Resiliency: 8 Ways to Bounce Back After Divorce

March 28, 2017

“Resiliency is a quality in objects to hold or recover their shape, or in people to stay intact. This is a kind of strength.” (definition from Vocabulary.com).

The concept of resiliency has been trending in the pervasive “how to be happy” media genre. I find the concept of resiliency to be particularly important when attempting to bounce back after the trauma of divorce. If you want to be happy after your divorce or break-up, you will need to sharpen up your resiliency skills.

The key to resiliency is to not let failure overcome your life. Resilient people have the ability to fail, time and time again, and still manage to succeed and recover from the setbacks. In a divorce, being resilient allows you to more readily heal from the sadness, trauma, guilt, fear and having the rug yanked out from under your life.

If you don’t have a naturally resilient personality, don’t worry. Your resilient self is there. It is in your DNA. Sometimes, though, that part of our genetic make-up gets a little dusty and we need to clean it off. This can be done by anyone who truly wants to feel good and get on with living a happy life (assuming you do not have a diagnoses that disallows happiness or self-satisfaction).

Finding resilience in yourself is a matter of developing behaviors, thoughts and actions that support resiliency. It requires changing some of you habits. But, how will you find the energy to change your habits and become resilient after a divorce? Because now your changes will be for you. You are in charge. Everything you do to build up your resiliency will be to become a happier person. What have you got to lose?

8 Factors that build resiliency and reduce the time that it takes to bounce back after divorce include:

  • Optimism

Your marriage could not have been good, or you wouldn’t be getting divorced (whether or not it was your idea). Freeing yourself from a bad marriage is liberating and opens doors. Start planning for a bright future.

  • Positive Attitude

There are often silver linings to divorce. For example, divorce can enable to you be more authentic in your personality and in how you parent your children.

  • Smile and Laugh

Don’t be afraid to have a good time. Encourage your mind, body and soul to feel joy. Smiling (with teeth!) is a good idea whether you feel it or not – you will do better socially and you will feel better, too. This is natural “medicine” with no side effects.

  • Be Flexible

Training yourself to be resilient will require a flexible persona. If you are not a fan of change, you will need practice at gently pushing yourself to accept new situations as simply “different, not bad”. Accept that change is part of life and that, often times, you have very little or no control over the biggest changes that occur in your life.

  • View Failure as a form of Helpful Feedback

Learning from mistakes gives people a sense of control and makes stressful situations seem less threatening. Take ownership and learn from your role in the break-up (both parties always have some level of responsiblity). Your new relationships will be stronger and healthier as a result.

  • Be Confident.

Be sure to nurture a positive view of yourself. Trust your instincts. Solve problems. Set small goals so you can feel personal progress.

  • Be Involved. Be Social.

If you have family or close friends, accept their help and support. If you don’t, now is the time to join an organization where you can help others. Civic groups, faith-based organizations and other local groups provide both social support and opportunities to help others. Helping others provides relief from own problems and gives you helpful perspective.

  • Be Strong.

Literally. Get your exercise. It’s hard to be resilient when you are a physical wreck. If you are not fit now, use your divorce as a jumping off point to get healthy. Also, exercise will give your mind a break from your issues, give you confidence and nurture creative thinking.

  • Motivation

If you were not motivated to change bad habits while you were married, your divorce or break-up may be just the catalyst you need to make important changes that stick. And remember, your children are watching everything that you do. The more motivated you are to heal yourself, the more chance your children will have of being resilient themselves.

 

By Erin Brockman, Mediation, Marketing & Research Assistant &
Robin Graine, JD, CDFA


What to Expect in Divorce Mediation

March 7, 2017

When shopping for a good mediator, here is what you should be looking for. Mediators who settle cases efficiently and fairly do the following:

  1. Key Issues. Help you figure out what the real issues are and focus in on these matters.
  2. Goals. Help you formulate your goals and keep you on track towards reaching these goals.
  3. Fair Process. Ensure that the settlement process is fair for both parties by evening-up the playing field in terms of power and knowledge.
  4. Documents and Information. Assist in formulating a list of necessary documents and information so that you do not get overwhelmed at this emotionally difficult time.
  5. Sorting and Categorizing. Assist in the efficient sorting and categorizing of key facts, laying out the family financial picture, determining which issues are emotional/personal versus matters which can actually be settled in mediation, and determining which battles are worth fighting.
  6. Education. Educating and informing you with regard to relevant legal, financial, tax and child-related matters.
  7. Negotiation Techniques. Use of time-tested negotiation facilitation techniques (e.g. neutralizing language, focus of needs versus strategy, ensure key information is understood, focus on problem solving versus punishment).
  8. Property Settlement Agreement. Provide excellent skills in writing up your Property Settlement Agreement. This is the court-ready document that sets forth your entire divorce settlement agreement. An experienced lawyer-mediator is usually best when it comes to writing up such a document.

By Erin Brockman, Mediation, Research & Marketing Assistant
Robin Graine, JD, CDFA


Child Tax Exemptions, Deductions & Divorce

February 28, 2017

taxes-and-1040

Q: What is a dependent exemption?

  • As applied to your child, the dependent exemption is an amount of money that you are permitted to subtract from your adjusted gross income. The dependent exemption reduces the amount of income on which you will be taxed (in effect, an exemption operates the same as a deduction).
  • In 2016, the dependent exemption is $4,050 per child. The right to claim exemptions, however, phases out at higher income levels. In 2016, the phase-out begins at $259,400 for single parents and $285,380 for single parents who claim head of household status.

Q: How is the right to claim a child’s dependent exemption determined in a divorce situation?

  • Only one parent may claim a dependent child on his or her tax return in any given year. The parent who claims that child as his or her dependent is also the parent who claims that child’s dependent exemption.
  • According to the IRS, the default parent, in terms of claiming the dependent exemption for a child in a divorce situation, is the one with whom the child lives for greater than 50% of the time during that tax year. (Note: The IRS refers to the parent with whom their child lives for greater than 50% of the year as the “custodial parent.”)
  • In 50%/50% custody situations, the default parent is the parent with the higher adjusted gross income.

 

Q: Can the non-custodial parent ever claim a child’s dependent exemption on his or her tax return?

  • If the divorcing parents agree that the child’s dependent exemption may be claimed by the non-custodial parent, the IRS will allow this.
  • Such an agreement should be clearly stated in the parents’ Property Settlement Agreement (PSA) and Final Order of Divorce/Divorce Decree.
  • The custodial parent will need to complete and sign IRS Form 8332 each and every year that the non-custodial parent is permitted (by the PSA) to claim that child’s dependent exemption. The non-custodial parent must attach this form to his or her tax return every year that he or she claims that child’s dependent exemption.
  • Parents also have the option of alternating their child’s dependency exemption on an every-other-year basis, or as they otherwise agree.

 

Q: Are there other tax benefits that are attached to the child’s dependent exemption?

  • The parent who claims the child’s dependent exemption is also the parent who is eligible for the child tax credit (if applicable, depending on the parent’s income).
  • The parent who claims the child’s dependent exemption is also the parent eligible to claim that child’s educational tax credits, also known as college credits and, as of 2015 the American Opportunity Credit (if applicable, depending on the parent’s income and other factors)

 

Q: Are there tax benefits that remain with the custodial parent (despite the non-custodial parent claiming that child’s dependent exemption)?

  • The custodial parent remains the only parent eligible to claim the earned income tax credit.
  • Also, only the custodial parent (not necessarily the parent who claims that child’s dependent exemption) is eligible to claim the child and dependent care tax credit (also known as the day care credit).
  • Note: The same rules apply if a parent is eligible, through his or her place of employment, for a Flexible Spending Account (FSA).
  • If the parents share the child’s custody 50%/50%, the IRS defaults to the parent with the higher adjusted gross income, i.e., the parent with the higher adjusted gross income is treated as if he or she is the “custodial parent.”
  • In 50%/50% custody situations, parents often negotiate which one will have the custodial parent benefits for income tax purposes (as opposed to letting the IRS default dictate the outcome).
    • This is custom, but not specifically addressed by the IRS.
    • The IRS reasoning: There are 365 days in a year (an odd number). Therefore, a true 50%/50% custody share is impossible.
    • NOTE: Only one parent may claim the earned income tax credit and the child and dependent care tax credit.

 

Q: Which parent is eligible to file as Head of Household?

  • A parent who is single and has a dependent child living in his or her home may be eligible to file taxes as “head of household.
  • Only the custodial parent – the parent who cares for the child greater than 50% of the time – is eligible to file his or her taxes as head of household.
  • Unlike the dependent child exemption, the right to file as head of household is not exchangeable between parents.
  • The head of household tax status, versus filing as “single,” often lowers your tax bill (but phases out at higher income levels).
    • Head of household status often lowers your tax rate, thereby lowering your tax bill. .
    • If you claim the standard deduction (versus itemizing your deductions), that number will be higher, thereby lowering your tax bill.
  • The specific criteria follows:
  • Your spouse did not live in your home for the last 6 months of the year for which the taxes are filed (this applies to parents who are separated, but not yet divorced).
  • You will not be filing a joint return with your spouse (this applies to parents who are separated, but not yet divorced).
  • You paid over half the cost of maintaining your home for that tax year.
  • Your child lived in your home over half the year, i.e., you are the “custodial parent” (even if the other parent claims that child’s dependency exemption).
  • Your child is considered a “qualifying child”, meaning he or she has not turned 19 by the end of the tax year (if not a full-time student), or is younger than 24 at the end of the tax year (if a full-time student for at least 5 months during the tax year), or is permanently disabled.
  • In 50%/50% custody situations, parents often negotiate which one will have the right to file as head of household (as opposed to letting the IRS default – that only the custodial parent is permitted to file as head of household – dictate the outcome).
    • This is custom, but not specifically addressed by the IRS.
    • The IRS reasoning: There are 365 days in a year (an odd number). Therefore, a true 50%/50% custody share is impossible.
    • NOTE: Only one parent may file as head of household (as it related to a child).
    • With more than one child, in a 50%/50% custody situation, parents sometimes each care for a child greater than 50% of the time and, as a result, each parent is potentially eligible to file their taxes as head of household.

 

Q: At what age is a child no longer considered a “dependent”

  • To qualify as a dependent, your child must be under the age of 19 on December 31 of the tax year in question.
  • However, if your child is a full-time student (as defined by his or her school), he or she may be your dependent for income tax purposes as long as he or she is under the age of 24 on December 31 of the tax year in question.
  • If your child is permanently and totally disabled, there is no age limit.

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.


Valentine’s Day Special: 6 Tips for Dating After Divorce

February 9, 2016

Valentines-Day-Hero-2-H

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, so I’ve prepared a post-divorce dating survival cheat sheet for you. Here are 6 tips to keep in mind while dipping your toe back in that pond.

  1. Pay attention to everything your date says.  Most dates will expose their “skeletons” by at least the third date.  If you’re falling for that new guy or gal, though, the tendency is to not hear what your date is telling you.  Don’t let this happen. If you spot a red flag – a very difficult personality, a messed-up family life, an inability to hold a job, or another scary situation, do not ignore!  Once, I went over to a date’s house (after we had a few dates and I felt safe) after dinner and noticed that he still had family pictures up in the common areas of his house.  Nice, right?  But, every image of his wife had black tape over her face!  Imagine his little kids having to look at that picture of Mommy with tape over her face every time they spent time at Daddy’s house.  It was creepy – and alarming.  Goodbye, masked man.
  2. Be yourself.  If you’re not being true to yourself, you’ll probably not be able to do a very job at “scrutinizing” your date, either.  It’s a lot of work to pretend to be someone you are not . . . even a little bit.  Your intuition will be sharpest when you are relaxed.
  3. Go with your gut.  If you think your date is jerk, or a narcissist, or a phony, or whatever else you might not like, you are probably right.  Don’t make excuses for your date’s behavior or tasteless conversational choices.  Move on. 
  4. Leave your rescuing persona at home.  If you are the type of super-empathetic person – perhaps a true caretaker by heart — who tends to rescue others in need, you do not want to date until you put your own boundaries firmly in place.  People who have been through a divorce need nurturance; not more trouble.  Know your boundaries and keep them firmly in place. 
  5. Be ready for rejection.  If you can’t deal with rejection – or even mild criticism — , stick with going out to dinner with trusted friends.  Dating takes thick skin . . . and it might take a good, long while after your divorce to have the emotional fortitude to deal with the rough-and-tumble of dating.
  6. Chemistry is Key.  Attraction is either there or not.  There was one sweet man I went to dinner with who was smart, open-minded, a good conversationalist and well-liked by friends and colleagues.  But, when it was time for a goodnight kiss, I struggled.  I actually felt grossed out!  Let’s be honest.  You can’t fake romantic attraction and, even if you tried to just to have the company of another, it would most surely end in disaster for one or both of you.  I moved on . . . and you should, too.

And don’t forget to have fun!

 

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.


How Does Mediation Save Divorcing Couples Money?

November 23, 2015

It seems that everything is getting more expensive these days, and divorce is no exception. Luckily, mediation can be a good way to save money during the divorce process. Here are some simple ways mediation can help:

  • No “Surprise” Billing. Most work is done in the mediation room and it is easy to keep track of what the divorce settlement process is actually costing.  Mediators don’t nickel and dime their clients to death.
  • One Mediator, Not Two Attorneys. When both parties have their own attorney, the $300-$500 per hour fees rack up quickly, especially when multiplied by two attorneys (as opposed to only one mediator at an often lower hourly fee).
  • Get to the Point. Mediation is less strategically oriented than litigation.  This allows clients to address their and their children’s real needs faster and with a focus on mutual agreement versus winning the fight.
  • Sensible Information Gathering Process. There is no formal “discovery” in mediation.  Discovery is the court-supervised and procedurally complex method that attorneys use to gather information in a divorce case.  Keeping the information gathering process to its essential elements saves clients thousands of dollars that they will need to run two households where there once was only one.
  • Focus on Present and Future, Not Past.  The focus in mediation is on helping the parties to find common ground and mutual agreement that will allow them to start their and their children’s new lives in as good a position as possible considering the circumstances.  Past behaviors and transgressions are usually minimized, unless they directly impact the present or future.  This is the opposite of litigation, where past wrongs and transgressions are often the focus of the fight itself.

save-money1Don’t let tight finances keep you from moving forward with a divorce when it’s the best decision for you and your family. Speak to a mediator and see how they can help.

