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.


%d bloggers like this: