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The United States divorce rate has plunged for the third straight year, falling down to a 35-year low according to 2015 data from the National Center for Family & Marriage Research at Bowling State University.

On the other hand, more people are getting married, with 32.3 marriages occurring among 1000 single women 15-years old and above, a slight bump from 31.9 marriages in 2014. It’s the highest marriage rate since 2009, and seems to suggest that after several decades, marriage numbers might finally be stabilizing.

As NCFMR co-director Wendy Manning puts it, “The (marriage) decline has stopped.”

Each year, the NCFMR sources census data to identify year-over-year divorce and marriage statistics. For 2015, the center found that the divorce rate has been falling consistently and quickly, dropping down to 16.9, down from 17.6 in 2014 and a high of 23 in 1980.

What’s Causing the Decline?

Researchers aren’t exactly sure why the U.S. divorce rate has been in steady decline. However, there are a number of possible reasons, which include an aging populace, shifting gender roles, and the fact that there are fewer marriages to break up in the first place.

Still, the decline in the yearly divorce rate does not necessarily imply that marriages today are more likely to last. For example, while baby boomers married at a young age and continued getting married and divorced even in their older years, there’s no telling whether Gen Xers or millennials will do the same.

Manning added that their research shows a decline of divorce among younger couples, and an increase among those who are older.

As for the decline in marriages over the decades, one possible reason is that younger generations of adults have delayed getting married, tying the knot much later into adulthood, or not at all. And according to multiple sociologists, today’s typical marriage still has an equal chance of lasting, about the same probability several decades ago.

Marriage and Divorce Rates by State

The report also found that divorce and marriage rates vary greatly between different states.

  • Washington D.C. and Wyoming had the highest divorce rates in 2015, at 29.9 and 27.9 respectively
  • The states with the lowest divorce rates are New Jersey, Delaware, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin, all under 13, and Hawaii, with 11.1.
  • States in the northeast have the lowest marriage rates.
  • Utah has the highest marriage rates in the country, at 61.3, or around three times more than Rhode Island’s 21.4. However, Utah also has a divorce rate of 18, higher than 40 percent of the other states.

So with fewer Americans getting married, what exactly are they doing instead? Many are single and live on their own, while many couples are living together without getting married.

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For divorced couples, social security is one of the few areas where strategic maneuvers can make a huge difference in planning retirement income, depending on the ages of the ex-spouses. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 established two sets of regulations that directly affect how ex-spouses can claim Social Security benefits after their divorce.

First, an individual can claim Social Security benefits on their ex-spouse’s earnings as if they were still married, as long as the individual is currently single and divorced, and was married for at least 10 years. The rule still applies even if that person’s ex-spouse has already remarried.

Second, an ex-spouse is “independently entitled” to claim Social Security benefits on their former spouse’s earning records, as long as the couple has been divorced for at least 2 years. The rule applies even if the ex-spouse has yet to claim benefits. Moreover, both spouses must be at least 62 years of age to be independently entitled to benefits, however. Naturally, the law has a number of nuances that need might need the input of a divorce lawyer. For example, there are certain cases where an ex-spouse can collect spousal benefits only (also known as a restricted claim), which is often worth half of the amount the ex-spouse is entitled to upon retirement. And don’t forget, they can do that while their own retirement benefit fund grows up asmuch as 8 percent until they turn 70 years old. This area is where the new rules take effect.

The new rules stipulate that only ex-spouses born on or before January 1, 1954 are able to file a restricted claim for spousal benefits when they turn 66, while allowing their retirement benefit amount to increase until they turn 70. This arrangement is unavailable to married couples, as only one spouse can file for spousal benefits.

The new rules also specifically state that younger married couples and divorced spouses do not have the option of choosing what kind of benefits to claim. Fortunately, anyone born on or after January 2, 1954 will be eligible to file for all possible Social Security benefits, whether spousal or retirement. Claimants will be paid the larger amount of the two benefits. The filing rule, however, excludes survivor benefits. This means that if a divorced spouse had yet to claim Social Security benefits and their ex-partner passed away, that person could still claim for survivor benefits and, upon reaching the age of 70, switch to their own full retirement benefits.

Alternatively, depending on the divorced person’s age at the time of their ex-spouse’s death, they may be eligible to first claim their own reduced retirement, switching to full survivor benefits upon reaching retirement.

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Divorces and Family Homes: 3 Options on What to Do

For many people, the family house is where the heart is. It’s a place of fond memories and family gatherings. It’s also where many firsts are made, whether it’s welcoming a new child, getting a pet, or learning to cook a new meal. Simply put, it is home.

For most couples, a house is one of the biggest expenditures they’ll ever make in their lives. Given its significance, it’s no surprise why the family house tends to be a sticky issue during a divorce.

Who gets the house? Is it even worth keeping? More importantly, can you afford to keep the house?

These issues are precisely why it’s important to weigh your options carefully before you decide to do anything involving your home during a divorce. Below are a few things to consider in the matter.

     1.  One of the Former Spouses Keeps the House

When negotiating ownership of a house during a divorce, preferably, the mortgage on the property should be refinanced under the name of the spouse who decides to keep it. That spouse will also need to buy the other spouse’s share on the equity of the property. While the buyout amount is always negotiable, don’t forget that whoever agrees to take on the home will have to shoulder taxes and fees on the property, especially during a future sale.

Below are a few things to consider when keeping the house:

  • Get your property appraised. The best strategy is to get two appraisals. If they’re worlds apart, get a third appraisal and agree on a number that’s somewhere in the middle.
  • If you want to keep the house, check your finances first. Can you afford to buy out your ex-spouse?
  • Consider the costs of your divorce and the costs of maintaining a house on your own, plus your mortgage, insurance payments, and property tax. Is it a good idea to keep the house?

If you decide to give up the house, make sure you get something out of it, such as a greater share of other assets, or better yet, cash so you can get a place of your own. 

       2.  The Ex-spouses Continue to Jointly Own the House

Sharing the family house as a joint asset really only works if the couple divorces on amicable terms. Sometimes couples consider sharing joint ownership of a house until a certain event (youngest child graduates from high school, for example) and then decide to sell at a later time post-divorce. If you’re considering this option, ask yourself if you’re okay staying attached to your spouse financially.

More importantly, be sure you trust your ex-spouse enough to fulfill their end of the bargain—this includes payments on the mortgage, maintaining the property, and property taxes.

        3.  Selling the House

Selling the family home is usually the “cleanest” option for divorcing spouses. Of course, you need to ask yourself if you’re willing to let go of the house and all the memories you have there. For some couples, a fresh start is what they want, so they’re not as concerned with sentimental value of their house. Still, there are financial issues to consider. For starters, if the value of the property has appreciated, depending on your financial situation, you may owe capital gains on its sale—taxes that will likely be shared by the ex-spouses.

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Engaged couples often find themselves too busy planning the wedding that they sometimes forget to straighten out some legal documents first. One of the most important things to update is your estate plan – especially if your upcoming marriage isn’t your first, or you have children from a previous marriage.

  • If you are planning to remarry, you must update your estate plan to ensure your interests are protected
  • Be sure to update your will, titles and beneficiaries so that your assets go to the right people
  • You must also revise your power of attorney so that your ex-spouse will not be able to petition a court for guardianship

Walking Down the Aisle… Again

Statistical data shows that many Americans have made a second or third trip down the aisle. According to a 2013 report by the Pew Research, around 40% of marriages are a remarriage after divorce for one or both partners.

While it’s common nowadays to be married to someone who has been married once or twice before, it’s even more common to have lackluster estate planning. According to a recent survey by USLegalWills.com, an estimated 63% of Americans don’t have a will, and around 9% have wills that are outdated.

The combination of remarriage and out-of-date estate planning can be very problematic for your kids and new spouse, so here are a couple of things to do to ensure your interests are protected.

1. Create/Update Your Will

First, you have to maintain your will. If you don’t have one, now is the time to get one. Without a will, your assets will be passed in accordance with state intestacy laws, which might not be how you want to distribute them. Your stepchildren could be cut out entirely, for example, and this might not be what you want to happen.

