It’s common knowledge that long-term relationships tend to break down around Valentine’s Day, which comes at the midway point between the Christmas holidays and Spring, which in turn, represents the renewal of romance. But when it comes marriage and divorce, does this trend remain present? There was really no way of knowing, until now.

A new study conducted by sociologists from the University of Washington shows that divorces tend to spike during two particular months of the year. According to the researchers, their findings represent the “first quantitative evidence of a seasonal, biannual pattern of filings for divorce.”

According to a report on the University of Washington’s news portal, “The researchers analyzed filings in Washington state between 2001 and 2015 and found that they consistently peaked in March and August, the periods following winter and summer holidays,”

Accidental Discovery:

It’s worth noting this discovery was accidental by nature.

Initially, Julie Brines, an associate sociology professor, and Brian Serafini, a doctoral candidate, set out to study divorce filings within Washington State between 2001 and 2015. The goal was to understand what kind of impact the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009 had on marriages.

Instead, the researchers found a peculiar pattern in divorce filings, realizing that throughout their research timeframe, divorces seemed to spike in March and August.

Why March and August?

Brines and Serafini believe the explanation behind the spike in divorce filings in these months has something to do with lower expectations, that is, couples tend to avoid damaging their relationships out of a “domestic ritual” calendar that affects family behavior.

“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. It’s like an optimism cycle, in a sense,” he adds.

Think of it this way: most couples tend to avoid separating during the months leading to and after the holidays because they don’t want to spoil the family’s mood, or are holding on to the possibility that things may change for the better.

And let’s face it, nobody wants to spoil Thanksgiving and Christmas with news of divorce, and the months after the start of the New Year typically represents hope and fresh beginnings.

But this optimism might fade heading into March. Likewise, during the school break (i.e. June to July), the feeling of facing reality and disillusionment sets in, such that couples begin to weigh divorce once more.
Brines notes that theoretically, divorce filings should spike around February and July, but he attributes the one-month delay to the long process of seeking a divorce attorney.
Continue reading

Tying the knot after a divorce may not be the first thing on most new divorcees’ minds, but it’s something that happens fairly often. After all, when couples split apart, their priority is to pick up the pieces of their lives and find a way to move forward.

For those who eventually find new love and decide to remarry, one thing these people often do not expect is how complicated the financial and estate planning issues that come with remarriage can be. It’s a problem that has caught many blended families off guard.

If you’re about to remarry or have just remarried, it helps to be aware of the following financial and legal issues you might encounter.

Shared Expenses, Income, and Assets:

If you and your new spouse have shared income and assets, these funds may be at risk if you are still financially tied to your former spouse. You and your new partner may have set up a joint account or two, where you can pool funds to pay for expenses like utilities, groceries, and mortgages—basically, family expenses.

Ask your lawyer about your financial obligations to your former spouse. It may be that you need to keep money separate to protect it from creditors, who are not necessarily bound by divorce settlements. This insulates your shared income from being involved in an old debt of your ex.

Community Property and Common Law Issues:

In a community property state like Texas, the law states that assets brought into the marriage or received individually by one spouse are owned by that spouse. However, any income or assets earned or acquired during the marriage has the presumption that it is the property of both spouses.

In contrast, a common law state requires ownership of assets to be controlled by titles and other ownership documents.

Consult your lawyer to prepare an estate plan that considers your home state, as well as any property that’s out of state.

Safeguards Against Remarriage:

Should your spouse remarry after you pass away, your assets may be at risk of being shared with that new family. Sometimes, what happens when a spouse pre-deceases a new spouse, is that none of the assets owned jointly go to children from a previous marriage. In this situation, the new spouse has the final say over who inherits these assets.

You can set up a Trust, which will ensure your assets are protected and allocated to your desired beneficiaries. A Trust will guarantee that inheritances go straight to your desired loved ones. A Trust can also indicate what happens to your home upon your death, and whether you want to leave it for the benefit of your surviving spouse or children.
Continue reading

Divorce proceedings are all but guaranteed to be trying, emotionally draining times. Emotions run high, tensions between family members are palpable, and all you want to do is get things over with and move on. But what many divorcing couples often don’t realize is just how damaging a divorce can be to their personal finances. And the closer you are to retirement age, the repercussions of a divorce can be even more severe, especially to the spouse who has chosen to stay at home and forego employment for years.