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.


The 3 A’s of Avoiding Divorce

August 18, 2015

As a certified divorce mediator and a former divorce attorney, I’ve worked with hundreds of couples over 13 years in family law who were filing for divorce. Here’s what I hear from clients — over and over again – as the key reasons for the break-up of their marriage. I call them the 3 A’s:

Lack of Affection. Though cliché, it’s true: When baby makes three, both parents are often consumed with showering their new baby with the most affection possible. As the child grows, couples forget to smooch their spouses, too.

Lack of Attention. Couples often feel ignored in their roles as spouses, parents and, often times, human beings! It’s no secret that jobs, child-rearing, in-laws, financial worries and responsibilities of running a home eat up your time and energy. If you want to save your marriage, though, start by giving your spouse the focus that or she deserves and needs.  Be intuitive, remember what your husband or wife needed back when you were dating, and try and give him or her that level of attention that you, too, need in order to feel secure in your relationship.

Lack of Appreciation. This is perhaps the biggest contributing factor in the divorcing clients that I work with — I hear it, in one form or another, from every set of mediation clients that I encounter. In many cases, women feel they do the lion’s share of the homemaking. When the kids were born, they changed around their priorities. The husbands, or so I hear, didn’t change their everyday lives quite as drastically as did the wives. The husbands, often times, feel that they are not appreciated for their financial contributions and the actual time that they do spend with the children. Each resents the other for longer hours put in at work and chores, and forgets to thank the other partner for keeping the family enterprise afloat. One thing that helps? Parents need to divide and conquer the mundane tasks of everyday life. If mom is best at details, let her do the details: whether it’s party-planning or setting up that 509 for Junior. But dad needs to do the other stuff, like preparing taxes or working with the kitchen contractor. The key is quite simple: Work hard at appreciating what the other is doing and know that 50/50 is not always a practical goal to attain depending on each others’ personalities and priorities.

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.


The Effects of Parenting By Role Modeling

July 14, 2015

report-card-parents-happyAll parents want to raise, happy, healthy, successful, and altruistic children.  While there are many ways to impact and influence a child’s future, role modeling is one of the far most important factors.  There is a clear link between the effects of role modeling on children’s futures.  Statistics show:

  • Parents with good self-esteem tend to raise children with more secure self-esteem.
  • Parents who succeed in education tend to have children who meet and even surpass their parents’ accomplishments.
  • Children of divorced families are more likely to divorce (Parenting Exchange)

Children’s behavioral habits are shaped by not only being told what is correct, but also by observing correct behavior.  Whether or not a parent realizes it, his or her child is always watching, listening, overhearing, and observing a parent’s actions.  It is easy for parents to throw out don’ts like “don’t drink”, “don’t smoke”, and “don’t lie”; it is harder for parents to practice what they preach.  For example a parent may tell his or her child that smoking is unhealthy and that he should never smoke.  Sure, the child may understand that smoking is unhealthy, but if the child sees a cigarette hidden in his mom’s purse or smells smoke on his dad, the child will wonder how unhealthy can smoking really be, if his parents do it when he is not around?

Parents can work on modeling through his or her own actions by considering how you:

  • Handle stress and frustration
  • Respond to problems
  • Express anger and other emotions
  • Treat other people
  • Deal with competition, responsibilities, loss, mistakes
  • Celebrate special occasions
  • Take care of yourself (what you eat, how much you exercise, balance your commitments) (The Center for Parenting Education)

Looking back on my childhood my parents always were always positive role models.  Despite being the mother of two children, my mother worked my entire childhood.  This did not stop her from getting us involved in sports, clubs, and providing us with a healthy dinner every night. My dad worked just as hard as my mom. I would often wake up in the morning finding that he had already left for work and he would not return until I was getting ready for bed that evening.  From a young age I realized that my parents worked this hard for my brother and I to provide a promising future for the both of us. This made me value my education similar to the way they valued their careers.