2. Revise Your Power of Attorney

Second, revise your power of attorney and your healthcare directives. It’s important to do this; otherwise you could end up having your ex-spouse as your agent. In addition, make sure the power of attorney lists exactly who you want as guardian. If you don’t, your ex-spouse may be able to successfully petition a court for guardianship, even if she or he is not the listed agent on the power of attorney.

3. Make Sure Your Beneficiaries are Up-to-date

Third, update your beneficiaries. Qualified retirement plans and life insurance plans are often passed to the beneficiary listed on your accounts, regardless of what is written in your will. If you don’t update your accounts, your ex-spouse might get the proceeds from your life insurance plan, instead of your new spouse or kids.

4. Update Your Titles

Lastly, you have to watch your titles. When it comes to titling in property division, the will doesn’t matter. Assets titled as joint tenancy with rights of survivorship, community property with rights of survivorship, or tenancy by entirety will be automatically passed to the surviving owner. So make sure that you review existing titled assets to make sure ties with your ex-spouse are severed.

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  • Divorce can be a challenging experience for anybody, but more so for older people
  • Late-life divorce has a great impact on finances, forcing individuals – especially women – to delay retirement
  • There is a disparity in poverty levels for married people who have never been divorced and people who get divorced

Divorce can be an extremely taxing and stressful experience for anyone, but it’s particularly more challenging for couples who decide to split up later in life. Recent studies show that baby boomers suffer disproportionately from the financial fallout of late-life divorce – especially women.

According to Bowling Green State University’s National Center for Family & Marriage Research, even as divorce rates for younger couples have fallen in recent years, the late-life divorce rates in the U.S. doubled from 1990 to 2010. As a result, the overall risk of getting divorced in the country remains a constant – about half of all marriages will end in divorce.

Late-life divorce turns out to be part of the reason why one in five Americans over 65-years-old is working. Unlike divorces earlier in life, divorce in older age has a huge impact on finances, forcing individuals to delay retirement.

Monetary Stress of Divorce Pushes Older Women Back to the Workforce

New research suggests that the financial stress brought about by late-life divorce plays a big role in pushing older women back into the workforce. A study by Dana Rotz of Mathematica Policy Research and Claudia Olivetti of Boston College reveals that the later a woman divorces, the more likely she will be working full time late in life.

Olivetti and Rotz used survey data of almost 56,000 women and found that those who divorced their spouses in their 50s were about 10% more likely to be working from ages 50 to 74.

How Divorce Affects the Finances of Older People

The financial rigors of divorce are bigger than simply paying the legal fees and court costs. It also means splitting assets in two. In addition, divorce means that many expenses suddenly double – two homes to maintain, two sets of bills, and so on.

As a result of this dynamic, divorced individuals are more likely to be poor. The National Center for Family & Marriage Research found that poverty rate is low for married people over 62 years of age who never divorced. Only 3.4% of this group are poor. On the other hand, 16% of single people divorced before age 50 are poor, and 19% of single people divorced after age 50 are poor.

One reason for the disparity in poverty levels is social security. Married people who have never one through a divorce receive an average of $22,607 every year from the federal retirement program, while single people divorced later in life qualify for an average of $12,092.

In addition, women who divorce late-in-life seem to end up worse off than men. The poverty rate for divorced men after age 50 is 11.4%, while the poverty rate for women after age 50 is almost 27%. For this reason, a family law attorney who understands these dynamics is critical. 

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Getting a divorce can be a stressful and unsettling experience, but there are ways you can take control of the situation. Determining the accurate figures of your family finances can be a complicated undertaking, but it is important to have this information as it impacts your final divorce settlement agreement. The Courts will use your financial statements when deciding division of property, spousal maintenance, and child support, so it’s critical to have the accurate numbers. Here are key things to keep in mind as you plan for your divorce.

1. Get a copy of your credit report

Once you have decided that you are ready for the divorce process, you should immediately get copies of your credit report. This is especially important if you need to know the balance of your mortgage and home equity loan. Make sure to get the credit reports for all accounts, whether those are in joint names or individual names.

2. List all your assets

If you are anticipating a divorce, make copies of the statements for all of your bank accounts, retirement accounts and investment accounts. Just like the credit reports, it doesn’t matter if these accounts are in joint names or individual names. As long as assets were acquired during the marriage, these assets are subject to equitable distribution.

