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Divorce 101

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First, there is shock. Whether it was your spouse’s idea or your suggestion, the realization that your union won’t last “’til death do us part” requires a major mental reset.

Second, there are questions. Will it be expensive? What happens to my retirement money?

How will I begin to start over and have a new life? What about the kids?

Finding answers is not always easy. Often, it requires phone calls and meetings with multiple professionals. Now women can gather these responses all at once – at divorce workshops offered by

The workshop offers women a safe place to get the score from experts in the field. They explain all the aspects of the process, step by step.

In attendance are:

  • an attorney who’s a board-certified family law specialist
  • a family therapist
  • a financial professional who specializes in divorce.

While each divorce is unique and involves individual issues, here’s a brief look at the essential information.

The legal points surrounding divorce can be complex and thorny. You will need expert advice, not your brother’s friend’s cousin who went through this last year, and certainly not the type of “quicky divorce” filer you see advertised on park benches. Whether you need a litigator, a collaborative divorce attorney, or a mediator will depend on your circumstances and the attitude of your spouse. The process can also take some time, so be prepared for divorce to be a process, not just an event.

Even the person initiating a divorce will feel an emotional impact. Such a separation is a huge change in your life and the lives of your children. You should definitely consider family therapy to help your kids understand that this is not about them. Be sure you find your own support through therapy, a divorce support group, friends and family. It’s natural to feel guilty or angry about divorce, but your support system can help you through it. Try learning something novel to help you kick off your new life.

No matter the legal terms of your divorce, your monetary picture will change. Women often end up with less disposable income, even after child support or alimony. Those who left careers to care for children may struggle to re-enter the workforce. Speak to a financial adviser, and do it sooner rather than later in the process. Things will be different now, so make sure you have a plan in place. Remember to give time to what may seem like far-off issues, such as retirement. Consider also the fiscal implications of all your decisions. For example, the person paying alimony can deduct it as an expense on a tax return, while the ex-spouse who receives it will be taxed for the income. Think about selling the house. Your mortgage payment may be too high to sustain on your new income. While it can be difficult to let go, it might be best for your budget in the long run.

The workshops are designed to start you right on the road to answering these questions by bringing together qualified, local professionals. The environment is safe, collaborative and non-threatening. There are no “sales pitches”, just honest information given by people who care.

Using Retirement Income After Divorce

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Many couples who divorce split up money saved for retirement. This may lead to tricky situations for those who need the money now, but are too young to receive retirement benefits. So what do you do?

Be sure to ask your financial adviser about a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO, pronounced “quadro”).

A QDRO is used to transfer your portion of your spouse’s retirement plan to an IRA in your name. As you probably know, you can’t take money from your IRA without penalty until you are 59-1/2.

But if you need money to live on now, you can choose to have the funds transferred from your husband’s plan directly to you, rather than transferring them to your IRA. You will have to pay tax on the money you receive, but there won’t be any 10% penalty if the money comes from a retirement plan other than an IRA.

If you don’t want to pay all those taxes up front (and who would?) you can choose to have the money sent directly to your IRA. Then you can annuitize the IRA, taking monthly distributions based on your remaining lifetime.

Although IRA distributions before age 59-1/2 are usually subject to a 10% penalty tax, an exception applies if you annuitize the IRA and continue receiving the payments until you are 59-1/2 (and for a minimum of five years).

What You Need To Know About Alimony

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Alimony can be confusing. If you’re about to go through divorce, you may be wondering: Will you get it? How much will it be? What about taxes?

Here is the breakdown:

In what cases does a spouse receive alimony?
Also called spousal support, alimony enters the picture when it is established that one spouse was actually or substantially economically dependent on the other in the marriage. Alimony is not the same as child support; those payments are separate and are given to benefit a couple’s children.

How is the amount decided? 

The amount of alimony is typically determined after taking into consideration each spouse’s income and reasonable financial needs and expenses, among other things.

How long will I receive/pay alimony? 
There is no legal determination. The length of time will be decided by the court.

Can alimony ever be terminated?
Yes. During the divorce process, you and your spouse (or the court) will work out both the amount of alimony and under what circumstances it would end. For example, you might agree that alimony will cease upon death of either party, upon the remarriage of the person receiving alimony or upon the cohabitation of the person receiving alimony.

What happens if my spouse falls behind on alimony payments?
The manner in which alimony was resolved determines how it may be collected. Some of the measures to collect unpaid alimony can be accomplished without a lawyer, but a lawyer can help an individual to understand the process and what is involved.

How is alimony treated on my income taxes?
Alimony is taxable as income to the person who receives it and tax deductible for the person paying it.

How do I determine how much alimony I should receive/pay?
Alimony amounts depend on the financial situations of both parties.

What if my spouse had an affair?
Extramarital affairs can be considered a form of marital misconduct, which may affect the amount or duration of alimony that a person pays or receives. Sometimes, when extramarital affairs are an issue, lawsuits for alienation of affection and criminal conversation can arise. An attorney can help evaluate whether these actions are appropriate for a specific situation.

The bottom line is that you need to understand your rights and your needs. Those are not necessarily the same thing. But, as they say, a little bit of knowledge will go a long way. Get involved in your process and in your outcome.

Losing The In-Laws: How To Cope With One More Divorce Loss

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When getting a divorce, you expect to split from your partner. Although it’s not easy, you are working through the grief as you work through the legal process. What you may not expect is the loss of other people in your life: your in-laws.

For years, you attended their weddings, funerals, children’s school and sports events. You may have lunched with your mother-in-law or gone fishing with your father-in-law.

If they have become your family, it may come as a shock to find out they de-friended you on Facebook and no longer take your calls. Suddenly there are two sides, and they’re definitely not on yours.

Here is how to cope with the awkwardness that may follow:

Don’t expect anything. Each divorce is different, and your in-laws might be the ones who call and ask how you are doing. They may understand that it takes two to tango and two to divorce. But they might not.

Reach out — gently. Depending on your relationship, it is probably OK to send a birthday or Get Well Soon card. Calls and lunches might be put on hold for awhile. But if your relationship with them is strong, those things may return in time.

Keep it classy. Don’t send a long email full of emotion and dirty laundry about your soon-to-be ex. Even if they are rude to you right from the moment they hear about your split, it’s still best for you to remain calm (at least on the outside) and treat them how you would like to be treated. If you have children, this will set a good example for them and it will help pave the way for peace at family events down the road.

Remember: change is constant. Even if you and your sister-in-law are best friends and remain so after the divorce, life will continue to change. What happens if your ex-husband remarries? If you remarry, you will have a new set of in-laws to take into your family.

Have more questions about the emotional upheaval that comes with divorce? Join us for our next workshop to hear from a therapist who handles divorce issues.

Four Ways Grandparents Can Help During Divorce

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Divorce affects a lot of people. Of course the two partners and spouse and children suffer the most impact, but parents and in-laws will also feel the change.

Grandparents are often not thought of at the start of the divorce process, but they can play a large role as things move forward. Here are some areas to consider if you’re the grandparent during a divorce.

Offer a Comfort Zone – Naturally your grandchildren will be feeling hurt and confused by the process. Grandparents can offer a comfortable home where everything has stayed the same. Try to keep it that way and offer a shoulder to cry on or an open ear. It’s common for children to confide in grandparents or other relatives because they are scared to do so at home. But don’t spend all your time on that topic; be sure the child has a place to get away from the big changes occurring in his/her life.

Think Switzerland – Of course you have your own feelings of anger, frustration, or hurt about the divorce. Maybe your son or daughter-in-law cheated on your son/daughter. But that person is still your grandchild’s parent and it’s up to you to present a neutral front. Expressing your anger or taking sides is only going to hurt your grandchild more as he/she works through feelings about both parents.

Get Over the Guilt – As a parent, you are wondering about your daughter/son’s divorce. Could you have done something to help? Should you have shared your reservations about the relationship sooner? You may even recognize some of the fault with your child and then feel guilty about that, or feel divided loyalty. As the saying goes, there is no point in crying over spilled milk. What you can do now is be a force for optimism and positive change as your family navigates toward a new way of life.

Stay in Touch – If your in-law child ends up with custody, you may fear losing touch with your grandchildren. It’s a valid fear because this does happen. Do your best to keep a strong relationship with them by setting up outings and celebrations. It’s also good to stay in touch with your in-law child, if possible. Obviously that depends on how the relationship ended, but if you can be friendly and coordinate with that parent, it will certainly make things easier for future birthday parties and holiday gatherings.

Grandparents who are concerned about these topics should call or email our office to schedule an appointment to talk about the unique role they can plan. We can be reached at (626) 219-2480 or by email

The ABCs of Helping Children Through The Divorce Process

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Children are the all too often forgotten victims of divorce. The problems that lead to divorce are usually centered around husband and wife, but when there are children in the home, they have a stake in the family and a desperate need to know how it’s all going to affect them. When parents forget that, the kids become victims very quickly.

Acknowledgement: Telling Children of the Decision to Divorce

  1. If possible, plan to tell the children together, so that the messages you are giving about the decision to divorce are uniform. Do not include specific information about the reasons for the divorce, but rather explain in more general terms, and do not speak poorly about your spouse. It is also generally never a good decision to discuss adult issues, such as infidelity, financial issues, difficulty with in-laws, etc. For one, with regard to self-image, on an internal level children see themselves as “half mom” and “half dad.” Thus when parties tear one another down, it in turn tears down the child’s own internal sense of self. Second, the child is left to try to understand adult issues through a child’s or teenager’s mind, which can lead to a lot of confusion and exacerbate difficulty in their adjustment to the divorce.
  2. Messages that project the reality of the situation yet protect the child’s emotions are:

Mom and Dad are going to get a divorce. (For younger children: That means that we aren’t going to be married anymore, and that we won’t live together.) This decision doesn’t change the fact that we are still your parents, and it is in no way at all your fault. Being married isn’t good for us anymore, but one good thing about it was that we had you, and we are so happy to have you.

