CNN published an article about the top ten mistakes people make when in the middle of a high net worth divorce. As a family lawyer for thirty years, I maintain that the most important mistakes were listed at numbers 7 through 10! In fact, whether your situation is a high net worth divorce or not, these mistakes are reasons why most divorces cost the parties too much money because they give up assets they either don't know exist or to which they mistakenly believe they have no rights. Am I saying that people should represent themselves in a "simple" divorce? No I am not. In a future post, I will tell you why DIY is not a good idea for most people. The biggest mistakes people make in a divorce? These are the ones, I believe:
1 [formerly 7]. Listening to Friends: “My neighbor got a divorce and she got millions”; “My friend got a divorce and he didn’t have to pay a dime”. Everyone’s situation is different, and everyone’s case is different. Therefore, do not compare your case to anyone else’s. There are different judges, laws change and opposing counsel changes. No two divorces are alike. Deal with yours according to your specific circumstances, and with proper counsel and advice, you will come out ahead.
An interesting question was raised in an ABA Family Law Listserv discussion recently concerning whether a 1994 judgment of divorce dividing the parties' property (specifically a business) was still enforceable.
Here's what Ron said about trying to enforce a 21-year-old judgment. The point of his advice is: "People, don't sit on your rights!" A take-away for lawyers is this: You should always provide clients with information about the time limitations for enforcement of judgments so that they will take steps to enforce and not be left with an empty basket.
Ron Nelson said, "Simply put, an unexecuted judgment becomes dormant after five years, and shall remain dormant for an additional two years." Thus, a plaintiff may neglect his judgment for seven years, lacking a day, and then revive and put it in force for five years more.” Riney v. Riney, 205 Kan. 671, 680, 473 P.2d 77 (1970). If, however, a party neglects his judgment for over seven years, the judgment extinguishes and becomes unenforceable. The relevant statute mandates the Court to release the judgment of record upon request, stating that it “shall be the duty of the judge” to release a judgment which has exceeded the seven-year deadline. See K.S.A. 60-2403(a)(1) (emphasis added). The statute does not allow for courts to make findings as to whether a judgment may linger beyond the seven-year threshold, nor whether its enforcement is a discretionary issue. The Kansas Supreme Court has clearly explained what occurs when a judgment exceeds the seven-year threshold, whether or not a motion to release the judgment has been filed: “Once a judgment grows dormant . . . and is not revived pursuant to K.S.A. 1990 Supp. 60-2404, it becomes absolutely extinguished and unenforceable.” Cyr v. Cyr, 249 Kan. 94, 97, 815 P.2d 97 (1991).
Divorce clients frequently ask questions about their jewelry, such as: "Is the jewelry I inherited from my family my separate property?" or "Is my jewelry given to me by my husband my separate property?"
There is no special statute that discusses jewelry, or any other type of property. So it can be said that jewelry is subject to the same “rules” as everything else. That means the court (or the parties, before the issue gets to court) must “classify” all property as either marital or separate. Most property is acquired by the parties during the marriage, using income earned during the marriage. Thus, most property is marital. And marital property is usually divided between the parties “congruently” (meaning, roughly 50-50).
But the courts look differently on inherited assets, and on gifted assets like jewelry that are meant to be used and enjoyed by only one of the parties.
In Butler v Simmons-Butler, the Michigan Court of Appeals considered the issue whether a trial court has the authority to order a party to sign amended joint federal tax returns for prior years. The defendant appealed that order arguing that the trial court lacked the authority to order her to file amended joint returns, and arguing that she should not have been compelled to sign joint returns under penalty of perjury, as in doing so she would be affirming that the facts plaintiff states on the returns were true.
When the parties divorced, their judgment awarded each party fifty percent of the marital portion of the other party’s pension. [Plaintiff, a teacher, has a pension with the State of Michigan. Defendant’s pension was with Chrysler. As appropriate for each pensio, a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) or Eligible Domestic Relations Order (EDRO), was prepared and incorporated by reference in the judgment.The judgment provided each alternate payee the right to elect to begin receiving his/her benefits at the Participant’s earliest retirement age. the JOD also provided that “[t]o the extent that the Plan charges an administrative or actuarial cost for reviewing or administering the QDRO/EDRO, the Plaintiff and Defendant agree to split this cost equally.”
So far, so good, right? Well, Ms. Wolf got a big surprise when her ex-husband elected to begin receiving benefits at her earliest retirement age.
According to the Associated Press today, France is considering a process of divorce by mutual consent bypassing judicial oversight or intervention. France's Social Affairs Minister Dominique Bertinotti reports that more than half of divorces in France are uncontested. She says that divorces could be handled by court clerks who are "highly trained in the law." Bertinotti reportedly posited that "simplification is a good thing."