My accomplishments reflect the impact my parents had on me. I graduated from Virginia Tech in 3 and a half years, was moved out and living independently from my parents by the age of 22, and now I am headed to law school this August.  My parents not only pushed me verbally to work this hard, they showed me that working hard pays off, as they are both comfortably retired in their 50’s.   I aim to be just as successful, if not more, as my mom and dad.  When I do reach their level of success, I know I will thank them for always being the two most influential role models in my life.

Citations:

http://www.easternflorida.edu/community-resources/child-development-centers/parent-resource-library/documents/parents-powerful-role-models.pdf

http://centerforparentingeducation.org/library-of-articles/focus-parents/role-model-promise-peril/

Written by Jessica Wilds, Mediation Assistant

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.


How to Exercise Your Way Through A Breakup

June 18, 2015

Going through a breakup is one of the most universal pains in this world. We have all been there, we have all dealt with it, and the good news is, we’re all still here. There’s a myriad of ways to get past the pain, but one of the most constructive is exercising. It can be a reason to get out of bed, a new motivation in life (even if that motivation is “Look as good as possible in case I see my ex again”), and one of the healthiest ways to move on.

Not only does exercise release endorphins, the “feel-good” neurotransmitters in your brain, but it can increase self-confidence and act as a form of meditation and reflection. So what kind of workout should you do? Well, it depends on where in the breakup you are.

For when you’re depressed and can’t get your mind to stop replaying it over and over:

Bicycling: Biking is not only fantastic, full-body exercise, but it demands your complete attention. You have to watch for potholes, whizzing cars, kids kicking their soccer balls into the street, and drivers opening their door into your lane at all times. This is not the time for, “Oh, if only I had said or done that…” because that distraction can get you into an accident. Your survival instincts will kick in, keep you focused on the road, and keep you from going down that destructive thought path of “What if…” Plus, biking has the added benefit of getting you fresh air and reminding you that there is a whole world out there, still revolving.

Yoga: Yoga is about being present and mindful. No matter what type of yoga you’re into, you can practice mindfulness. That can mean paying particular attention to your breath and your body’s alignment in various poses. It can also mean recognizing the derailing breakup thoughts, but letting them float past you. Unless you’re already an expert yogi, this can be a difficult thing to start. However, if you stick with it, you may find a peace and center that you were otherwise missing in this tumultuous time. This article can help you get started.

For when you’re so angry you just want to punch your ex:

Kickboxing: Literally go punch something! Many gyms offer these high-intensity classes which lets you sweat and punch and kick your aggression out, all while burning 300-600 calories per class. Don’t limit yourself to just American kickboxing classes, though. Lots of martial arts (like Muay Thai and Karate) have similar benefits of engaging cardio, discipline, and letting you work out your anger.

Running: Whether it’s on a treadmill or the sidewalk, there’s something immensely satisfying about slapping one foot down in front of the other as you run. Feeling particularly ragey? Throw in some sprints! Now is a great time to listen to some raucous and rocking tunes. Check out this list of 50 fast and empowering breakup songs for some playlist inspiration.

For when you’re starting to see the light on the other side:

Weight training: If you’ve gotten this far into your breakup, you may even be thinking about the possibility of someday dating again (yes, this will happen!). Lifting weights can help give you the confidence you’ll need to put on your perfect first date outfit–or give you the excuse to go shopping for a new one! Weight training is a great way to slim down and tone up. For women who are worried about “getting bulky,” just know that building muscle can help you burn fat all day long, whereas cardio only burns while you’re doing it. You won’t bulk up unless you specifically want to, which is why some men may want to look into their daily macros and supplements while they lift.

Group sports: Your city is probably teeming with recreational sports leagues for all different skill and interest levels. Just search “rec leagues + your city” or “intramural sports + your city” and dozens will pop up! It can be as active as flag-football or as goofy as cornhole. Leagues are great for meeting new people who already share a common interest, getting you out of the house and socializing again, all while still being active and healthy. Now, those happy hours your league sponsors probably aren’t all that healthy, but they sure are fun!

Woman walking cross country and trail in spring forest
Do none of these sound right for you? Well, good news–there are hundreds of ways to exercise the breakup blues away. Talk to friends for their recommendations, or just go for a long walk. It really is possible to heal your heart by starting with your body. The rest will follow.

Written by Jane Baber, Mediation Assistant

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 Custody In a Virgina Divorce: Legal Custody & Physical Custody Defined

June 9, 2015

child custodyWhen discussing various parenting arrangements with clients and prospective clients, I have learned that most people who are in the midst of a divorce/separation, or are contemplating such an event, make similar mistakes when it comes to Virginia “custody terminology”.

