the Virginia Guideline’s Child Support Calculation includes, but it not necessarily limited to:

  • Base Salary
  • BAH (Basic Allowance for Housing): A housing allowance calculated using location, family commitments, and the servicemember’s pay grade
  • BAS (Basic Allowance for Subsistence):  All servicemembers receive this form of pay when on tour ($150-$300/month)
  • FSA (Family Separation Allowance-II): An allowance for mobilized servicemembers who have been separated from their family members for more than 30 consecutive days (approximately $250.00/month)
  • HDP-L (Hardship Duty Pay): The amount of HDP-L depends on the servicemember’s deployment location.  ($50-$150/month)
  • HF/IDP (Hostile Fire/Imminent Danger Pay): Often referred to as “combat pay”.  When HF/IDP is used to a servicemember in certain designated combat zones, HF/IDP is tax free. (approximately $225/month), see CZTE, immediately below
  • CZTE (Combat Zone Tax Exclusion):  This is a monetary benefit for certain designated zones where a servicemember may be deployed.  CZTE releases a servicemember from paying having to pay Federal and State tax on his or her Base Salary and HF/IDP.
  • Travel Per Diem: Since servicemembers are usually provided housing when on tour, there is only a small per diem travel allowance (approximately $3.00-$3.50/day) for living expenses.
  • In Kind Compensation: This is non-cash compensation in the form of housing, meals, and other nonmonetary compensation (not found on the LES).

Even non-taxable pay is factored into a Virginia child support calculation as part of the servicemember parent’s gross income.  Because so many servicemembers receive various forms of compensation as tax-free pay, the LES, and not income tax returns, is a much better source of information to use when determining a servicemember’s gross income.

Deployment:  When a servicemember deploys, goes on a mission, goes on tour, etc. (hereinafter referred to as “deployment”), he or she is compensated with one or more special pay benefits (as listed immediately above in the “Gross Income” section).  When a servicemember is deployed, child support is often recalculated, since the main variable – gross income – will surely change.  Some clients, however, choose to defer a complete recalculation of child support, particularly when the deployment is thought to be of short duration, and instead opt for a “per diem” calculation based on the servicemember’s special compensation.

Per Diem:  Per diem child support calculations, which may be initiated upon a servicemember parent’s deployment (depending on how the Settlement Agreement is drafted) are sometimes used by our clients for the following two reasons:

(1) The parent who is stationary (not deployed) is effectively responsible for 100% of the childcare tasks and expenses.  There is “no break” in the childcare costs and duties because the children are always with the stationary (not deployed) parent.  This makes caring for the children much more expensive; and

(2) The increased custodial care responsibilities of the stationary parent may demand time away from income earning pursuits and, as a result, the stationary parent’s income may decrease.

As a temporary solution to account for these circumstances, some parties choose a per diem (per day) calculation based on an agreed upon percentage of the servicemembers various special compensation benefits. That percentage, in our cases, is never below what the Virginia minimum guidelines would have provided the stationary parent if a recalculation was done, but allows for a temporary solution to the deployment-related financial issues in a co-parenting situation.  Also, depending on how your Settlement Agreement is written, this can be a “self-executing provision” (meaning that you do not need to go to Court to effect this temporary per diem child support obligation).

Per Diem as Relates to a Shared Child Support Calculation:  When child support has been calculated using the Virginia Shared Child Support Calculations, a per diem is usually not the best reflection of the parties changed circumstances.  Since Virginia Shared Child Support Calculations factor in the actual time the children spend with both parents into the financial calculation, a situation where a parent is deployed is not appropriate for a shared calculation.  In most cases, the Child Support Calculation will need to be redone using the Virginia Sole Child Support Calculation. Depending on how your Settlement Agreement is written, this can be a “self-executing provision” (meaning that you do not need to go to Court to effect this temporary recalculation).

More Information: For more information on Virginia child support guidelines, generally, email Robin Graine (grainemediation@gmail.com) for an advance copy of her blog article “How is Child Support Calculated in Virginia?” (not yet published as of May 2013 on http://www.fairfaxdivorceblog.com)

Posted by Robin Graine, JD, Virginia Supreme Court Certified Mediator

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.


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