"Uncontested"--what does that mean? Does it mean that a couple truly agrees upon the property divistion? Does it mean that each of the parties is truly aware of the nature and extent of marital property? Does it mean that each of the parties has been fully informed of his or her property rights, right to support, rights concerning child custody, parenting time and support? Does it mean that each of the parties is operating without undue coercion or duress and in the absence of domestic abuse? By domestic abuse, I do not mean to limit that term to physical abuse only.
The Michigan Court of Appeals ["COA"] yesterday decided a case involving some interesting issues: business valuation, spousal support, double-dipping, property distribution, attorney fee award, and spousal support. The COA affirmed the trial court.
The defendant husband argued that the trial court improperly used the parties’ business income twice, once in property distribution and again in calculating spousal support, resulting in an unfair
“double dip” into the same stream of income. This is an issue that arises often in cases involving division of a business asset and also a spousal support award.
I've often been heard to tell potential clients that "it doesn't matter that you don't want a divorce. Your spouse can get a divorce for any reason or for no reason at all because Michigan is a 'no-fault' state." And that is sad, but true. All that is required is testimony that "There has been a breakdown in the marriage relationship to the extent that the objects of matrimony have been destroyed and there remains no reasonable likelihood that the marriage can be preserved."
Recent discussions among Michigan family lawyers reveal some confusion about how a divorce action can be initiated in cases where elderly parents are not living together (or are living very unhappily together) and one of the parties is suffering from dementia. Lack of competency to file for divorce is an issue--one that I'm afraid will arise more frequently given the advancing age of Baby Boomers. The Michigan Court of Appeals, in an unpublished decision, has now answered that question.
In a decision from the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, that court affirmed the Bankrupcty Court's original decision when a former husband appealed a decision that ordered him to cough up nearly $5,000 arising out of a fraudulent transfer during the divorce. This is clearly a case of "be careful what you wish for!" Not only did the 6th Circuit find that ex-H owed the Trustee in Bankruptcy that amount--but the Court went further. At the end of the day, ex-H was ordered to restore over $47,000 to the Trustee.
How did that happen?
Most of the family lawyers I know do not draft a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) for their clients. QDROs are pretty technical beasts, and there are many fine Michigan firms that specialize in drafting them. An opinion released by the Michigan Court of Appeals last week serves as a good example of why drafting of QDROs should be left to an expert. The questions raised in this case were complicated and were addressed in the trial court four times before the issue finally got to the COA.
In Williams v Estate of Williams, Docket No. 307607 (March 28, 2013, unpublished), the COA reversed the trial court's order amending a QDRO 13 years after it initially was entered, vacated the amended QDRO, and reinstated the original QDRO.The net result was this: The former spouse, named as the "surviving spouse" in the QDRO, received 100% of the Plan benefits after death of the Participant. This included the Participant's pre-marital portion, the marital portion, and everything that accrued afterwards during the Participant's 39-year career at Ford.
In Loutts v Loutts, Court of Appeals Docket No 297427 [For Publication], several issues were presented. The financial issues were complex, and it is apparent that, especially with the valuation and "double-dipping" issue, there was much expert testimony.
The Court first considered the Appellant's issue regarding failure of the trial court to award attorney fees and costs of expert valuations.
Although the defendant repeatedly requested an award of attorney fees and expert fees during the course of this divorce case, the trial court never addressed her requests. Therefore, the COA held that consideration of the issue was necessary to a proper determination of the appeal, and that the COA had the right to consider it because the trial court’s failure to address the defendant’s repeated requests for an award of attorney and expert fees constituted plain error. This issue was remanded to the trial court.
One of the most troublesome issues in divorce settlements today is what will happen with the house? This is usually a difficult question for the mother of young children, if she's the custodial parent. She says: "Should I keep the house for the kids so that they are in familiar surroundings, still in the same neighborhood and/or school, to minimize the trauma of the divorce for them?" Making this decision with that as her frame of mind is bound to create financial problems down the road.
Photo credit: Bossip.com
Mark Sullivan, family lawyer in North Carolina and military family law guru, advises that DFAS just revised the guide for attorneys in preparing MDPO's [military pension division orders]. Mark says that although there's NOTHING about clauses to use in getting SBP coverage, you'll find it invaluable in laying out pre-approved sample clauses for pension division, including the VERY TRICKY hypothetical clauses.
As for me . . . I will stick with the professionals who draft such orders. However, every family lawyer should have a working knowledge of how this is done since the military pension is usually the most valuable asset in a military family. Download your Download DFAS AttorneyGuidance.