3. Know your incomes

Knowing exactly what your incomes are will help determine the interests and dividends you are entitled to when the divorce is finalized. As a general rule, you should make a copy of at least the last three years of income returns. If you or your spouse own a business, it is a good idea to make sure you have up-to-date company tax returns, income and loss statements, and all pertinent company financial documents. 

4. Keep track of monthly expenses

Divorce is not only an emotional ordeal, but also a financial one. To help prepare you for the wave of bills you will have to pay, you need to get a handle on your monthly budget. This will help you see where you are overspending and where you can cut back, so that your extra money can be put into savings.

Getting the exact figures for your income, expenses, assets and liabilities can feel overwhelming, but this preparation will give you the information you need to begin the process of divorce. Your attorney will need this information to be able to negotiate on your behalf and to finalize your case.

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In the recent decades, a growing number of adults ages 50 and older have gone through divorce. According to a study by researchers from the Bowling Green State University, the number of divorce cases between older adults has doubled between 1990 and 2010.

Susan Brown, the researcher who led the study, notes that reasons for the rise in divorce rates include more women in the workforce, longer lifespans, higher rates of remarriage and changing notions about marriage.

Divorce is a very painful and stressful process, and it can be especially so for people who are older. There are challenges to “gray divorce” that are different from couples who split before their 50s. If you find yourself contemplating divorce at an older age, here are some tips you can follow to make the process easier.

1. Hire a team of professionals as needed

When you are planning for divorce, the first thing you should do is get a team assembled to guide you through the process. This team includes an attorney, financial planner, accountant, mediator and therapist. Your attorney can help you by recommending professionals for your specific needs. Many times, some of these resources are already available to you and they can work directly with your attorney. In a gray divorce, the role of the financial expert is particularly crucial. Having been married for so long, you have acquired multiple assets together as a couple. In addition, retirement finances can be tricky. A solid team will help you make more objective decisions in the midst of an emotionally trying time.

2. Think about your health

Healthcare can be very expensive – especially so in retirement. So if you are planning for divorce, you have to think about health insurance post-split. After your divorce, you won’t be eligible for your ex spouse’s employer plan. You can consider long-term care insurance that would cover the expenses needed for a stay in an assisted-living facility, or at-home care.

3. Rewrite the important papers

When you get a gray divorce, you have to update all of the important legal paperwork that you’ve set up during your marriage. These papers include your wills, estate plans, bank accounts, deeds and beneficiary designations for retirement accounts. If you fail to update your legal agreements, most states will invalidate your will. So don’t neglect the details and talk to your team of professionals to help you rewrite all the paperwork.

4. Decide where you want to live

One big factor in a split between older couples is who gets to keep the family home. It’s particularly hard because a family house is associated with decades of memories. It makes sense if you want to fight for it, but you could also consider alternatives like selling the home. What is important is that you have to be open to compromise and be creative about your future plans. This will ultimately help you moving forward.

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If you are looking for reasons not to get married, then here’s one from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Thanks to a recent evaluation of an existing ruling, unmarried couples can now effectively deduct twice as much of their mortgage and home debt than married couples.

A Tax Break for Couple Who Haven’t Tied the Knot

A year ago, a lawsuit filed by domestic partners Bruce Voss and Charles Sophy in California challenged the IRS’s mortgage-deduction rules. Voss and Sophy owned two properties together, and were about $2.7 million in debt on their houses and were paying a combined interest of about $180,000 every year.

The current tax code allows taxpayers to receive a reduction in mortgage debt for up to $1 million, and up to $100,000 in home equity financing. But when Voss and Sophy each tried to deduct their debt, the IRS said the $1.1 million limit had to be applied on a per-residence basis.

Voss and Sophy sued, but the tax court decided to side with the IRS. The couple appealed to U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and the Court of Appeals overturned the ruling, claiming that a closer reading of the tax code entitled the men to separate deductions. In other words, the unmarried Voss and Sophy were each entitled to receive a $1.1 million deduction limit.

