What We Can Learn From Celebrity Divorces

Celebrity DivorceThese days, it seems as if more and more couples are getting divorced. This is especially true when it comes to celebrities, whose marriages—and break-ups—are often front-page news. While some individuals believe that celebrities serve only as a form of entertainment, others suggest that couples may be able to learn something from their frequent divorces. In fact, celebrities may not only teach us how to keep a marriage stable, but also how to separate in a peaceful and respectful manner.

Communication is Crucial

If celebrities have taught us anything when it comes to maintaining a happy marriage, it is that communication is crucial. Proper communication not only helps individuals teach their partner about their wants and needs, but also assists when it comes to the development of stronger listening skills. Unfortunately, celebrities—and for that matter, non-celebrities—have the habit of demanding their desires, without considering those of their partner. Talking each and every day with one’s husband or wife is a must when it comes to managing expectations and maintaining a long and happy marriage together.

Take Your Time

There is no question that the prospect of getting married can be very exciting—especially when one believes that they are deeply in love with their partner. However, it seems as if many celebrities choose to “jump into” marriage before they have a strong understanding of the traits and personalities of their partner. Most marriage experts agree that men and women should take their time when it comes to getting to know their significant other before choosing to pursue a legal commitment. When it can be difficult to prolong the dating process, it may be crucial when it comes to avoiding divorce in the future.

Know When It’s Over

Despite the best efforts of many celebrities, some marriages simply weren’t made to last. And when a couple agrees that the end is near, they may also benefit by looking to celebrities for some tips and recommendations. While many celebrities do try to put on a good front for the sake of their fans and children, this may not be the best plan when it comes to the health of their family. In fact, the Huffington Post suggests that trying to keep a marriage together simply for the sake of children may actually do more harm than good in the long run.

Lawyers Aren’t All Bad

Finally, celebrity divorces have shown us that—despite their less than stellar reputation—many lawyers are not as bad as they are depicted. In fact, experts agree that having an experienced lawyer who is familiar with family law is crucial when it comes to surviving and thriving during the divorce process. Individuals who have never worked with a lawyer in the past may want to consider speaking with friends and family to identify a skilled and professional legal team. Interviewing a lawyer before making a financial commitment can be useful when it comes to finding the right professional for the job.

Bankruptcy: Watch out for the Marital Adjustment Deduction

divorce and bankruptcyWhen a person who is married decides to file for bankruptcy, the law permits him or her to do so alone, without requiring both spouses to file.  However, the non-filing spouse’s finances do play part in the filing spouse’s bankruptcy case.  The “means test,” including the “marital adjustment deduction” will be evaluated to determine whether or not the filing spouse qualifies for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, or to determine the amount the filing spouse will have to pay unsecured creditors in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

The Means Test

Even though you may feel that the only way out of your dire financial situation is to file for bankruptcy, a Westchester county bankruptcy lawyer points out that under the strict rules of the bankruptcy code, you may not qualify for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing.  In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy,  the debtor essentially tells the court that he or she is unable to pay back any part of the debt owed to creditors.  In order to qualify, you must pass a “means test,” meaning that your disposable income must be below a certain level.  If you do not pass the means test, then under bankruptcy law you are presumed able to pay back at least a minimum amount of your debt, and you will not be permitted to proceed with a Chapter 7 bankruptcy.  As part of the means test the bankruptcy court will look at your last 6 months of income as well as your expenses.  Thus, even if you have a high income, if your expenses are also high, your may still qualify for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

If you are married, but separated and living in separate households, the income of your non-filing spouse will not be taken into consideration for the means test. However, if you are married, then your spouse’s income will be taken into consideration for the means test.  This could have a significant impact on the filing spouses’ Chapter 7 petition.  If the non-filing spouse’s income is too high, then you may not qualify for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy.  In this is so then the “marital adjustment deduction” may help.

The Marital Adjustment Deduction

As part of the means test, you are permitted to deduct expenses from your income.  The “Marital Adjustment Deduction” allows you to deduct any expenses that your spouse pays that are not normal household expenses.  These “other” expenses are known as “marital deduction expenses.”  Examples of marital deduction expenses can include credit card payments for accounts that are only in your spouses’ name, child support payment for your spouse’s child, business expenses, student loan payments, and payroll deductions.  The net result of using the marital adjustment deduction is that if significant, it may offset at least some of your spouse’s income that you had to include in the means test.  Thus, you may still be able to qualify for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy even though your spouse’s income is relatively high.