In a listserv discussion among colleagues, the topic of whether a wedding ring is "marital property" and the value should be divided between the parties, it was obvious that courts in the 50 states deal with in different ways with this issue.
Mark Johnson Roberts, family lawyer in Portland, Oregon graciously has shared a published decision from Oregon holding that the wedding ring is a gift to the wife--intended for her own use and enjoyment--and thus is her separate property.
In the Oregon appellate court, Wife contended that the trial court erred in treating her wedding ring, valued at $8,320, as a marital asset. She asserted that the ring should be treated either as her premarital asset or that, because Husband gave her the ring for her sole use and enjoyment, it was her separate property. The appellate court found Wife's argument persuasive and that Wife, as a result, rebutted the presumption of equal contribution that would make the ring marital property. Husband's argument was a fence-straddling one: he contended that he gave the ring to Wife "in contemplation of marriage" and also that the ring "was acquired during the marriage."
Military disability benefits can be misunderstood not only by spouses or former spouses, but also by some attorneys. It's very important to understand the financial ramifications for a former spouse if a military service member retires on disability or partial disability so that he or she does not receive the amount of "retired pay" that was relied upon when drafting a judgment of dissolution or judgment of divorce. Mistakes can be costly. See especially items number 18 through 20 in a handout (link below) prepared to help lay people and lawyers protect former spouses when distribution of a military pension will be included in a divorce judgment.
Thanks for the heads-up from Deanne L. Bonner of the law firm Bonner Di Salvo PLLC about the recent revision of the NCLAMP handout regarding military disability benefits. The Legal Eagle handout, VA Disability Compensation and Divorce – Facts and Fallacies, was written by Mark E. Sullivan, Col., Ret., a member of the Military Committee, ABA Family Law Section.
Mr. Sullivan is also the author of The Military Divorce Handbook: A Practical Guide to Representing Military Personnel and Their Families, Second Edition, (Am Bar Assn 2011). There are discounts available for members of the ABA.
At the recent Summer Seminar, one of the published decisions Scott Bassett summarized during his presentation was Megee v Carmine, 290 Mich.App. 551
802 N.W.2d 669. It dealt with the consequences of the husband's post-divorce waiver of retirement pay in favor of collecting combat-related special compensation (CRSC).
The parties' judgment of divorce was entered in September 1989. In the judgment, defendant Carmine [f/k/a Megee] was awarded 50 percent of plaintiff’s Navy disposable retirement pay as part of the property division. The judgment incorporated a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) to enforce that provision. The QDRO acknowledged the 50-percent division of plaintiff’s disposable retirement pay, also referred to therein as his pension, and it prevented plaintiff from making another benefit election “that would otherwise reduce the monthly pension allotment without the written consent [of defendant].”
Thanks to talented family lawyer James P. Ryan of Plymouth, Michigan for keeping family lawyers advised of pending legislation. He advised today that the SBM’s position on these House Bills was announced in the newest Public Policy Update.
HB 4672 Family law; marriage and divorce; division of property in divorce; enact statutory standards. Amends secs. 18 & 19 of 1846 RS 84 (MCL 552.18 & 552.19).
HB 4673 Family law; marriage and divorce; division of property on divorce; enact statutory standards. Amends sec. 1 of 1949 PA 42 (MCL 552.401).
Brian Dickerson wrote an insightful article published in the Detroit Free Press today. The past week has aroused deep concern among Michigan family court judges and family law attorneys who were only recently made aware of proposed legislation--two bills introduced last month by state Rep. John Walsh, R-Livonia--that would make radical changes in Michigan law about the division of appreciation in separate property of one spouse that has accrued during the marriage and also about how a trial judge may treat separate property if a division of marital property is insufficient to maintain a former spouse and children in his/her care.
The current laws in Michigan would allow the trial court judge to award an equitable share of the appreciation built during the marriage to a stay-at-home parent. In addition, a trial court judge could invade separate property of one spouse if the division of marital property would leave the non-titled spouse with insufficient means to support that spouse and any children in his/her care. The proposed statutes, if enacted into law, would eviscerate existing law and would take women and children back to the dark ages, resulting in servitude and poverty.
Lynnley Browning wrote in the New York Times on April 7, 2011 about a way to avoid refinancing costs after a divorce where one party is to get the house, buy out the other and/or indemnify the other against the existing mortgage. In this economic climate, many homeowners experience difficulty with removing a former spouse’s name from the mortgage after buying out his or her equity stake in the marital house. Many may think that refinancing is the only choice.
As Browning points out, "[t]here is another, little-known option that can avoid refinancing and its costs, which generally run 3 to 6 percent of the outstanding loan principal," citing LendingTree. Browning says that the borrower must "simply ask" the lender to remove the former spouse’s name from the mortgage, leaving the loan note in the "buying" spouse's name only.