It’s for this reason it’s important to claim everything you are entitled to of what you saved as a couple. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done, as things like retirement savings are relatively easy to hide if you don’t know where to look.

Here are a few places to focus your attention on.

Turn to the Internal Revenue Service

Most of us tend to avoid any kind of dealings with the IRS out of fear of being audited. But during a divorce, the IRS can be one of the best places to check for a paper trail leading back to your ex-spouse’s Individual Retirement Arrangement (IRA) and retirement account distributions, which can be found on a 1099-R form.

Let’s say your spouse moved funds from a retirement account into an IRA with Ameritrade or a 401(k) with Vanguard. Either way, if your spouse did this to siphon funds away from their account and make it seem it contains much less than expected, this transaction would still trigger Ameritrade or Vanguard to send a 1099-R to both your spouse and the IRS.

And even if your former spouse were to throw their copy of the form away, the IRS would still know and report this in the tax return for the year the transaction happened.

Check for Fake Documents

In a world of Photoshop and digital manipulation, it’s never been easier to doctor documents so they show any amount you want to declare. And that doesn’t even include the ‘traditional’ defrauding tools like a photocopier, typewriter, or even something as simple as correction fluid or tape.

In any case, if you’re going through a divorce or have just been through one, be sure to check the authenticity of any tax, IRA, or 401(k) documents you get from your spouse. When in doubt, talk to your lawyer or a fraud specialist to determine the veracity of the barely legible document given to the courts.

You can also multiply the number of shares of the retirement fund by its latest share price to see if the investment value lines up with the number you see on the document.
Continue reading

Couples who have finally finished the often-rigorous process of getting divorced often have one thing in mind: get out and start anew. But while it’s certainly important to start finding some semblance of normalcy as quickly as you can after a divorce, acting too hastily may have unexpected repercussions for the future—especially when it comes to your finances.

Many divorced spouses often underestimate the impact their separation can have on their retirement. Below are 4 steps to protect your retirement assets during a divorce.

Decide What Happens to Your Retirement Plans

The Internal Revenue Service needs a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) to divide the amount in a retirement fund between two former spouses. This document is a court order determining how your retirement assets will be divided, and is also typically presented to your retirement plan provider.

Executing a QDRO can be complicated, and unfortunately, many divorce lawyers don’t fully understand the process. It helps to consult the advice of a financial advisor and hire a divorce attorney familiar with this aspect of your case. Your attorney can tell you about all its nuances and rules, especially the fees, which can be obscenely high if you make a mistake in filing.

Change Your Beneficiaries

Thought your new will covers your retirement accounts? Think again. You should still change your beneficiary designations on all your retirement plans. Unfortunately, many divorced spouses make this all too common mistake, thinking their last will and testament takes care of everything.

Changing your beneficiaries is especially important if you named your former (or soon-to-be) spouse as one of them. Despite your divorced status, your ex will still inherit your retirement money upon your death if it says so in your account. And even if your spouse respects your wishes and gives the money to your kids, he/she can be liable for a tax payment for doing so.

Bottom line? Get your lawyer to execute this simple legal document.

Go Over Your Social Security Benefits

You can receive a portion of your former spouse’s Social Security benefits if you were married to your spouse for at least 10 years prior to the divorce. Now is a good time to compare your Social Security benefits with your ex’s, because you can only claim either one.

And if you decide to remarry, doing so before you turn 60 voids any chance you have of collecting your ex-spouse’s Social Security benefits.

Review Your Investment Portfolio

Now would also be a good time to look at your investment accounts and reevaluate your risk tolerance. There are many instances when a person’s risk tolerance for investment matches that of their spouse. Your risk tolerance may also be more aggressive due to the higher combined income you share with your spouse. As someone who’s single once more, your investment options now need to consider your current income, current savings, profession, and likely future.

Everyone knows divorce can take an extreme toll on your stress levels and emotions, but many people fail to grasp how big of an impact a separation can have on their future retirement. If you’re not sure how to secure your finances, talk to a qualified divorce attorney.
Continue reading

Medical advancements are adding decades to the average human lifespan, extending it by around 30 years. Of course, this is fantastic news in terms of self-fulfillment and productivity. However, with longer lifespans comes the unprecedented increase in divorce rates in the later years of our lives.