Alternative to Chapter 7

If after applying the marital adjustment deduction you still do not qualify for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you may be permitted to file under Chapter 13. While all of your debt will not be discharged, the total amount you repay your creditors will likely be significantly reduced and you will have 3-5 years to make the payments.   However, you will still have to disclose your spouse’s income and expenses, which may affect the total amount you have to repay your creditors.

The importance of Full Disclosure

Ultimately, both your complete financial picture and that of your spouse will likely be closely reviewed by the bankruptcy court to determine how the law will allow you to proceed with your bankruptcy.  Thus, it is important to be prepared with evidence backing up all claims regarding income and expenses, or risk having your case dismissed.  An even worse result would be having the bankruptcy court determine that you have committed or attempted to commit fraud.

Do you think it is fair that a non-filing spouse’s finances are considered when a married person files for bankruptcy?  What if throughout the marriage the couple’s finances remained largely separate?  Does this rule encourage spouses to legally separate or “pretend” to separate?

Family Law Property Issues in Australia

(Victorian & Australian Law)

In recent times, the jurisdiction of property disputes in Family Law has broadened. Traditionally, property was only divisible between married or divorced couples. De-facto and same sex partners are now able to apply for a property settlement, though under different law. In the absence of agreement between the parties, an application for the settlement of a property dispute is made to the court, to be decided on the basis of need.

The settlement reached becomes legally binding and enforceable by the courts. Here’s a rough guide to what usually happens in these situations…

Applications

Parties can make a property settlement by agreement or, if agreement cannot be reached, make an application to the court for a property settlement. Applications for the division of property after divorce can be made to the Family Court or to the Federal Magistrates Court where a property dispute is worth less than $700,000.

Only parties who are or were married can make an application for a property settlement under the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth). In the case of divorce, an application must be made within 12 months of receiving the decree absolute. De-facto and same sex partners can make an application under the Property Law Act 1958 (Vic) in the Supreme Court, County Court or Magistrates’ Court.

Once an application is made, the parties will be asked to attend a case conference, with the aim of settling the property dispute by agreement before it goes to court. Present at this conference will be the parties, any family lawyer involved and a court registrar. If this conference is unsuccessful, the parties will go to court.

Property disputes in de-facto and same sex relationships (domestic relationships) are dealt with under the Property Law Act 1958 (Vic). A domestic relationship is a relationship between two people (regardless of gender) who live together as a couple on a domestic basis but are not married. The domestic relationship must have existed for at least two years for an application for a property dispute to be made under Part 9 of the Property Law Act . If there are exceptional circumstances, for example children being born out of the relationship, this two-year period can be waived. The relationship must have ended after 8 November 2001 for Part 9 to apply.

Property

The type of property divisible in a property settlement includes assets, cash, real estate, investments, insurance policies and superannuation. Debts are also taken into account. In a domestic relationship, as governed by the Property Law Act , superannuation and retirement benefits are not included in a property settlement. In making an order for property settlement, the court calculates the total pool of assets of the parties.

The division of these assets is based on both contributions made by each of the parties to the asset pool and future needs. The contributions of the parties include non-financial contributions, which means a homemaker will not be disadvantaged in this assessment. Future needs takes into account who is responsible for the daily care of the children, earning capacity, age, health and the financial circumstances of any new relationship. The aim is to distribute the property fairly between the two parties.

If you believe your partner is going to dispose of assets before the total pool of assets is calculated you can obtain an injunction to stop the sale taking place. Bank accounts and proceeds from the sale of any assets that has already taken place can also be frozen.

Spousal Maintenance

A party can apply for ongoing spousal maintenance if they can prove they are unable to support themselves. This application must be made within 12 months of divorce. An application for spousal maintenance is often included with an application for property settlement so that all financial issues are dealt with at once.

Spousal maintenance cannot be applied for where a domestic relationship exists.

Enforcement

If an agreement is reached between the parties, they can apply to the court for consent orders. This will make the agreement enforceable by the courts in case of dispute. Consent orders, once made, are final. A party must prove fraud, impracticality or other exceptional circumstances if they wish the consent orders to be set aside or varied.

If a party is not complying with the orders made, an application can be made to the court for enforcement. In this application, the party applying must set out exactly what the problem is. The court will then decide whether an order is needed to enforce the existing order.

A family law property settlement is an important process to go through after the breakdown of a marriage or domestic relationship. A property dispute can be settled by agreement between the parties or resolved by the court. Each case is unique and will be considered by the court according to its own circumstances. The court will not consider who is at fault in the breakdown of a relationship. Rather, it will be resolved on the basis of fairness and need.