Such vocabulary faux pas are hardly indicative of a parent’s heartfelt desire to spend time with his or her child.  However, it is usually helpful to clients when they begin to get a handle on how the Commonwealth of Virginia goes about assigning labels in the context of divorce and co-parenting.  (Co-parenting refers to any situation when two parents are raising a child, in two separate households, whether or not those parents were ever married).

Of course, your mediator or divorce lawyer should certainly be able to figure out what you mean – no matter how you phrase it – when it comes to your desires for your child’s future parenting arrangements.  Not all mediators or divorce lawyers, however, do a good at explaining legal terminology.  The same goes for clients’ ability to absorb and process information in such a stressful and confusing time.

As a result, I have seen plenty of post decree (after divorce) situations where basic misunderstandings of the custody terms in the parties’ Final Order of Divorce (aka Divorce Decree) kept them fighting about their child several years after their separation and divorce.

To help alleviate this unfortunate and rampant misinformation about various custody terms in Virginia child custody cases, here is my “Virginia Custody Dictionary.”

Legal Custody:

Determines which parent has the right to make major decisions concerning their child.  Legal custody has nothing to do with where the child lives.

There are two types of Legal Custody:

    (1) Joint Legal Custody –  

        Major decisions must be agreed to by the parents.

    (2) Sole Legal Custody –

        Major decisions need only be made by the parent who is granted Sole Legal Custody.

  • The term “Legal Custody” is not intuitive to most people and problems often arise, down the road from when the settlement agreement is signed/Court order is entered, over the parents’ often diametrically opposite interpretation of the term “major decisions”.
  • Mediators encourage clients to jointly define the term “major decisions,” as part of the settlement of the custody issues in their particular case, to help save them from possible trouble down the road.
  • On the other hand, divorce lawyers tend not to focus on crafting an agreed client-interpretation of the term “major decisions”. Instead, they leave it up to the Courts to decide, should there be a problem in the future, whether a decision made, or to be made, by a parent is, in fact, “major”.  Ultimately, the Courts do have final decision-making power; but, a meeting of minds between parents is usually enough to end bitter battles before they start.
  • Examples of “Major Decisions” – Those decisions which are generally agreed by divorce lawyers and courts to be “major decisions”:
  1. Which school the child will attend;
  2. Whether the child will be required to undergo an elective medical procedure (e.g. plastic surgery on a scar);
  3. Whether braces will be placed on a child’s teeth for purely cosmetic reasons;
  4. Whether a child will be required to engage in psychotherapy;
  5. Who will be the child’s substitute caretaker necessary for the parents to earn a living (known as “work related childcare”, aka WRCC); and
  6. Choice of sleep-away camps.
  • Examples of “Gray Area Decisions” – Where decisions may or may not be considered “major”:
  1. Which week or two-week long camp a child will attend in the summer (not sleep-away camps);
  2. Which extracurricular activities a child will participate in during that parent’s custodial care time.
  3. Whether a child will participate in a specialized academic program during school hours (remedial or enhanced learning);
  4. Whether a child will participate in various in-school clubs, groups and activities;
  5. Choice of classes (middle school and high school);
  6. Choice of basic disciplinary techniques;
  7. Choice of how much to give a child for allowance/spending money; and
  8. Choice of vacation destinations with children (within reason);
  9. Choice of children’s playmates.

Physical Custody:

Determines where the child will live and the amount of time the child will spend with each parent.

Physical custody pertains to which parent (sometimes both, sometimes only one) has the primary responsibility for the care and control of the child on a given day.

  • Day to day decisions, of a routine nature, are made by the parent with whom the child is being cared for on that day.

 

Sole Physical Custody:

  • In Sole Physical Custody situations, that parent is granted all (or almost all) of the custodial care rights and responsibilities for the child.
  • The other parent is not usually involved in day-in-and-day-out responsibilities that come with raising a child.
  • The other parent is usually permitted “visitation” with his or her child (except in cases where that parent would present a danger to the child);
  • In Virginia, even in cases where one of the parents is granted Sole Physical Custody, the other parent still has the legal right to review the child’s medical and academic records (with exceptions);
  • To add to the confusion, when calculating Virginia Child Support Guideline Obligations, the “regular” calculation is called the “Sole Child Support Calculation”.  This poorly named calculation simply means that the non Primary Custodian cares for the children fewer than 91 days per year,2  even though the caretaking duties may clearly be shared between the parents.
  • Advocating for the denial of a parent to be involved in major decisions concerning his or her child is serious. It generally means that there is something very wrong with one or both of the parents’ ability to care for the child and/or use sound judgment when making decisions concerning the child.
  • In cases where one or both of the parents thinks that a child should have no or very little custodial care time with the other parent, it is often advisable that those parents litigate (hire a divorce attorney) and not mediate their cases.