An article in the New York Times yesterday gives new meaning to the phrase "Don't Try this at Home!" Several lawyers and marriage counselors around the country are quoted, among them Richard Roane, a Michigan family law attorney with Warner, Norcross and Judd in Grand Rapids; Randall Kessler of Kessler & Schwartz, P.C. in Atlanta, Georgia and chairman elect of the Section of Family Law of the American Bar Association; Ken Altshuler, Portland, Me. and president-elect of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers; and Susan Bender, of the New York firm Bender, Rosenthal, Isaacs & Richter. What not to do? No hanky panky in the marital bed!
Having sex with your paramour raises the emotional stakes, makes divorces more acrimonious, and can result in a disparate property settlement. In some states, Georgia, for example according to Kessler, a cheating spouse cannot get alimony.
Whether you're a family lawyer or a layperson, you'll be sure to find something in this interesting article. You can read it here. A one-time registration may be required.
Wadler, Joyce, Don’t Try This at Home: Adultery in the Marital Bed, New York Times, Jan. 12, 2011 [Last accessed on Jan. 13, 2011]
See an earlier post on this blog here: Marital infidelity | The fallout after a spouse has an extra-marital affair
Do you need help with a divorce or custody case? To find a Michigan Family Lawyer near you, click on the image below.
The New York Times, exploring a concept new to divorce law, discussed niche firms emerging that will invest in divorce cases to help a spouse who has little or no control over family finances identify marital assets, pay for litigation to get a fair property settlement and fair support.
One of these firms was founded by Stacey Napp, a lawyer by training who has spent her career in finance. She used money she obtained from her own divorce to establish Balance Point last year. She has since provided more than $2 million to 10 women seeking divorces. She says she is helping to ensure both sides can defend their interests.
“Everybody knows somebody where at the end of the day, the divorce was not equitable,” she said. “We want to help those people, the underdog, to make sure they get their fair share.”
Divorce cases may be a promising niche for lenders because costs can mount quickly — some top lawyers in Los Angeles charge more than $500 an hour — and because state laws uniformly require plaintiffs to pay lawyers upfront, rather than promising them a contingency fee, or a share of any winnings, as is common in other civil cases.
You may read Taking Sides in a Divorce, Chasing Profit, by Binyamin Appelbaum, published in the NY Times on December 4, 2010 here.
In Megee v Megee, ___ Mich App ___ (Docket No 292207, decided November 16, 2010), Plaintiff ex-husband appealed by leave granted the trial court’s order that directed him to act as trustee for the benefit of defendant with respect to half of plaintiff’s monthly combat-related special compensation (CRSC), (disability pay) and then deliver those funds to the defendant ex-wife. The COA reversed and remanded.
In Megee, the parties were divorced in September 1989. Defendant Wife was awarded 50 percent of Plaintiff Husband’s Navy disposable retirement pay as part of the property division. The judgment incorporated a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) to enforce that provision. The QDRO acknowledged the 50-percent division of plaintiff’s disposable retirement pay, also referred to therein as his pension. The QDRO also prevented H from making another benefit election “that would otherwise reduce the monthly pension allotment without the written consent [of defendant].” In 2008, ex-H was deemed eligible for disability benefits (“CRSC“) related to combat-related activities and exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam. His election, however, would require ex-H to waive further receipt of his retirement pay. He elected to receive CRSC, resulting in termination of his retirement pay. As a result, ex-W stopped receiving her 50% of his retirement pay under the QDRO. Ex-W filed a motion to enforce the divorce judgment and QDRO, and the trial court entered the challenged order that effectively forces ex-H to pay ex-W half of his CRSC.
In Cunningham v Cunningham, released on July 13, 2010 by the Michigan Court of Appeals, [For Publication, Docket No 285541], the COA held that certain proceeds from a worker’s compensation award were marital and not separate property despite the fact that the injury occurred prior to the marriage.
The Cunninghams were married for 25 years. Prior to the marriage, Mr. Cunningham was injured. The litigation under the Workers Compensation Disability Act took about five years. During the marriage, he received a large sum during the marriage as a result of this work-related injury, which ultimately left him disabled and unable to work.
Courts are often called upon to decide whether assets are marital property subject to division in a divorce or whether assets are separate property. In a recent Michigan Court of Appeals case, Maher v Maher, Wife [“W”] claimed that a Smith Barney investment account titled to both parties was marital property. The account had initially been funded with settlement proceeds from Husband’s [“H”] prior employment discrimination case—filed before the parties’ marriage, but settled during the marriage. W also claimed that the appreciation of that account was marital. The trial court found that the initial investment continued to remain H’s separate property, but the appreciation in the account during the parties’ marriage was distributable as marital property. Both parties appealed. The final result in the COA was that H got to keep not only the initial monies, but also all of the appreciation.