Bigger Tax Deductions for Unmarried Couples

The ruling no longer applies to just Voss, Sophy, and other taxpayers under Ninth Circuit jurisdiction. This month, the IRS made the ruling applicable to all taxpayers nationwide.

This ruling could potentially pose a dilemma to couples who are planning to be married, because getting married enforces the implementation of the $1.1 million limit to deductions in mortgage and home debt. But if you decide not to marry your partner, you can deduct up to $2.2 million in mortgage and home debt.

The ruling also applies if you want to purchase property with a friend or family member. It is worth noting, however, that purchasing a home with a friend, loved one, or unmarried partner is risky if you eventually break up or fight.

“When you’re an unmarried couple, you don’t have protections,” said lawyer and Marcum partner Janis Cowhey. “As far as the law is concerned, you’re legal strangers.”

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According to a new research from University of Washington sociologists, March and August are the two months in a year when divorce filings peak. This research analyzed data from the past 15 years in the state of Washington and found a pattern of marriage breakups that suggests that family rituals around winter and summer holidays largely affect decisions of divorce.

Why Divorce Spikes in August and March

Associate sociology professor Julie Brines, PhD and doctoral candidate Brian Serafini did not set out to discover the seasonality in divorce rates. The two researchers intended to study the effects of the 2012 recession on marital stability, but when they looked at divorce filings from 2001 to 2015, they discovered a consistent pattern of breakups happening right after the winter and summer holidays.

Brines and Serafini presented their working paper at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Seattle, and suggested that divorce is governed by a “domestic ritual” calendar where holidays are viewed as sacred to families.

“Family life is governed by a ‘social clock,’” they write, “that mandates the observation of birthdays, holidays, or other special transitions involving family members over the course of a year.”

This means that couples may see the holidays as “one last shot” to fix their relationships and start over. “People tend to face the holidays with rising expectations, despite what disappointments they might have had in years past,” Brines said. “They represent periods in the year when there’s the anticipation or the opportunity for a new beginning, a new start, something different, a transition into a new period of life.”

Unfortunately, the holidays often don’t live up to those expectations and couples find that their differences are irreconcilable after a big trip.

Brines and Serafini suspect that couples need some time to hire lawyers and get their finances in order, that is why there is a gap between the New Year’s and the spikes in March. The same logic can be applied for the spikes in August, which happen a month or two after summer vacation.

Further Studies on Divorce Patterns

Brines and Serafini hope to extend their research to other states to see if their research hypotheses will hold for a larger sample size. So far, the two researchers have looked into Florida, Ohio, Minnesota, and Arizona. Despite the differences in demographics and economic factors, Brines and Serafini find that couples from these states share the seasonal divorce pattern.

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Getting a divorce not only takes a toll on your emotions, but it also impacts your retirement savings. Thankfully, if you are divorced but your marriage with your ex-spouse lasted at least a decade, you are entitled to receive social security benefits on your former spouse’s record even if he or she has already remarried.

How Retirement is affected after Divorce

A previous marriage that lasted 10 years or longer entitles you to one-half of your ex-spouse’s full retirement amount (or disability benefit) if:

  • You are 62-years-old or older.
  • You are unmarried.
  • The social security benefits you are entitled to receive based on your own work are less than the benefits you would receive based on your former spouse’s work.

If you remarried and that marriage has ended – whether by divorce, annulment, or death – you may still collect on your former spouse’s record. If, however, you are still married, you generally cannot collect benefits on your ex’s record.

Note that the amount of benefits you get will does not change the amount of benefits your former spouse – or his or her current spouse – may receive.

Collecting Social Security Benefits after Divorce

According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), you may start receiving benefits on your ex-spouse’s record if you have been divorced for at least two years, even if he or she has not applied for retirement benefits yet.

If you are entitled to your former spouse’s benefits and your own retirement benefits, the SSA will pay the retirement benefit first. If your ex’s record is higher, you will receive an additional amount so that the combination of the two benefits equals the higher amount.

Note that if you are at full retirement age and were born before January 2, 1954, you have the option to receive only your former spouse’s benefit and delay your own retirement benefit for a later date. If, however, you were born January 2, 1954 or later, this option does not apply. Once you file for one benefit, you automatically file for all retirement and spousal benefits.

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