Family Support Risks and Rewards

family support

What is Family Support?

Family Support is the common term for what courts refer to as “unallocated alimony and child support” and a tool for maximizing the after tax cash flow for both households after divorce.

In cases where the divorcing parties have minor children and disparities in their incomes it is likely a judge will order alimony and child support as two separate payments in two separate amounts with different duration.

  • Alimony (spousal support) is intended to provide for continuation of the lower earning party’s standard of living and training if necessary to reenter the work force. Alimony can last for a number of years or a lifetime depending on the circumstances and the jurisdiction where the divorce is being completed. Alimony is taxable to the recipient and tax deductible for the payer.
  • Child support is intended to provide for basic needs of minor children from the marriage and ensure they have a similar standard of living in both new households. Child Support usually ends when the minor child turns 18 years old or graduates from high school, whichever comes last. Child support carries no tax liability for the recipient and is not deductible to the payer.

In some cases it makes sense financially to play with the allocation between these two payment amounts in order to provide the best bang for the buck and maximum cash flow to the newly formed separate households. Family Support can be a powerful tool for maximizing the after cash flow for both households but it comes with complications.

First an example using a single income household then we will talk about the risks and rewards:

Meet Sue and Dave

 

Facts

  • live in California
  • have been married for 17 years,
  • have two minor children aged 10 and 13
  • Dave makes $360,000 per year
  • Sue has been a full time mother and homemaker since the birth of their oldest child and has no earned income
  • Child sharing agreements have been reached with Sue remaining the main caregiver with 60% and Dave with 40% time share

Traditional Results

  • Child support is determined to be $3,983 per month
  • Spousal Support (alimony) is determined to be $5,845 per month
  • Sue’s Net (after tax) Disposable Income = $9,375
  • Dave’s Net (after tax) Disposable Income = $10,743
  • Total Net (after tax) Disposable Income = $20,118

Family Support Results

  • Child Support is set at $0 per month
  • Family Support is determined to be $12,527 per month
  • Sue’s Net (after tax) Disposable Income = $9,600 (+$225 per month)
  • Dave’s Net (after tax) Disposable Income = $11,000 (+$257 per month)
  • Total Net (after tax) Disposable Income = $20,600 (+$482 per month)

Rewards

  • If used appropriately Family Support allows the parties to achieve a higher net transfer of cash flow from the payer to the recipient by moving the income from the payer’s high income tax bracket to the recipient’s lower bracket.
  • The payer, Dave, simply has a larger tax deductible payment which increases his after tax funds available to pay support. Sue pays taxes on the family support in her bracket at a lower rate. The net benefit to the family cash flow is $482 per month, $5,784 per year or $57,840 over ten years.
  • The benefit of the cash flow increase is shared almost equally between the parties. $225 per month to Sue and $257 per month to Dave.

Risks and Complications

  • Family Support is typically a temporary agreement used to help maximize cash flow during the months or years divorce negotiations are pending and can help facilitate economic transition into two separate households. Opinions are mixed on how the IRS or state taxing authorities would look at longer term payments characterized this way and if they may try to “recapture” a portion of the tax deduction taken by the payer.
  • Click here for information from the State of California taxing authority which does recognize Family Support as fully tax deductible.
  • At least one federal court has invalidated a family support order in terms of deductibility to the payer (Wells v. Commissioner)
    • In order for family support to be deductible at the federal level it cannot be disguised child support so cessation of payments should not be contingent on child related events such as attaining the age of 18. Notice the example of Dave and Sue uses a ten year duration for payments for that exact reason.
    • The payments must also terminate upon the death of the recipient. This is a requirement for any alimony payment to be deductible.
    • With careful drafting by an experienced attorney we think Family Support can pass muster for long-term deductibility.
  • Both parties must fully understand the tax consequences before agreeing to Family Support. Sue will now have to make large estimated tax payments or face penalties and interest on unpaid taxes.
  • Courts do not typically order Family Support because the law requires them to maintain jurisdiction over child support as a matter of public policy.
  • Even if Sue and Dave chose to write Family Support into their agreement, either party could walk into court a week later, ask the judge for child support and expect to be granted the guideline amount effectively terminating their original agreement and potentially triggering tax trouble.

Help is out there.

Be sure to consult your Wellspring Divorce, tax and legal advisers about the risks of Family Support and applicability to your personal situation and stay out of the court system because a judge will never order Family Support for longer periods. Amounts and duration used in the hypothetical are not meant as advice or opinion for what you should expect in similar circumstances.