Another case has been decided by the Michigan court of appeals dealing with a challenge to a life insurance policy payout to the divorced spouse because the former spouse forgot to change his beneficiary after the divorce. In Brown v Wright, the judgment of divorce had the standard statutory provision: "Any of the rights of either party in any policy or contract of life, endowment or any insurance of the other as beneficiary or otherwise, is hereby extinguished unless specifically preserved by this Judgment."
Hmm let's have a little music with this post . . . Paul Carrack singing "Don't Shed any tears for me" . . . seems like a good accompaniment to this little heart breaker question posed yesterday about how to end a bad relationship. "Cab fare to nowhere is what you are . . . all that I saw in you I now see through . . . "
Here's the question: "How should I advise my client (friend?) to get rid of a free-loader BF (or GF?).
Professor Barbara Glesner Fines writes today on the Family Law Prof Blog about Sham Divorces:
Basically, these are divorces in which the parties collude in order to transfer property from the marital estate to the spouse who doesn’t have a legal problem—in other words, the one who isn’t in danger of having the assets recovered by someone he or she has defrauded.
Now who could that possibly be? Could it be Walter Forbes, former chairman of Cendant Corporation, who is serving prison time for one of the biggest accounting scandals in U.S. history? The feds are trying to intervene in the divorce to prevent a property distribution that would frustrate Mr. Forbes’ $3.275 billion restitution order.
Then there’s the case of nine Continental Airlines pilots. The airlines is suing them, claiming that they allegedly obtained a sham divorce in order to trigger a cash pension payout to their ex-spouse, who they subsequently remarried. The problem? The Domestic Relations Order (DRO) resulted in a huge payout of the pilots’ pensions to their wives. After they received the money, they remarried.
You can read Prof. Fines’ blog article here, and find links to more information about these cases.
Recently on the Family Law Listserv participants discussed how long people can remain rent-free in their homes after foreclosure. The length of time varies from one property to the next, depending upon the amount of acreage and, often, contractual issues. However, an important aspect of this is that the owners must actually be residing in the home. A bank can take possession immediately if the homeowner abandons the property. An article in the New York Times today describes techniques foreclosure specialists are touting and using to evict residents who try to stay in bank-owned property, a process they call “cash for keys.”
A recent convention of real estate agents and property managers in Palm Desert, California attracted about 3,000 attendees of people cashing in on the boom in foreclosed properties. Reomac is the industry group that serves the mortgage default trade, specializing in selling the busted-up American dream.
According to one attendee, their business is booming, and they call it the "R.E.O. tsunami" which has flood the market with as many as 700,000 bank properties nationwide. Although the tide has been stemmed in recent months because of foreclosure moratoriums imposed by major banks and the Obama administration, opinion expressed at the conference is that real estate agents shouldn't worry because the flood probably has not reached its peak, but will likely continue for several more years.
This is bad news for homeowners in foreclosure and also for homeowners who wish to sell their homes because of relocations as they are transferred by their employers to other parts of the country or have accepted employment in other states after plant closures or a loss of employment.
Frankly, the gloating and seemingly insincere comments about how these R.E.O. agents don't want to profit from other peoples' misfortunes - offered up over drinks and caviar at poolside parties - ring false. This is especially true when in the next breath the speaker says there isn't enough inventory of distressed properties. This is a mess that makes divorce and separation all the more difficult and a family lawyer's task in guiding the client even more dicey.
You may read the New York Times article, Homeowners’ Hard Times Are Good for the Foreclosure Business here.
On April 4th, the New York Times featured an article focusing on the difficulties of working with a mortgage broker. Since many family lawyers today have clients whose houses are “upside down” (have greater debt than appraised value), I want to provide a link to the Times article for you to give your clients.
According to Ron Lieber writing for the Times, some of the biggest companies in real estate have recently decided to stop working with brokers. He says that "Chase won’t lend to brokers’ clients anymore" and that “the PMI Group, one of the biggest companies in the mortgage insurance business, flat out refuses to underwrite any policies on loans that started with a broker.”
On March 25th, Jonathan Welsh wrote in the Wall Street Journal about devices used by dealerships, financing companies and leasing companies to disable vehicles if the drivers are behind in their payments. Rob Robertson of Austin, Texas, a member of the ABA Family Law Listserv, wrote today with this thought: How long will it be before we see this technology used in a divorce situation? Many family lawyers have clients with car loans that cannot be refinanced, and/or unhappy former spouses with credit woes when the ex doesn't make the car payment as ordered in the judgment.