Shared Physical Custody:

  • In Shared Physical Custody situations, it is presumed that both parents are involved, to a much greater extent than in a “Sole Custody” situation, in the day-in-and-day-out responsibilities that come with raising a child.
  • However, Shared Physical Custody does not, necessarily, mean 50/50.  It does, however, mean that there is a discernible sharing of parental caretaking duties for the child.
  • The term “Shared Physical Custody” is not clearly defined in Virginia law in terms of custody and parenting arrangements.
  • To add to the confusion, when calculating Virginia Child Support Guideline Obligations, there is a special calculation available for situations where a “non-primary custodian” cares for a child 91 or greater days per year.  That calculation is called the “Shared Child Support Calculation.” The Virginia Shared Child Support Calculation is able to accommodate various ratios of caretaking duties (e.g. 50/50 custody, 60/40 custody, etc.).

Primary Physical Custody:

  • The parent who is the “Primary Physical Custodian” is usually the parent who cares for the child greater than 50% of the time.
  • The term “Primary Physical Custodian,” however, is not well-defined in Virginia law.  There are situations where parents have less than a 50/50 custody share (exp. 60/40, 70/30), but where a settlement agreement/Court Order show that the custodial care plan is “Shared Custody” (even though there is, by most standards, a “primary parent”).
  • Some divorce attorneys are concerned that a judge may allow a parent, who is referred to as the “Primary Custodian,” in the settlement agreement/Court Order, to have more potential influence in possible future battles involving the child (e.g., moving away with the child).
  • If a parent is referred to in a settlement agreement/Court Order as the “primary custodian,” a school district may defer to that document when determining which school a child should attend.  (See previous Blog article: https://fairfaxdivorceblog.com/?s=prince+william )

In certain situations, and if there is no tax planning as part of the parties’ settlement, The IRS automatically awards certain child-related tax benefits to the “Custodial Parent”.  The IRS does not use the term “Primary Parent”.  The “Custodial Parent,” in terms of tax law, is the parent who cares for the child greater than 50% of the time during that tax year.  If the settlement agreement/Court Order conflicts with the actual caretaking schedule, this could present a problem if both parents wish to claim the child as their dependent exemption. This is not a problem, however, if parents insure that the settlement agreement/ Court Order matches their actual caretaking activities and if they make sure that tax planning is a part of their settlement (as it should be). (See previous Blog article https://fairfaxdivorceblog.com/?s=tax+custody )

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.


Financial Investigation Tips for Second Marriages

June 2, 2015

INTRODUCTION by ROBIN GRAINE, JD, Virginia Supreme Court Certified Mediator

As a divorce mediator, I am keenly aware that many of my clients will enter into second (and sometimes third and fourth) marriages. In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that, within five years of a divorce from a first spouse, a whopping one in five Americans says “I do” a second time.  A two marriage record is OK . . . but a two-time personal divorce statistic is really hard to deal with for most people.

Hopefully, whatever mistakes you made in your first marriage will not be repeated in your second attempt. If some of the problems in your first marriage had to do with money, this article will help you with essential and necessary ways of determining what you are getting into the second time around.

Though it may be uncomfortable to do the investigation necessary to ensure “financial bliss,” successful remarriages need to start with openness, trust, and a mutual value system. If you are concerned about your financial future with your new bride or groom, you may need to open up your tax files as big as you open up your heart . . .  it really should not be a problem.  If it is, there’s your first warning that things might not be as perfect between you as you had thought.

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Graine Mediation’s guest blogger, Julian Block, who is a leading national tax professional and attorney, has this to say about protecting yourself financially before you say “yes” to a second marriage:

Tax Reminders for Couples Contemplating Tying the Knot—Again

As an attorney and author who has written and lectured extensively about the tax aspects of marriage and divorce, I frequently receive questions from couples contemplating marriage.

One of my standard recommendations is that they consider the tax consequences beforehand, especially when one of them or both of them are remarrying. My advice: Before they commit to a walk down the aisle, each should consider whether to ask the other for copies of tax returns. In my experience, it’s particularly important for women to do that.

To illustrate how I would advise them, let’s say it’s going to be a second or third marriage for both John and Marsha—something that’s not uncommon nowadays, judging from the SundayStyles Section of the New York Times.

Something else that’s no longer uncommon is that her holdings considerably exceed his. Possible reasons why she’s wealthier? Much-married and several-times-widowed Marsha inherited assets from her spouses; or a couple of divorces resulted in her receiving several sizable settlements; or she was one of the Facebook staffers who were enormously enriched by its IPO.

Both Marsha and John are old enough for membership in AARP. Their ages matter because the divorce rate is extremely high for people over age 50—particularly for those who remarry.