Literature on Divorce for Older Children

divorce lawApproximately half of marriages, in the United States, end in divorce.  While not every married couple has children, it can be assumed that a large number of children are faced with their parents’ divorce each year.  When parents decide to divorce it is their responsibility, for the well-being of their child, to discuss the divorce with their child.  Many parents seek out additional resources, such as books, to make their discussion a bit easier or to answer questions that may be hard to answer on their own.  There is a plethora of books for younger children, specifically between the ages of 4 – 9, that are specifically written about divorce.  Many of the books are picture books with colorful illustrations concentrating on using simple concepts and a discussion of emotions.  Aside from “self-help” type of books, there are fewer books on divorce available for pre-teen and adolescent children.  While the needs of an older child are different from young children, a book addressing divorce can be helpful to an older reader.

Stereotypically, girls are most often classified as “readers”.  Much of the pre-teen and adolescent fiction and non-fiction literature discussing divorce has female protagonists or themes aimed at young women.  Parents of pre-teen and adolescent boys may need to search a bit more, but there are books with adolescent boys as the protagonists dealing with family issues like divorce.

Homesick, a 2012 release by Kate Klise, is a novel with a young male protagonist, appropriate for readers between 9 and 12 years old.  The main character, Benny, lives with his parents who have separated.  His mother has left the family and his father has hoarding issues.  Many readers may connect with Benny and the pressure and need to be responsible in his crumbling home life.  Reflected in a Kirkus Review, “Benny gets a job at the local radio station to scrape together money to pay the phone bill so he can stay in touch with his mother. She’s planning to get settled and return for him at the end of the school year, but Benny’s dad is spiraling downward fast.”

While Benny’s scenario may seem “too big to be true”, children of divorced parents may relate to Benny’s situation and his feelings.  Sometimes a story, bigger than their own, might make a child feel better about their own situation.

Children, of any age, may benefit from tools, such as literature, when dealing with divorce in their family.  Parents and children can connect through literature and gain a better understanding about divorce.  Literature can remind children, of any age, that divorce is not their fault, not their responsibility, and despite the situation, a parent’s love still remains before, during and after the divorce.

For more information about divorce please visit the website of Charles Ullman, a Cary, NC Divorce Lawyer at divorcelawnc.com.

The true cost of divorce in the UK

It is difficult to work out how to approach an article about the true cost of divorce in the UK.

For example, it would be possible to spend time discussing the emotional cost on both parties (as well as other people who might be affected, including any children), with this emotional cost generally increasing in line with the breakdown in trust and communication that is often associated with drawn-out legal disputes relating to a divorce.

It would also be possible to consider this from the perspective of the financial damage that is caused to a couple when they decide to separate, resulting in them needing to spread their assets and income much more widely in order to pay for 2 houses and separate lifestyles.

Each party to a divorce as also likely to have a view about how those assets and income that they consider to be their “own” ending up being shared with the other person, thus resulting in what they perceive to be an unfair cost. For example, any money from a recent inheritance might need to be shared with their spouse as well as part of their future income even after a divorce has been finalised.

Whilst all of the above issues are very important ones to examine when considering the true costs of a divorce, the aim of this article is to focus purely on the actual costs associated with the divorce process itself as I feel that these are often very unclear when the divorce process is started.

Part of the problem with addressing the issue of divorce costs is that in some ways this is similar to trying to establish the length of a piece of string as it is possible to spend anywhere from hundreds of pounds to tens of thousands of pounds on a divorce. To understand this, I will try to examine some typical scenarios for managing the divorce process:

1. DIY divorce

Whilst the removal of most forms of legal aid has essentially ended the possibility of a government-funded divorce, it is still possible to run the divorce process yourself. This will mean that the only costs associated with the divorce process are the court fee (which went up in July 2013) of £410, that now covers the full divorce process but that needs to be paid at the start of the process, and some minimal photocopying/postage costs. Whilst it is always advisable to consider whether independent legal advice would be appropriate, especially when there are children and complicated financial issues to discuss, there is no reason why someone who is comfortable with filling in forms and reading guidance notes should not consider a DIY divorce as an option if saving money is the priority and a very helpful government website can be found at https://www.gov.uk/divorce/overview

2. Online divorce websites

In recent years there has been an explosion in the number of companies offering to run the admin side of the divorce process via online websites, with some of these offering a divorce from as little as £37, although you will of course need to pay the £410 court fee and, if the divorce process does not go through as smoothly as hoped, you will then need to decide who to turn to for advice. Whilst I have had a number of clients who have used these websites with apparent success, this is only once the divorce process itself has been agreed in mediation, and it is important to consider whether you want to put something as important as a divorce in the hands of a faceless website rather than choosing to undertake a DIY divorce or instructing a solicitor to manage the divorce for you.