Such separations are often referred to as “gray divorces,” and while the overall divorce rate has begun to decline and stabilize, these late-life divorces see the opposite. And the reasons for this spike are largely unsurprising when you stop to give them serious thought.

Reduced Stigma of Divorce a Contributor?

For one, long-term relationships tend to become more challenge to maintain later on in life. Pair this with our newfound longevity and the dwindling stigma surrounding divorce, and the remarkable increase in gray divorce no longer seems so shocking. Another potential reason is that marriages by this age tend to be the second, third, even fourth for many Americans, and remarriages are sociologically accepted as a contributing factor.

And at this point in the lives of seniors, many of them feel that they’ve done their part—earned their money, got their promotions, put their kids through school. It’s easy to start thinking that the milestones and functions of married life have been lived fully.

But whatever the reason for getting a gray divorce, like all things, it comes with its fair share of benefits and dangers.

Writing for the New York Times, Katie Crouch narrates the positive changes in her family life after her mother divorced at the age of 72. She recounts that her 4-year-old daughter found herself in high demand and at the center of attention, receiving constant phone and Skype calls from her grandparents.

But then there’s the darker side, which mostly has to do with your finances.

Increased Risk of Poverty

First, there is an elevated risk of poverty for senior citizens, who tend to face greater difficulty and higher hurdles in establishing and maintaining their footing in the corporate world. This is especially alarming when you factor how 1 in 3 Americans have not saved a single dollar for retirement.

Dangerous for Housewives

Perhaps no one is more heavily hit by a gray divorce than the housewife, who would have no retirement plans to augment her alimony. Even women who just took time off from work to focus on domestic life are vulnerable to financial difficulty.

Gray divorced housewives face greater difficulty paying for the divorce proceedings and looking for work after years of being at home. This underscores the need for married women to be proactive in securing their personal finances while they still can.
Continue reading

While many divorce attorneys in Texas know the Lone Star State observes community property laws, many lawyers erroneously believe this extends into a similar concept called “community debt.” This is simply not true.

Yes, divorced couples are liable for any property acquired during their marriage, but these laws don’t apply to debt incurred during your union with your spouse, save for a few very specific exceptions.

In this guide, we answer a few questions about community property law, clearing up misconceptions about community debt in the process.

What is Community Property?

Texas, which observes community property laws, treats all assets acquired during the marriage as equal conjugal property. This means that any property acquired by either spouse is shared and subject to property division proceedings during a divorce.

Only under specific conditions can one spouse prove a certain asset is a separate property, which includes property owned by one spouse before the marriage, or property inherited or received as a gift.

What is Community Debt?

Community debt is a false concept that takes the provisions of community property laws, applying them to debt inquired by the couple during the course of their marriage.

Essentially, the community debt concept makes the wrong assumption that any debt incurred by either spouse during their marriage is shared debt. So, if you are debt-free but your spouse incurred credit card debt while you were married, you are supposedly liable for paying off that debt after getting divorced, which again, is not true.

However, there are very specific kinds of debt that a spouse may be liable for.

What Kinds of Debt are Divorced Spouses Liable for?

Texas law requires each spouse to support the other. For example, spouses are liable for providing each other necessaries, be it food, clothing, or shelter.

According to Texas Family Code §3.201, a person can be held liable for the debt of his or her spouse only if that spouse incurred a debt while acting “as an agent for the person” and incurred “a debt for necessaries.” A person, however, is not automatically considered an agent of his or her spouse due to marriage.

What About Debt Incurred Together as a Couple?

Yes, couples can incur joint and several liability for debt acquired together as a couple. During divorce proceedings, the court generally takes a hands-off approach to avoid affecting the rights of the creditor for joint and several liability of debt.

For example, if both spouses are on contract for paying a credit card account, even if the court rules during divorce proceedings that one spouse should shoulder the burden of making all further payments, both parties are actually still jointly and severally liable for said debt.
Continue reading

Texas county clerks with “sincerely held” religious objections may now delegate the task of issuing same-sex marriage licenses to other officials. According to state Senator Brian Birdwell, Texas Senate Bill 522 institutes a “statutory balance between the religious liberties of marriage-certifying officials and the rights of all couples to marry,” thereby creating an effective middle ground for the contrasting civil liberties in question.