A Good Divorce Collaborative Divorce Style in San Diego

A couple of our firm’s close friends, Psychologist Richard Levak and Certified Family Law Specialist Attorney Hildy Fentin were featured recently on San Diego’s local Fox 5 Morning News discussing how couples can have a GOOD DIVORCE and taking questions from viewers. Please take some time to watch the two segments from the regular “Ask The Shrinks” section of the show to learn more about Collaborative Divorce and how you can get a GOOD DIVORCE.

Fox 5 Morning News 02/28/2012 Featuring Collaborative Divorce


Fox 5 Morning News 02/28/2012 Featuring Collaborative Divorce Part 2

Learn more about Collaborative Divorce here.

 

The Vocabulary of Collaborative Divorce

  1. Your Lives = Your Decisions (Self Determination, Control, Ownership, Options)
  2. A team centered around you (Teamwork, Resources, Control)
  3. Resolving Disputes Respectfully (Respect, Role-modeling for children)
  4. A Focus on the Future (Turning negative to positive, Options, Gift that keeps on giving)
  5. Sensible, Constructive, Mutual
  6. You Are Not Alone
  7. Shared Solutions Acknowledging Highest Priorities
  8. A client centered approach
  9. Supportive, Considerate, Respectful
  10. Divorce with Dignity
  11. Agreements everyone can live with (Durability, Lessening the Negative, Hope)
  12. Support when you need it most (Empowerment, Healthy Transition, Protection for Children)
  13. It begins with something you both can agree on: self-respect (Respect, Responsibility, Communication, Self Determination)
  14. Open communication(Respect, Integrity)
  15. Self Determination
  16. Giving the Children a Voice. (Protection for Children, Healthy Transition, Hope)

IDFA 2010 Survey: Recession and Divorce

The Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts recently completed a survey of it’s membership. Almost two hundred members responded from around the United States.

69% of Certified Divorce Financial Analysts said they had seen clients who could not afford to get divorced because of recession-related financial problems.

When asked to assess the difference that current economic conditions have made to the number of new divorcing clients coming through their doors, 39% say that the recession has not affected the number of cases, and 25% say that the recession has increased the number of new cases they’re seeing (these numbers compare with 43% and 19% respectively the previous year.

The most common reason cited for an increase was the clients’ desire to reduce the cost of their divorce. Other common responses included:

  • Economic climate is straining marriages
  • People are exploring the financial feasibility of being able to divorce before they file or see an attorney
  • An increase in mediated and Pro Se divorces using CDFAs as financial neutral.

The most common reason cited for the decrease was fear: fear of the economy, job loss, losing (or not being able to sell) their homes, and of not being able to make ends meet without their spouses. Other common responses included:

  • People are afraid to divorce while they’re unemployed
  • Clients can’t afford to divorce until the economy improves
  • Not enough money to hire a financial expert
  • People just can’t afford to live apart – especially if the matrimonial home is “underwater” (meaning that they owe more on the mortgage than the house is currently worth).

22% percent of respondents said that the number of clients whose matrimonial homes were “underwater” has increased dramatically over the last year. An additional 34% said that the number had increased slightly, and 24% said that the number had remained the same. Eighteen percent of respondents do not presently have clients with underwater houses, and only 2% report a decrease in the number from the same time last year.

Sixty-seven percent of respondents said that the current housing market has forced them to come up with creative solutions to property-division problems when the matrimonial home fails to sell – or would sell for less than what clients still owe on the mortgage. This number is down from 73% the year before. The most common solution is for ex-spouses to retain joint ownership and continue to live in the house (often, he moves into the basement and she lives upstairs) until the market improves, agreeing to postpone final division of assets until after the house is sold.

Fifty-eight percent of respondents said that the current economic climate has affected the type of assets their clients wish to receive as part of their divorce settlement (compared with 63% the year before). The most common request was for liquid assets only: their clients want cash rather than stocks, investments, real estate, or retirement plans. In other words, “Cash is King.”

According to the survey, Mediation and Collaborative Divorce proved to be the most cost-effective ways for clients to process the financial aspects of their divorce in 2009-2010. Many CDFAs work in two or more models, and they were able to paint a pretty clear picture of expenses incurred by their clients in each.

“These survey results are copyrighted and are used with permission from the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts.  www.InstituteDFA.com