Are people happier after divorce?

February 8, 2012

So often, when people feel trapped in an unhappy marriage, they think that their only option is to either continue suffering in a miserable home life, or to take the drastic step to get a divorce. When divorce is chosen, the initiating party typically reasons that he or she will be happier after the divorce. But how true is that reasoning? Are people actually any happier after divorce?

According to at least one study, headed by University of Chicago sociologist Linda Waite, 66% of unhappily married spouses who chose to “stick it out” and stay married, reported that just five years later their marriages returned to happy.

To find out how these once unhappily married spouses were able to restore happiness within the confines of marriage, researchers formed a focus group. They interviewed 55 of the formerly unhappy, but now happy, husbands and wives and found their responses could be organized into the following three approaches:

  1. Marital Endurance;
  2. Marital Work; and
  3. Personal Happiness.

In the Marital Endurance group, when the couple (or at least one spouse) had reported being unhappy, they also were dealing with relatively situational types of problems. Examples include job loss, bankruptcy, parenting a troubled teenager, even infidelity, in some cases. With these couples, it was mostly the passage of time that allowed for much of the marital happiness, they had once known, to return.

In the Marital Work group, couples worked proactively together; they worked hard and took matters into their own hands. With the help of a couples’ counselor (e.g., a licensed clinical psychologist; licensed marriage and family therapist; or faith based counselor), or taking part in one or more marriage workshops, these couples successfully resuscitated their marriage’s happy side.

In the Personal Happiness group, the unhappy spouse worked with an individual therapist to get to the root of what was making him or her unhappy, assuming that it was not just the marital partnership that was causing his or her despondency. In these cases, improving one’s individual happiness, also improved the happiness of the marriage.

All this sounds like great news for anyone unhappily married, but not keen on the idea of divorce. And let’s face it, no one is actually keen on divorce! Essentially, even if you are unhappily married, sometimes simply “sticking it out” can make the bad times give way to much happier ones. And, when that isn’t enough, which it often isn’t, many couples still find great success at restoring their marital happiness through couples counseling, individual therapy, or some combination of both.

Posted by Maggie Fox Dierker, Esq.

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GOOD NEWS – I am Divorced and Can Still Claim My Ex-Spouses Social Security

December 2, 2011

There can be good news a about divorce!  Did you know that if your marriage lasted at least ten years, you can claim social security benefits on the entire earnings history of your ex-spouse?

Here are a few important qualifiers you need know:

  • You must be unmarried. If you remarry, you cannot collect benefits on your former spouse’s record until your later marriage ends (whether by death, divorce or annulment).
  • You must be 62 years old or older.
  • Your ex-spouse must, him or herself, be entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits.
  • Your own personal social security benefit, based on your own work, must be less than the benefit you would receive based on your ex-spouse’s work.

It’s an either-or situation – you’ll get your own Social Security benefits, or one-half of your ex-spouses benefits (“derivative benefits”), whichever is greater.  Of course, the amount of benefits you get has no effect on the amount of benefits your ex-spouse or their current spouse may receive. (Their benefits are not reduced because you get ½ of your ex-spouse’s benefits!)

How you ask?  Below are a few answers to questions you may have:

1. How many ex-spouse’s can claim derivative benefits?
As many ex’s as there are, as long as each marriage lasted 10 years.  Mickey Rooney’s seven ex-wives got left out since none of the marriages lasted more than 10 years, but three of Johnny Carson’s marriages lasted over 10 years and all his ex’s were eligible for benefits.

2. If my ex-spouse dies, do my derivative benefits end?
This has good news and bad news. The bad news: If he/she dies, the derivative benefit ends. The good news is that now you can collect survivor benefits, which are 100% of his benefits, not just 50%.

3. Can I receive both public employee benefits and social security?
Under the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), benefits received from a non-Social Security covered job (teacher or other civil service job) may cause Social Security benefits to be reduced by several hundred dollars. The Government Pension Offset (GPO) applies to derivative benefits, which will be reduced by 2/3 of the pension benefits received by an employee from a job not covered by social security.  (This is where you really need to talk with a knowledgeable representative at the Social Security Administration.)

4. Can I receive benefits on my ex-spouse if he/she has not yet filed for benefits?

If your ex-spouse has not applied for retirement benefits, but can qualify for them, you can receive benefits on his or her record if you have been divorced for at least two years.

As in any case where government benefits are involved, these rules are subject to change. So, when you are ready to claim social security benefits, be sure to let the Social Security Administration know that you were married for more than ten years, and be prepared to furnish your ex-spouse’s full name and social security number.

The Social Security Administration will be able to calculate what benefits will give you the highest monthly payment, and will recalculate those benefits if your ex-spouse dies while you are collecting benefits.

For more information visit the page “If You Are Divorced at the Social Security Administration’s website.

All data and information provided on this site is for informational purposes only. Graine Mediation and its owner, Robin Graine, make no representations as to accuracy, completeness, currentness, suitability, or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use. All information is provided on an as-is basis.

 


CHILDREN of DIVORCE: Do They Have Shaky Relationship Skills as Adults?

September 22, 2011

We all know that divorce can be a very traumatic time for the children who get caught in the middle. For years, though, there has been loud rumbling that “if mom and dad keep it friendly, everyone will be OK.”  Is that true?  Not really, say the experts.  Though the damage may not appear in acting out behavior, plummeting grades or depression, you need only to look at your own children to see that children learn most about life – at least as far as their parents are concerned – by way of watching what the the parents do, not what they say.  That should make it easy to see, then, that kids who live through a divorce are probably more likely, as adults, to experience their own divorce.  Monkey-See, Monkey-Do.

According to Nicholas H. Wolfinger, in his book Understanding the Divorce Cycle: The Children of Divorce in their Own Marriages, there is clear statistical evidence that “divorce is transmissible from parents to children and that it continues, in many families, to cycle through generations.”  “The crux of the idea”, says Wolfinger, “is that the family structure of origin powerfully affects marriage formation and marital stability in the adult offspring of divorce.”  Wolfinger and colleagues found that:

Among adults whose parents had two or more failed marriages:

67% divorced, 26% two or more times.

Among adults whose parents divorced and remarried only once:

58% divorced, 19% at least twice.

Among adults raised in intact homes:

41% divorced, 9% two or more times.

What to do if you are contemplating or are in the middle of divorce?  Try your best to use the divorce as a learning tool to help our kids develop mature, seasoned conflict resolution skills.  Sound trite?  Maybe.  But, at least it will keep you focused on your kids and not your soon-to-be-ex-spouse’s idiot behavior and post-divorce financial blues.  It will help you, too, blossom into the level-headed and child-centric negotiator that you need to be at this complex and emotional time.


Divorce & Taxes Series: Part 3

September 16, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Divorce & Taxes Series: Part 2

September 11, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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