SB 522 provides that county clerks may lend licensing authority to a “certifying official,” allowing them to produce a marriage license in their place. The bill requires that the concerned county clerk must notify the commissioners court of “sincerely held religious beliefs” that may go against their function and office.

These substitute officials may include an available judge, deputy clerk, or magistrate who is willing and able to certify the marriage license application, administer the oath, as well as the actual issuance of the marriage license.

Likewise, the bill prohibits action against officials who recuse themselves from their functions, stating that, “a civil cause of action may not be brought against the person based on the person’s refusal to conduct the marriage ceremony.” This provision effectively protects officials from administrative and civil penalties for refusing to administer these marriage licenses.

To prevent the possibility of same-sex couples facing additional obstacles after a state official delegates the task of issuing a marriage license, State Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston), amended the bill: “A commissioners court of a county in which the clerk has made a notification under Subsection (a) shall ensure that all eligible persons applying for a marriage license are given equal access to the process and are not subject to undue burden due to the county clerk’s refusal to certify the application for a marriage license, administer the oath, and issue the license.”

The amendment comes in response to the actions of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who defied the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage. In an advisory released to county clerks and judges, Paxton suggested that they may refuse to issue same-gender union licenses on the grounds of religious freedom, which in effect, places a burden on gender-deviant couples looking to get married.

The State Bar of Texas has made no disciplinary action on Attorney Paxton in spite of the ethics complaint filed against him by over 200 attorneys.

The seemingly tolerant move was not met with resounding applause from gender equality advocates, however.

Equality Texas, an Austin-based nonprofit supporting equal gender rights, asserts that the bill authorizes employees in public office to discriminate based on religious convictions, ultimately permitting them to cite religion as a basis for further discrimination.

Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller believes that the bill not only condones discrimination against same-gender couples but also “against virtually any Texan,” including previously divorced as well as interfaith couples.
Continue reading

Divorces are rarely not messy. What was once a happy a marriage can spiral into a hurricane of emotions, accusations, revelations, and alimony checks. This can create ripples across each spouse’s circle of family and friends. And in many ways, the rise of social media has only made divorces even more complicated.

Couples who just filed for divorce or are newly-divorced are especially vulnerable to social media misuse, with some cases leading to consequences as serious as losing child custody.

The key to avoiding this is knowing a few important social media dos and don’ts that apply both in the online and real world.

Don’t Embarrass Yourself Online

You see someone cute at work, go for a night out with your friends, or find yourself a new lover shortly after your divorce, and your first impulse might be to post about it on your online page. Resist. If you’re in the middle of a divorce, your spouse’s lawyer probably has a magnifying glass on you right now, and every move and statement you make can be construed against you.

That means a simple group picture of a night out with friends is now fodder for the opposing counsel to question your parenting skills. Post wisely, or child custody and spousal support could be on the line.

Don’t Continue Using Social Media as Your Personal Journal

A divorce can take a massive emotional toll on anyone, with the slightest mistake and frustration ruining your day. Further complicating this is how many people have the habit of expressing their troubles and frustrations on Facebook or Twitter, which, as previously mentioned, can come right back and hurt your case unnecessarily.

If expressing yourself is cathartic, now may be the perfect time to visit a bookstore and pick up a journal. Let your frustrations and discoveries out on paper where no one else can see and take them against you (although personal journals can be subject to discovery – ask your lawyer). Remember to keep your frustrations and rants private.

Don’t Expose Your Ex

Having married your spouse, it’s only natural that you know about secrets about that person. In times of anger and agitation, you could be tempted to rage, go online, and shame your ex for everyone to see. But in situations like this, it’s best to seek the moral high ground.

From a more practical standpoint, remember that your spouse also knows things about you that you wouldn’t want to be shared online. So it might be better to hold your peace than cast the first stone.