3. Fixed fee divorces

There has also been a growth in recent years in fixed fee divorces being offered by solicitors and it is likely that the competition in this area will become even fiercer in the coming years, thus leading to further reductions n the fixed fees. The advantage of these fixed fee arrangements is that you have some level of transparency with the fees involved but you will need to make sure that the £410 court fee has been included and check how the costs are likely to change if the divorce process is less straightforward than hoped e.g. if the other party defends the divorce or does not engage in the divorce process. If you choose carefully, then you should be able to find a suitable solicitor to process a straightforward divorce for somewhere between £1,000 and £1,500 including court fees.

4. Open ended divorce fees

When you instruct a solicitor to run the divorce process that is not on a fixed fee basis,  it is vitally important that you ask for clear guidance about costs and that you ask to be updated if it looks likely that the initial costs estimate will be exceeded. Failing to do this will leave you open to running up bills of thousands of pounds as your solicitor writes letters, makes phone calls and runs up additional costs at an alarmingly high rate, especially if there is any suggestion that the other party (0r their solicitor) is not in agreement with running the divorce process the way that your solicitor wants to run it. Ultimately, this could result in a contested divorce that costs each party tens of thousands of pounds,

Whilst the general examples above give a flavour of the choices that you have when considering a divorce and their respective costs, the big problem here is that all of these choices are designed purely to result in a divorce, thus meaning that there are often issues relating to the caring of any children that are unresolved.

Also, it needs to be understood that, unless a separate application is made for finances to be considered, you will not have resolved any issues relating to the finances, such as the ownership of the family home, the division of pensions and whether or not there should be future maintenance payments from one party to the other. Failing to address these issues at the time of divorce means that the window for one party to apply for a finance order remains open for many years and can lead to punishing legal bills in the future, not to mention the fact that it is likely that one or both parties will be in a financially vulnerable position without a court order to enforce any financial agreements that might have been reached either explicitly or implicitly.

It is therefore vitally important that you ensure that the finances (and children’s arrangements) are carefully considered during the divorce process and it is here that the true costs of divorce start to emerge. It is extremely difficult for the parties themselves to properly address the finances as the laws relating to finances are complex and there are many pitfalls to be avoided, with it being likely that the end result will either be one that is highly favourable to one party or one that damages the finances of both parties. It is also extremely difficult, if not impossible, for these issues to be dealt with by any online website or by any fixed fee package, as each situation will be unique, leaving just the option of open ended fees with solicitors and it is here where the true costs of divorce will become apparent. Some fortunate people who choose their solicitor carefully may receive all the advice and assistance that they need for a few thousand pounds each but there is a risk that the bills will exceed £10,000 per person and potentially go a lot higher, especially if any court intervention is required.

Of course, this is where family mediation can and should play its role. It should be possible for a suitably trained and experienced mediator to guide both parties through the divorce process (but with the parties completing their own paperwork or using one of the other options above once the divorce process has been agreed in mediation) and to, in the vast majority of cases, assist them to reach agreements about the children’s arrangements and the proposals for a full financial settlement, at a fraction of the cost that would be incurred between solicitors. It is likely that both parties will benefit from receiving some independent legal advice in parallel with the divorce process, as well as there being a need for any mediation proposals to be turned into legally binding agreements (or court orders) by a solicitor, but these legal costs should be comparatively very small.

Whilst each case is going to be different, from my experience it should be possible for all of the issues to be addressed properly within the mediation process for somewhere between £500 t0 £1,500 per person, with then just the court fees and some specific legal costs to add to this, giving a total cost of somewhere between £1,000 and £2,500 per person for the full process (but with there being additional costs involved if financial advisers or other experts are instructed during the process). As a mediator, I am aware that these costs are still significant for most people but I am also very aware of how much money will have been saved by both parties if they are able to reach agreements via the mediation process. I hope that this article goes some way to help others to become aware of the potential costs of divorce and to then enable them to make informed decisions about how to approach a possible divorce in the future without suffering from large legal bills or other unexpected and unnecessary costs.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post and I look forward to reading your comments.

 

Euan Davidson

Family mediator

Godalming Family Mediation

www.godalmingfamilymediation.co.uk