Mindful of those stats, Marsha had John assent to a prenuptial agreement (just as she did in advance of earlier marriages). What else might Marsha do? I counsel her to ask for copies of John’s federal and state returns. Depending on what they reveal, she might decide that it’s prudent to stay single or, if they do wed, to file separate returns.

Following are summaries of scenarios I created that, albeit unromantic, are based on actual events.

Fear of filing:  It turns out that John hasn’t filed returns, something that’s common across all levels of society. It’s vital that Marsha know his potential liability for back taxes, penalties and interest. Also, he must specify when he will file returns and arrange for installment payments that will square him with federal and state tax agencies.

My advice, should Marsha wed: She files separate returns and doesn’t mix her assets with his assets. Also, she asks John to fill her in on what other shoes might drop.

A less troubling scenario that’s nonetheless problematicWhile John has filed 1040s, he owes considerable amounts in back taxes, and interest charges continue to mount. Marsha’s tactics, assuming they wed: Again, file separately and not comingle assets until he has squared accounts with the IRS. There’s a snag if they file jointly and are due a refund; the IRS can apply the refund to his back taxes.

John has filed returns and owes no back taxes: Marsha should still scrutinize certain deductions and other items on his returns. Let’s focus on some of the easier ones.

 Alimony payments: John’s returns reveal that he makes alimony payments to his ex-wives that he didn’t mention to Marsha;

Dependency exemptions for children not living with John due to divorce or separation: A divorce settlement (or settlements) allows him as a noncustodial parent to claim such exemptions.  He never told Marsha about those children;

Gambling: John’s returns show substantial amounts of gambling winnings for “other income” on line 21 of the 1040 form. Those returns also show offsetting deductions for gambling losses on line 28 of Schedule A. Losses are deductible only up to the amount of winnings. Does he have nondeductible losses that far exceed winnings? Perhaps the amounts wagered indicate that John gambles compulsively;

Schedule C: John files a Schedule C for his dental practice. A cursory review of amounts entered for business receipts and expenses suggests he’s understating gross receipts and overstating expenses. Whereas dentists in his area typically claim expenses equal to about 50 percent of gross receipts, his expenses equal about 75 percent of gross receipts. A plausible explanation for the discrepancy is that John doesn’t deposit currency payments received from patients into the practice’s bank account, and he tells his accountant to use bank deposits to calculate gross receipts. Is John trying to pull one on the IRS?

Schedule A: Line 4 shows he claims hefty itemized deductions for medical expenses (allowable to most persons only for the part above 10 percent of adjusted gross income). Deductions could be easily explained as attributable to payments for insurance premiums and expenses usually not covered by insurance—for instance, dental work, hearing aids, glasses, medically required home improvements or private duty nurses. Or the reason for substantial write-offs might be that, like Tony Soprano, John sees a shrink several times a week. Not to imply that there’s anything wrong with those visits; still—like the restorative powers of chicken soup—it can’t hurt and might help for Marsha to determine how much John has in common with Tony or, worse yet, Norman Bates.

Donations: John’s a chintzy contributor, whereas Marsha is a generous giver. This may not be a deal breaker, but they should discuss charitable donations before marriage.

Withholding: Each year, John receives big refunds, deliberately as a form of forced savings or simply by neglecting to claim enough exemptions on his W-4. But interest-free loans to the IRS are anathema for someone like Marsha, who meticulously monitors her withholding from wages and outlays for estimated payments. Her returns may show small balances due. It’s preferable that they discuss before marriage how they’ll handle withholding.

In the midst of all these thorns, there are some roses. Assume John has a substantial capital loss carry forward and no unrealized capital gains. At $3,000 a year, it will take many years to use up John’s carry forward. She, however, has a substantial unrealized capital gain. Marriage means Marsha can realize the gain and offset it against John’s carry forward.

Similarly, suppose he operates a business that’s unprofitable. He has a hefty net operating loss carry forward; but not enough other income to absorb the carry forward. Marsha has sizable income. Marriage enables him to apply his carry forward against her income.    

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Julian Block writes and practices law in Larchmont, N.Y. and was formerly with the IRS as a special agent (criminal investigator) and an attorney. He is frequently quoted in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post, and has been cited as: “a leading tax professional” (New York Times); “an accomplished writer on taxes” (Wall Street Journal);and “an authority on tax planning” (Financial Planning Magazine). This article is excerpted from “Julian Block’s Tax Tips for Marriage and Divorce,” available as a Kindle at Amazon.com and as a print copy at julianblocktaxexpert.com. Law professor James E. Maule, a professor at Villanova University School of Law and Graduate Tax Program, praised the book as “An easy-to-read and well-organized explanation of the tax rules.”  The National Association of Personal Financial Advisers says it is “A terrific reference.”

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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