While some things will change, like where we each live, one thing that will never change is how much we both love you, and how important you are to us.

We know that you might be sad or angry or upset about this, and we want you to talk to us about what you think and how you feel, so we can try to help you through this.

  1. Prepare and practice ahead of time what you will say. Planning makes any communication go better. Be sure to also prepare for various reactions and how you will deal with them in the moment. For example, children may cry, beg you not to divorce, be angry, yell at you, slam doors, refuse to speak to you, or try to get you to change your mind. Conversely, some children who have been aware of conflict between you may say that they are not surprised. Children are concrete thinkers and may have many practical questions they ask, such as where everyone will live, when they will see each parent, what they will do on holidays and birthdays, or if they will have to move.

New Beginnings: Transitioning a Family into Two Households

  1. Keep as much routine and consistency as possible, while allowing for some flexibility to make the process flow smoothly. Similar routines, especially around getting off to school in the mornings, doing homework, and bedtime (even on weekends), make it easier for a child to go between households. Also, create a comfortable space for children in both households, to include a room of their own and toys, clothes, favorite foods, etc., that they don’t have to carry back and forth.
  2. While children do best with consistency, expecting rigidity in parenting can lead to unnecessary conflict. Allow your ex-spouse to be his/her own parent, and respect your different parenting styles. Divorce is a time of changing roles and responsibilities with regard to parenting; pre-divorce roles and responsibilities were divided based on a two parents in one household, thus post-divorce is often a time of each parent learning how to do some of the things that used to be the “job” or “area” of the other parent. Avoid the thinking trap of, “It’s always been this way…” and instead try to support one another, for the good of the child, in your respective development and strengthening of skills.
  3. Time with your child used to occur by happenstance to some extent. Time now takes more planning. Both parents want quality parenting time with their child, and a healthy relationship with each parent is in the best interests of the child. Maintaining contact between each parent and child is essential. This can be a difficult topic for parents to navigate, as they are driven by love for their child and an underlying fear of losing a close bond and relationship with the child due to divisions in time.

Some helpful hints: (1) Think in terms of quality time versus exactly equal time. (2) Keep in mind that your children used to know that mom and dad lived at home with them, and even if mom and/or dad were busy some days, there was the underlying comfort of their presence. Make efforts during the transition phase for as much contact between each parent and child as is feasible to help them adjust. (3) Time and contact are not only in-person. Be creative about other ways to maintain contact, such as a goodnight call between parent and child being part of the daily bedtime routine. And/or quick phone or email messages of “I love you,” “I’m thinking about you,” or “How did your test go?” Keeping contact around the little things that happen in your child’s day is a great way to stay connected. And remember that keeping contact is an adult responsibility – whether the child is age 6 or 16, it is the responsibility of the parent to take the lead in staying connected.

Co-Parenting Effectively: Developing a Positive Shared-Parenting Relationship

  1. From the moment of separation you and your spouse begin functioning as co-parents, and how you manage this is vitally important to the well-being of your child. Research has shown that it is not the divorce per se, but rather the amount of conflict associated with the divorce that has the most negative effects on children. If there is conflict between you and your ex-spouse, your child will be left to deal with an ongoing stressful situation at an age when coping skills around stress are still in development and children are often not able to process such negativity between parents. Some hints to lessen your child’s exposure to conflict: (1) Minimize the child’s exposure to fighting. Have your disagreements well out of earshot, and remember that kids are experts at listening in. (2) Don’t use your children as messengers or quiz them about your ex-spouse. The less the children feel a part of their parents’ battle, the better. (3) Your children may be tempted to act as your confidant and caretaker. Resist the temptation to let them. Let your peers, adult family members, mental health professionals, etc., be your counselors. Let your children be children.
  2. Regardless of the actual split of time spent with the child, co-parenting itself is an ongoing situation. Thus the time to start lessening the conflict, and build a healthy co-parenting unit is now. Try to move beyond past hurt to forge an amicable co-parenting team for the benefit of your child (and for yourself as well). Components of a positive shared-parenting relationship: focus on effective and respectful communication, navigate differences in parenting styles and agree upon difficult topics, engage in low-conflict joint decision-making, compromise, and be a united front to the child.
  3. Remember that you are your child’s role model, and the message your behavior sends to your child is: This is the way people should act in this situation. Co-parenting is an opportunity to teach your child valuable lessons about how to get along with someone even when you disagree with them, how to compromise, and how to maintain positive and healthy relationships even in difficult circumstances. In building and maintaining your co-parenting relationship, think about the messages you are sending your child.

How To Choose A Divorce Attorney

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Divorce is a big event in your life. Choosing the right attorney for you and your process will make it easier and help you settle with your spouse equitably.

But how do you choose? You certainly don’t want to just pick the one with the biggest billboard advertisement on Interstate 40. Instead, try this process to find the divorce attorney who can guide you through the legal challenges ahead.

Research – Ask around for recommendations. Some of your friends and family have gone through divorce. Would they recommend working with their attorney? Why or why not? Be sure to ask a lot of questions about their experience. Look for someone with a practice in family law; he or she will have more knowledge about the many facets of divorce.

Interview – Set up a meeting with more than one attorney so you can compare styles. Ask him or her questions about the process. Take note of how you feel about him or her. Divorce is very personal and requires you to share a lot of private details. You want to make sure you feel comfortable with this person. (But don’t make him or her your therapist.)

Get the Facts – Ask about cost: flat rate or billed hourly? Will they respond to questions via phone, email, snail mail or all of the above? How quickly do they usually respond? What are their expectations of you? You must know in advance what you are getting into.

Once you have this information, it should be a clear choice.

Want to know more? Join one of our workshops to hear directly from a family law attorney about the process.

Divorce Is A Team Sport

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Divorce affects you, your finances, your family, and every other aspect of your life.  It’s critical that you go through the process correctly so you get the most favorable outcome possible.  There’s no do-over.  You get one shot to lay the foundation for your future.  Do it right!  The best way to ensure your interests are protected is to assemble a team of professionals to advise you along the way.  A quarterback would not go out on the field alone and expect to score, would he?  No way; he’d get pummeled!  Instead, he would surround himself with qualified individuals to fill the positions needed to run the plays and get down the ball down the field.  You are the quarterback in your divorce.  And you need a team.

The team you assemble will depend on the specifics of your divorce.  Every divorce is unique, thus each team is different.  Here are a few of the players you may need on your team:

Attorney.   Since divorce is a legal process most people know they need a lawyer, which is a good start.  But don’t hire just any attorney, find the right lawyer for you.  Consider your options: do you just need an attorney consultant to help you along the way on an “as needed” basis?  Can you and your spouse use a mediation service to reach a resolution?  Do you need to lawyer up and go to battle? Ask your friends or trusted professionals for recommendations.  Do your research. Interview attorneys or mediators until you find one you are comfortable with and who fits your situation.  Do you really need a $600 an hour pit bull for a low conflict divorce?  Probably not. Take the time to find the right legal professional for you and your situation.

Financial Advisor.  Divorce involves a division of all assets and debts.  Your divorce will have a significant impact on your financial future.  Get someone to help you evaluate the assets and debts obtained during your marriage, establish a realistic budget for your new life, determine how to meet financial objectives, avoid tax consequences, consider hidden expenses, etc.  For example, if you want the house do you really know how much it is going to cost you to maintain it? Do you know its condition?  Are there liens against it you’ll have to pay?  Don’t be surprised after the fact.  Also, your advisor can help you evaluate and obtain financial services you need such as bank accounts, insurance, retirement accounts, estate planning, real estate appraisals, etc.  A good financial advisor can help you evaluate assets, prepare for your financial future, and make decisions that will maximize your settlement.

Therapist.  Even if you want the divorce and/or it is an amicable split, a divorce can be really difficult emotionally on you and/or your children.  Don’t sweep it under the carpet.  Get some help before, during and/or after the process so you get get through it as emotionally healthy as possible.  A good counsellor can help you make the decision to split, advise you how to tell your children and help them through the process, and work with you to recognize your shortcomings in the relationship so you don’t make the same mistakes again.  Like a lawyer, you want to find the right therapist for you…and there are a lot of different types. Therapists specialize in a myriad of issues including addiction, abuse, adultery, etc.  You may need a professional to advise regarding co-parenting, custody considerations for special needs children, helping children cope, etc.   Your therapist may also be able to direct you to support groups, children’s programs, and other services relevant to your needs.  Get the right help so you and your family can move forward as emotionally healthy as possible.

Again, every divorce – and every team – is unique.  These are just a few potential team members you may need but there are many, many other resources available.  Take the time to determine who you need on your team, fill the positions with qualified professionals, and use their expertise.  Don’t use your lawyer as your therapist, and don’t get your legal advice from your pals. You will not regret getting professional advice through your divorce process. If you need assistance putting together YOUR team, please do not hesitate to ask your Second Saturday Team to refer you to the right resources for your needs.  We are here to help – and cheer you on – throughout your divorce process and beyond.