Postnuptial and prenuptial agreements are becoming ever more popular. Guidance was provided from the Michigan Court of Appeals today for practitioners and laypersons contemplating entering into a postnuptial agreement. In Wright v Wright, 279 Mich App 291, 761 NW2d 443 (2008) decided on April 22, 2008, Plaintiff husband challenged the trial court's decision to void the postnuptial agreement. The court of appeals disagreed.
Here, both parties had consented the the agreement prepared by H's attorney. The couple was not separated at the time and had never separated during the marriage. H filed for divorce roughly eight months after defendant signed the agreement.
The stress faced by military families, frequent moves and deployments can spell disaster for military families. For you, as for most families, divorce can be a life tragedy. You and your spouse entered into marriage with plans for a happy and long future. Perhaps you have children who are young and vulnerable. Divorce can leave your children feeling afraid and uncertain about their future. It can also leave you feeling vulnerable and lost, particularly if you are far from home, without the support of friends and family.
A frequent question asked by military spouses is whether they have to file for divorce in the State where they are based and their children are living, or whether they can file in Michigan. This is particularly true when Michigan is the place they call "Home."
In Couvier v Laubernds, Docket No 272842, Michigan Court of Appeals, decided on February 5, 2008, the COA upheld almost all of a judgment entered in Chippewa County, Michigan. The husband appealed the trial court's award of significant property that he claimed as "separate property," including a farm he had owned prior to the marriage, but the COA affirmed. He also appealed the T/C's order that he pay Wife's attorney fees (about $20,000). The COA did correct one minor mistake (well, OK, not so minor: $63,574.51) mistake in the balancing award made by the trial court to equally divide the marital property between husband and wife.
A party must reside in Michigan for at least 6 months and in the county where the divorce is filed for at least 10 days. If those jurisdictional requirements are not met, the divorce can be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. In Berger v Berger __ Mich App __, __ NW2d __ (2008) (Docket No. 279025 decided January 31, 2008), the Michigan court of appeals dealt with a key issue of residency.
While fairness is, under the case law in some states, a requirement for enforcement of a prenuptial agreement, the court of appeals established in Reed v Reed, 235 Mich App 131 (2005) that little fairness is really required in Michigan.
In Reed, the parties executed a prenuptial agreement abut 6 weeks prior to the marriage. Mr. Reed was a recent law school graduate. Mrs. Reed had no independent counsel. Their combined net worth at the time of the marriage was less than $20,000. The marriage lasted about 20 years.
It's become more common these days for couples to seek a low-cost divorce, often with only one party being represented and the other party sometimes retaining a lawyer to look over the final paperwork. In cases such as these, lawyers are often given a list of marital assets and marital debts and asked to help a party devise a reasonable settlement offer that can be presented to the other spouse.
In other cases, where the financial asset/debt picture is more complicated, some discovery is usually warranted, and the attorney for the spouse who doesn't handle the finances may -- or may not -- send out what is called in my office "the burdensome and oppressive discovery requests." This is usually a "canned" set of interrogatories and requests to produce documents. It consists of about 20 pages containing than 100 requests, some of them with 5 to 12 subparts. Sometimes a lawyer will tailor the requests to the specific case, deleting ones that do not apply (not often enough, in my experience) or adding specific interrogatories that inquire into certain more unusal assets owned by the parties. Responding to these requests can take my client 40 hours or more. I resist the temptation to engage in the "what comes around, goes around" approach. If I believe that the other spouse really doesn't have a clue about the finances and hasn't hidden any monies -- this latter being based upon my client's statement that the other spouse (usually the wife) doesn't have access to the assets, then I do not send out discovery requests to that party. Instead, I advise my client to work hard to produce complete and accurate records.
In other cases, I represent the "clueless spouse" -- the one who's been kept in the dark. Then I recommend to my client that this thorough discovery or some modification of it be made. Usually the spouse agrees. Sometimes she doesn't authorize discovery because she wants to save money.
Now suppose that you are the client who wants to save money on legal fees and expenses. What is most appropriate for you? What will protect you?
Divorce filings in Japan surged 6.1% after a change in Japanese law. The law, enacted in 2003, but effective beginning in April 2007, entitles a wife to claim up to 50% of her husband's pension in a divorce.
Apparently, it took Japan a while to catch up with reality. In the U.S., pensions have been marital property since 1985. And this makes sense. Retirement plans represent nothing more than deferred income -- whether they are 401K plans that allow employees to defer income through payroll deductions until after the age of 55 or whether they are defined benefit plans that employers use as incentives (and instead of higher salaries in the present) to attract employees. Deferred income is marital property. After all, were it not deferred, it might represent other assets such as equity in a home, investment accounts, etc.
