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Spousal Support IS Modifiable

spousal support

Can Spousal Support be Changed?

YES! The amount and duration of Spousal Support may be modifiable. You can go to court and ask the judge to increase, decrease, or stop spousal support any time during the period when court has jurisdiction unless you agree otherwise in your settlement.

In most states the court will retain jurisdiction over spousal support for different periods of time based on factors in the case. The main factors include:

  • Length of marriage
  • Age of the parties
  • Each party’s ability to support themselves by earning a living and or living off of the assets they own after the divorce.

Here’s an example.

A couple in their mid 50’s who has been married for 25 years with one party having been a full time parent would likely see the court retain jurisdiction over modification of spousal support forever in California. The length of marriage and ages of the parties would likely classify the example as a long-term marriage.

The working and paying spouse would be allowed to retire at normal retirement age, 65 or 67 depending on who you ask, at which point the amount of support could be modified to reflect the decreased income of the payer. If the payer continues to work past their normal retirement age they may be required to continue paying support at the same level. This has become more common as many baby boomers work past normal retirement age. Laws vary from state to state so be sure to consult experts in your home state.

During the court’s jurisdiction either party may petition the court for a modification based on a change of circumstances. A change of circumstances may include:

  • job loss by no fault of the worker
  • disability
  • decrease in earnings of a small business owner due to economic circumstances
  • retirement at an appropriate retirement age
  • many other factors.

What other life changes apply?

It can also go the other direction where a payer has a large increase in income, a one time financial windfall through bonus or stock compensation. In this case the payee could seek to modify the support amount upwards. We often work with the payee spouse to determine whether they should seek an upwards modification of support. In order to do so we may ask for the payer to provide annual income disclosures so we can be aware of any factors suggesting an upwards modification may be appropriate.

In some cases it makes sense for the parties to agree to a non-modifiable spousal support order. This so called non-modifiable spousal support can stipulate duration of the payment and or dollar amount or both. Non-modifiable spousal support comes with risks and rewards for both the payer and the recipient but can make sense for both parties in the right circumstances.

Some cases build modifications into the original agreement corresponding with the recipient reentering the work force or some change in financial circumstances in the future. These are often called step down orders.

 

Social Security Statement in Divorce Financial Planning?

Social Security

An individual’s Social Security Statement can be a valuable resource in your divorce financial planning. Make sure to gather copies of the most recent statements available and we can help you uncover a wealth of financial knowledge.

1. Earnings and employment history.

The Social Security Statement is a great place to look for historical employment earnings. It is valuable to understand the earnings history and trajectory of both parties in a divorce. If tax returns and other documentation are being with-held by your spouse the Social Security statement can provide a valuable baseline.

2. Estimated retirement and disability benefits for long term, post divorce financial planning purposes.

Understanding the long term cash flow is very important when negotiating a financial settlement. Having details of the Social Security administration’s estimated benefits can help me understand your future cash flow and plan more effectively for the future.

3. If there is a public pension.

A worker who participates in California State Teacher’s Retirement System (STRS), California Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) and many other governmental retirement systems may not have paid into the Social Security system. Some may pay into Medicare but not Social Security. You can see this if the worker’s statement has wages in the Medicare taxed earnings column but not the Social Security column. Using the Social Security statement we can uncover the existence of a previously undisclosed pension.

4. Derivative benefits available to a former spouse.

In a marriage over ten years you can receive derivative benefits on the record of your former spouse. The derivative benefit is equal to one half of the former spouse’s benefit which can be found on their annual statement. This is useful for long term planning and can be important in long term spousal support negotiations.

5. Social Security and Medicare tax details.

We often need to estimate incomes for negotiation purposes. A common mistake occurs when the 6.2% Social Security tax is applied to the worker’s entire income. Instead the tax should be applied up to the maximum wage base for Social Security taxes. If you apply the tax to $300,000 of income the net, after tax income will be understated by over $10,000 per year.

6. Possible application of Government Pension Offset Provision (GPO) or Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP).

Those workers mentioned in #3 above may find themselves subject to the GPO or WEP and end up receiving less benefits than they expected if not careful. It is always important to understand how these government provisions affect an individual in divorce. The Social Security Statement even talks about them in the bottom right hand corner of page 2 in it’s current lay-out.

7. Existence of tax deferral vehicles such as deferred compensation plans and retirement accounts.

If the numbers reported under Medicare wages don’t match those reported in the Social Security earnings column there may be tax deferral vehicles like deferred compensation plans that are being used. The worker may also have simply hit the wage base maximum after which Social Security taxes are no longer incurred but Medicare taxes are.

8. Misreported income.

In California an individual involved in divorce proceedings must file a declaration of disclosure detailing their income and expenses and sign it for accuracy under penalty of perjury. This doesn’t keep people from reporting incorrect figures. If the Social Security Statement doesn’t match what is reported on the declaration there better be an explanation.

The Social Security Administration is provides an online version of taxpayers’ statements. The online version is now available at www.socialsecurity.gov/mystatement.

Your Wellspring Divorce advisor can uncover a lot from simple and easily available documentation. Imagine what we can find with a complete and accurate set of financial documents.

Worried? Here are 20 Questions to Uncover Financial Infidelity

questions

What questions should you ask if you are worried about financial infidelity?

If you’re worried your spouse is being financially unfaithful,  here are 20 questions we ask a client who suspects their spouse of financial infidelity. They are all meant to uncover underlying causes or avenues for financial infidelity. You should ask yourself these questions before accusing your spouse of wrongdoing.

  1. Do you have separate bank accounts?
  2. Is your name on the family bank accounts?
  3. Is your name on the mortgage?
  4. Do you have a relationship with the family financial advisor?
  5. Do you know how much your spouse earns and how they get paid?
  6. Who gets the mail and pays the bills?
  7. Are there credit cards you know nothing about?
  8. Are your family bank and investment account balances lower than you would expect?
  9. Are there unopened boxes or clothing hanging in the closet with tags still on it?
  10. Is money an emotional conversation in your marriage?
  11. Does your spouse gamble?
  12. Does your spouse day trade a stock portfolio?
  13. Are there abnormally large expenditures charged to debit cards at department or grocery stores?
  14. Do you suspect your spouse of having an emotional or physical affair?
  15. Are you on an allowance?
  16. Does your spouse do business with family members?
  17. Do you suspect your spouse of misusing prescription or other drugs?
  18. Have you ever wondered where your spouse got the money to buy a big ticket item?
  19. Does your spouse own their own business?
  20. Is it possible your spouse has been planning for divorce for a long time?

 

Call Wellspring Divorce Advisors for professional financial help if these questions heighten your sense of concern. Click here for an overview of financial infidelity in a previous post.

Protecting Your Assets: What is Financial Infidelity?

protecting

Protecting yourself.

What is Financial Infidelity?

Financial Infidelity is the misuse, mismanagement or misappropriation of marital assets and incomes during a marriage. Financial Infidelity can stem from many causes including:

  • shame from a job loss
  • extra-marital affairs
  • addiction
  • poor communication
  • downright fraud.

What are the signs?

Clients have come to us suspecting their spouse of buying gifts or lavish trips for the mistress, frequenting strip clubs and major gambling losses. We have also had clients learn of their spouse’s transgressions only when they saw the poor condition of their family finances during divorce proceedings.

Regardless of the reason for the suspicion or the reason for the financial infidelity it can wreck marriages and the long term financial security of the victim. A recent Harris poll showed 42% of poll respondents have committed some form of financial deception. 39% hid a purchase, bank account, cash or a document of some type like a bill or credit card statement. 16% admitted to a lie about the amount of debt they had or the amount of money they earned. 25% of couples experiencing financial infidelity in the poll ultimately separated or divorced while 25% said it had no effect on their relationship.

Take care of yourself.

You owe it to yourself and your children to be diligent and engaged in the finances of your marriage if only to fight for what is left in a divorce. Read on for a detailed overview.

  •  Click here for a list of 20 questions we ask clients who suspect their spouse of financial infidelity.
  •  Click here for suggestions of first steps to take if you are concerned about financial infidelity.
  • Click here for some real world examples of financial infidelity from our practice.

 

Protect your Assets: Prenuptial Agreements 101

prenuptial

What is a prenuptial agreement?

A prenuptial or premarital agreement is a negotiated agreement reached between two parties in advance of marriage. The agreement typically deals with the ownership of assets in the event the marriage ends in divorce. Some prenuptial agreements will also cover alimony and child support. There is a great overview from a legal perspective here.

Do I really need a premarital agreement?

About half of marriages end in divorce in the United States so it may be prudent to consider signing one. Following are some considerations to help guide your decision making.

Timing is everything

Many newly engaged couples believe the entire concept of prenuptial agreements is unromantic or even disgusting because the party proposing the agreement may be planning for the marriage to fail. If you plan on asking for a prenuptial agreement in your future marriage we suggest you start the conversation early so expectations are not shattered weeks in advance of the big day.

Many jurisdictions even require a party be given a certain amount of time to review and negotiate the terms of a prenuptial before the marriage date. If the adequate time is not provided the agreement can be rendered unenforceable. In California the party receiving the prenuptial agreement must be given at least seven days to review the agreement before it is signed. If someone is not given the seven days, a court may consider it to be signed under duress and refuse to enforce it’s provisions.

Protect yourself.

Prenuptial agreements should be negotiated with the assistance of licensed and independent legal counsel. Independent is a key word. We have seen many prenuptial agreements drafted for couples by one attorney. Usually the drafting attorney is working for the person with the money. So how could the other party hope to get fair and complete representation from this lawyer if they are already working for their soon to be spouse? Unfortunately they usually do not.

In the State of California the party receiving the prenuptial agreement must be represented by independent legal counsel at the time of signing the agreement or waive their right to do so in writing. If independent counsel is not present the agreement may be rendered unenforceable.

This facet works to the advantage of both parties. For the party receiving the prenuptial agreement they will have access to competent and experienced legal counsel to ensure they understand what they are signing. For the person offering the prenuptial it provides additional assurance the agreement will stand up in court if the day should come. Bottom line don’t use your fiance’s attorney.

Protect your future.

Prenuptial agreements are all about money. One or both parties have it or the expectation of having it and want the money protected in the event of divorce. They are not only for celebrities or the super rich. Say you started a business before you were married and the business is just starting to gain traction. If the business grows to a value of millions of dollars during your marriage, the value may be considered part of your marital estate and you will have to pay your spouse to keep it in a divorce.

You may wish to have the business carved out as your separate property through the use of a prenuptial agreement. If the business does not take off as expected you would still have the peace of mind to know it is yours. If it does take off, you and your new spouse probably enjoyed the fruits of this success during your marriage through the income it was able to pay you.

Be prepared.

Prenuptial agreements require diligence and full disclosure. One of the many problems we see with prenuptial agreements is a complete lack or poor effort at disclosure of financial information. A good prenuptial agreement will include exhibits attached showing the assets, debts, income and expenses of both parties. You may not be able to prove assets not disclosed in the financials of the prenuptial agreement are governed by the provisions.

Take for example a brokerage account. You sign a prenuptial agreement saying all assets owned at the time of marriage are considered the separate property of the owner. What if the brokerage account was with Lehman Brothers who subsequently goes bankrupt and their records are no longer available. Your account balance will not have disappeared with the bankruptcy but your ability to prove it existed at the time of your marriage may have. If you cannot prove it existed at the time of marriage you may not get it awarded as your separate property in divorce. Start with full disclosure, be diligent about keeping records and consider updating or amending your prenuptial agreement as circumstances change and assets move around.

 

Stay tuned for more on the topic as we dive into Best Practices, explain Common Provisions, uncover Postnuptial and cohabitation agreements, share some horror stories of Prenuptial Failures and maybe even convince you Prenups are Romantic.