Lori Lustberg is an attorney, mediator, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, Master Analyst in Financial Forensics, Certified Divorce Financial Analyst®, and writer based in Shelburne, Vermont. To check out her website and blog click HERE.
A couple of years ago, “Lucy” contacted me for financial assistance with her divorce. She was questioning her attorney and seeking a second opinion. When Lucy came into my office, she brought the spreadsheet her attorney had created that outlined a proposed settlement scenario, and I could fairly easily tell that her legal and financial interests were well represented.
Q&A From the Judge's Bench™: Does it Reflect Poorly on the Mother in Court for Refusing to Have any Communication with the Stepmom?
Question from a Reader:
My partner and I currently have full custody of my stepdaughter and I am the primary caretaker as my partner is often at work. I speak with my stepdaughter's teacher regularly, I take her to after school activities, and sometimes doctors appointments. I recently reached out to the Bio Mom on a few occasions to update her with school information and a doctor’s appointment. I also try to open up communication by sending an email based around my step daughter's well-being and expressing some issues that were brought forward by her therapist. I view this as just trying to establish some form of a relationship, but we've recently received a letter from her lawyer, indicating that she will only communicate with my partner when it comes to her daughter. I respect that is her choice, I was just wondering if the Bio Mom’s refusal to communicate with me, would reflect poorly on her in court when it comes to our upcoming custody and child support case?
In my mediation practice, I often encounter cases in which very smart, very kind and otherwise rational people find themselves engaged in a divorce-related battle for reasons that would surprise someone who knew them outside of the situation.
Some of these cases involved matters that are truly worth fighting over, including such serious issues as domestic abuse or custody of children where one party is truly not a fit parent. More often, cases get hung up on a particular issue or set of issues and then the ill-feelings generated by that particular issue multiply and infect all of the other areas where the parties might otherwise have been able to come to an amicable agreement.
In our previous post, we shared an excerpt from our eBook What You Need to Know About Domestic Abuse (available for download here), outlining some of the warning signs of an abusive or violent relationship. The next (and most important) excerpt is The Safety Plan. The Safety Plan has a few sections, including a list of what to take with you if you need to leave, safety while at home, safety at work, and emotional health. Here we share the first half of the safety plan outlining the best way to be safe in your home, and how to be prepared in case you should have to leave quickly.
As a company, we feel that we have a moral obligation to talk about domestic abuse. Domestic abuse is, unfortunately, a factor in many separation and divorce cases and we understand that spreading awareness about the many forms domestic abuse takes, as well as what to do when you are in a dangerous situation, is something that we can help with. That's why, together with ret. Judge David Kennedy, we are creating an eBook that includes how to recognize and safely get help with a domestic abusive situation. The eBook includes a list of 18 questions to ask yourself about your relationship and checklist of what to do to safely remove yourself from a dangerous or unhealthy situation. Even if domestic abuse is not an issue in your relationship, the likelihood that you know someone experiencing domestic abuse is painfully high.
The eBook will be available soon. In the meantime, here are 18 questions you should be asking yourself if you think you may be experiencing abuse in your relationship:
Let’s assume the following scenario, for the sake of discussion. You are in a long-term marriage, which for whatever reason has run its course. You and your spouse have successfully raised your kids, who are grown and gone. The high earning spouse is the principal of a modestly sized small business, with about $1m per year in gross revenues. Additionally, the parties have two family LLC’s that own rental properties. However, the higher earning spouse has reinvested all surplus income (in good years) in the business, and has only a small 401(k).
Let’s move to another topic in our series on the complexity of joint finances: that of marital versus non-marital property.
These terms are defined differently by each state and the rules are very different between “community property” states and “equitable distribution” states. The differences can be summarized in a couple key sentences. In community property states, unless there is a prenuptial agreement that says otherwise, when parties get married, any real estate or other property held by either party prior to the marriage gets transformed into joint property held by both of the partners.
While it is far form a universal rule, I think most people who see lots of separating or divorcing couples (Therapists, Accountants, Lawyers, Judges, etc.) would agree that while the underlying problems may be more subtle and hard to identify, there is usually a triggering event that pushes one or the other partner over the line from ambivalence to a decision to move on.
Over time, most households that are responsible with their money begin to accumulate long-term assets. These assets commonly fall into three categories; Real Estate, Regular Investments and Retirement Investments. If a couple is married and later decide to divorce, then a whole bunch of rules come into play, some created by courts as “common law” doctrines, others put in place by legislatures in the form of “statutes”, and yet others, in the form of IRS regulations and practices, governing tax treatment of gains and losses.
Census data makes it clear that fewer people are choosing legal marriage than they used to, or are putting it off until later in their lives. However, many people are living together, and gradually move into sharing their finances without ever crossing a clear legal line. Unless the unmarried partners have a written agreement governing their finances and what will happen if they break up, non-married joint finances are a train wreck waiting to happen. If Long Term Assets are involved, the wreck will likely be worse.
1 Adam 12, See the woman at 121 Spring Street…
In our city paper last week there was a bad story about a murder in a small local town. A man who lived alone out in the country subdivided his property, and then sold a second lot, retaining a common driveway. The neighbors had problem after problem with each other for years.