In Wells v Wells, Docket No 271465, decided on November 20, 2007, the COA upheld the Ottawa County Circuit Court where W challenged the T/C's distribution.
W appealed the T/C's exclusion from the marital estate of H's partnership interest in a "Family Farm" that was owned and operated by H and his brothers. The COA characterized this property a pre-inheritance transfer from H's parents to their sons, which should be treated just as inheritances are by the T/C. The COA concluded that the T/C properly ruled that the partnership and his stock in the partnership formed with his brother was H's separate property and was properly excluded from the marital estate.
New clients sometimes ask me about ways in which they can help ensure a good result in their divorce and/or custody cases. Most lawyers are busy people and will be happy when clients help them prepare and settle the case. Below are some things that you can do to help your lawyer get a good result for you. As it happens, many of these things will help you save money as well.
Be prepared. When the writing is on the wall and you know that divorce is inevitable, you should gather documents and information about important issues, such as your finances. You may be the spouse who has handled finances, so you will know exactly what assets are owned by you and your spouse. Or, on the other hand, you may be the homemaker who has never handled the finances. You may help your lawyer uncover unknown assets or you may just have documents that show the existence and values of assets. Either way, if you are able to assemble documents and information for your lawyer, this will help save your lawyer time. This, in turn, will save you money in the attorney fees that result when your lawyer has to conduct pretrial discovery to find assets. This may be a second marriage for you and perhaps also for your spouse. Therefore, one or both of you may have assets that will be considered “separate property” by the Court. Having evidence of the existence and value of these assets as well as information about whether they have remained separate and are thus usually protected from division in a divorce will help your lawyer evaluate your case and assess the potential for distribution. Here’s a link to a list of the types of documents that you should assemble. Documents to bring to your first consultation.
Diana Skaggs author of the Louisville Divorce Law Journal alerted me to the excellent mediation blog written by Victoria Pynchon of Beverley Hills, California. If you are a lawyer handling divorce cases and take your cases to mediation regularly, or if you are a client whose lawyer is explaining how mediation can help you settle your divorce case, you will find a wealth of information on Victoria's blog titled Settle It Now: Negotiation Blog. Bookmark this site . . . or subscribe to the feed.
Whenever a client believes that the other spouse has cheated on tax returns that were jointly filed, it's going to be important to help the client gather sufficient information and evidence to support relief and protection from tax liability.
The IRS has recently released a new form for those claiming "innocent spouse" status. This form can be used as a checklist so that attorneys may help their clients clarify their status. You can access IRS From 8557 here.
Technorati tag: IRS innocent spouse rule
I recall a question raised not too long ago on the State Bar's Family Law Listserv about whether judgments and orders can be interpreted according to contract law. In Slota v Slota [Docket No. 269640] decided on September 13, 2007, the COA held that the parties' consent judgment would be interpreted in the same manner in which the court interprets contracts since it essentially constituted an agreement or contract between the parties.
The husband was aggrieved because the lifetime alimony award was secured by a lien against the real estate he was awarded. By the parties' agreement, this lien was to be superior to all other liens or mortgages. Of course, when Husband went to the bank for a loan against the real estate to pay off a lump sum due to his ex-wife, the bank refused to loan him money if their secured position was secondary rather than primary. He asked the trial court to amend the judgment to make the ex-wife's lien secondary. When the T/C did so, the ex-wife appealed and the COA reversed.
The COA was unsympathetic and said that a motion for amendment of a consent judgment should be treated the same way as one to reform a contract. The COA noted that Husband's unilateral mistake in not recognizing that the priority of the lien would make financing impossible for him could not be grounds for reformation of the parties' contract.
You may read Slota v Slota here.
Recently, the issue of Islamic marriage contracts and other religious marriage contracts was discussed on the State Bar of Michigan Family Law Listserv. These contracts are common, particularly among family-arranged marriages. Essentially, they provide for payment of a small sum of money to the woman if the parties divorce.
Often, there is unequal (or no) bargaining power between the parties. Sometimes, the bride is a teenager whose marriage is arranged by her parents in way that is not usual by Americans standards, but one that is the normal course of family business in Islamic families. The question then becomes, once a marriage breaks down, should the husband, often the titled owner of everything, walk away with everything? What if it's a long-term marriage? What if the husband is educated and has a high earning capacity and the wife is incapable of supporting herself and the children?
Remember John Nash, the schizophrenic mathemetician whose life was the subject of the film "A Beautiful Mind?" According to MSNBC today, August 3, 2007, using the "game theory" concepts Nash devised, a couple of Australians have develped computer software that is calculated to help divorcing couples divide their property without arguments and expensive mediation.
Their computer programs, (the earlier, "Family Winner," and the new one "Family Mediator" combine artificial intelligence, game theory and an electronic or human external mediator to help divorcing couples resolve their disputes fairly and rationally.
The MSNBC article Software seeks to resolve divorce disputes can be accessed here.
Technorati tags: divorce
It is not unusual during the course of settlement negotiations for the custodial spouse to give one or more of the tax dependency deductions to the non-custodial spouse. This is particularly true if the custodial parent earns substantially less than the non-custodial parent. Usually there is some quid pro quo for the deduction. Sometimes the release of the tax dependency deduction is part of child support negotiation, and at other times, it's linked to property settlement issues.
However, IRS regulations require that in order for a taxpayer to be legally entitled to the dependency deduction, certain explicit statutory requirements must be met. A non-custodial parent, regardless of whether a divorce decree awards the deduction, is not entitled to the dependency deduction unless the custodial parent releases the deduction. This is done by completing a valid written declaration (IRS Form 8332 or its equivalent) to the Federal tax return for the year the deduction is claimed. The beauty of IRS Form 8332 is that a custodial parent may relinquish more than one year on that form. The original Form 8332 must be attached to the first year's tax return and a copy must be attached to each subsequently claimed year.
Woe be unto him, however, who loses his or her copy of the form!
There is often confusion about what alimony is, about when and in what amount it might be ordered, about how long alimony might be payable, and whether or not it’s modifiable. As you can imagine, given the number of possibilities, an answer to some of these questions can be pretty complicated.
Let’s start with the obvious, though. Whether or not alimony (spousal support) will be ordered by a court is entirely dependent on the specific facts of each case.
What does the judge look at when deciding whether to award alimony, how much and for how long?
In Michigan, there are several factors that the judge will consider when deciding if an alimony award. These factors are similar to those used by judges in states other than Michigan. Among the factors a court may consider are these:
A colleague asked today whether post-judgment earnings from accounts established by a broker during his marriage can be considered marital property subject to distribution during a divorce. In the case at issue, the husband “receives thousands and thousands of dollars every year as ‘trailers’ for the accounts he has established during the marriage. They can be compared to ongoing commissions or interest. The effort expended to establish these accounts occurred during the marriage.”
What was not specified is whether a final judgment of divorce has entered, but I make the following assumptions: (1) that no judgment has yet entered; (2) that substantial sums annually will be paid to the husband following entry of divorce; and (3) that the wife wishes to have an equitable distribution of the stream of future income attributable to these "trailers" (a word I assume must be something like a commission.)
There are two possible scenarios here. Obviously, the wife would prefer a cash award, but it may difficult to fix a value for these “trailers.” Whenever the value of an asset cannot be determining with reasonable certainty, a trial court will reject assigning a value. However, what if the husband has been receiving trailers for a number of years? Doesn’t the problem then become more similar to determining the present value of a business based upon an average of the annual receipts?
The Michigan Court of Appeals decided an interesting case on February 27, 2007. There are some practice pointers here for Michigan lawyers.
Husband challenged the trial court’s entry of a qualified domestic relations order ("QDRO") awarding Wife 50 percent of any early retirement benefits the defendant-husband might receive under his employer’s pension plan years after the Judgment of Divorce was entered (pre-Quade). The original JOD had not awarded Wife any of the separate and distinct components of the pension such as early retirement supplements. Husband, relying upon Quade, claimed that because the separate and distinct components of his pension plans were not specifically awarded in a judgment of divorce, they could not be included in a QDRO But the COA held that because the trial court also ordered the entry of an amended judgment of divorce specifying the plaintiff was to receive 50 percent of each component, the QDRO was proper as was division of the separate components. The COA cited MCR 2.612(A)(1), stating that the trial court had the power to correct clerical mistakes in judgments, orders, or other parts of the record as well as errors arising from oversight or omission.
What this meant for the wife was that valuable benefits of the defined benefit pension plan that might have been foreclosed to her were opened up because the trial court entered the amended judgment of divorce--rather than entered a modified QDRO.
I am never surprised when clients in divorce cases I handle have incredible credit card debts. Marital stress leading to divorce often results from financial stress. It’s important for my clients to know more about their credit card debt and to see how they might avoid problems in the future. An article from the March 10, 2007 Washington Post makes clear how credit card companies often have unfair policies that compound credit card debt in ways that consumers do not predict or expect.
According to the Washington Post, credit card companies frequently don't play fair even when a consumer does everything according to their terms. An industry practice called "universal default" allows the credit card issuer the right to hike the consumer’s interest rate if he’s late or overextended on another credit account. The article also explains the practice of two-cycle billing.