The safest and quickest thing to do during a divorce is to deactivate your social media accounts—at least until the divorce proceedings are finished. Not only does this prevent you from making a mess online, it makes your online history unavailable for research, and protects you from viewing provocative posts yourself.
Continue reading

Reversing the previous decision of a lower court, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that under the Texas Occupations Code, licensed family and marriage therapists can diagnose the mental, behavioral, and emotional problems of their clients, provided their assessment falls under their expertise. Among other things, the decision allows family and marriage therapists to provide diagnostic assessments to couples going through a divorce, or spouses with troubled marriages.

Justice Jeffrey S. Boyd delivered the High Court’s decision on February 24, reversing an earlier ruling by the Third District Appeals Court done in favor of the Texas Medical Association.

The decision originates from a 1994 rule passed by the Texas State Board of Examiners of Marriage and Family Therapists, which permitted marriage and family therapists (MFTs) to offer “diagnostic assessment which utilizes the knowledge organized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)…as part of their therapeutic role to help individuals identify their emotional, mental, and behavioral problems when necessary.”

Curated and published by the American Psychiatric Association, the DSM is the universal reference system for diagnosing mental health disorders in the U.S. and in many countries around the world. According to the Therapists Board, the ability to conduct diagnostic analyses through the DSM is at the heart of an MFT’s practice and services.

For example, diagnostic assessments play a crucial role in an MFT’s ability to:

Diagnose a client’s mental health problems
Develop a plan of treatment
Determine suitable treatment services
Provide recommendations to treatments with other health professionals

In 2008, the Medical Association disagreed with the rule and sued the Therapists Board and its directors. In its push for a court to invalidate the rule, the Association argued that allowing MFTs to conduct diagnostic assessments also allowed them to practice medicine without a medical license.

But the Board argued the rule specifically prohibits MFTs to provide medical diagnoses, or any other kind of diagnoses, outside their expertise. Rather, it permits MFTs to diagnose a number of nonmedical mental disorders related to psychological issues and experiences, such as, but not limited to:

Mood disorders
Behavioral disorders
Personality disorders

The Travis County District Court ruled in favor of the Medical Association, invalidating the diagnostic-assessment rule on the grounds of exceeding the scope of the Therapists Act.

The Texas Supreme Court, however, saw otherwise. Justice Boyd considered the arguments raised by the Therapists Board, particularly the claim that the appeals court decision “makes Texas the only state to prohibit Licensed MFTs from performing an integral part of their profession that is essential to their ability to properly treat their clients.”

Boyd also refuted the Medical Association’s claim that the rule allowed MFTs to diagnose all kinds of mental disorders with no limits.
“(T)he rule itself specifically states that MFTs may only make diagnostic assessments ‘as part of their therapeutic role to help individuals identify their emotional, mental, and behavioral problems when necessary.’ Another Therapists Board rule explicitly limits an MFT to services ‘within his or her professional competency,’” the ruling reads.
Continue reading

Aside from the heavy toll on your emotions, a divorce also raises a number of issues concerning your finances. For many married couples, the family home is often their most expensive asset, so it’s no surprise why dividing a home’s value, or at the very least agreeing on what to do with it, can be a prickly affair. And with the ending of your marriage, the family home can turn into a place neither of you may want to continue living in afterward.

If this problem is something you’re dealing with right now, below are a few options to choose from to resolve the issue of the family home.

Let One Spouse Keep the House

There are cases where one of the parties will want to continue living in the family house. Perhaps they don’t want to let go of the place they call home, or know that keeping their residence is the most convenient option.

Option 1 – Your Spouse Keeps the Home
In any case, if you or your soon-to-be ex-spouse decides to keep the house, one of you will have to be released from the liability of paying the mortgage. This means executing the proper documentation.

Option 2 – You Keep the Home
On the other hand, if you’re the one who keeps the house, you can either continue under the same mortgage terms or refinance the mortgage to get better rates. You also need to have documents drafted to remove your soon-to-be ex-spouse’s rights to the home;

No One Keeps the Home

This means both spouses agree to sell off the home and split the proceeds. If you haven’t been married for very long or just recently moved into the house, you’re probably still paying the mortgage, which means you’re still liable for making payments, even after dissolving the marriage

If you and your spouse can agree on it, selling the house is usually the most expedient and cleanest option for dividing the property. You can then use the proceeds from the sale to pay off your mortgage, allowing you to move on from any payment liabilities and start life anew. Depending on how much you earned from the sale, you can also use the proceeds to pay off any conjugal debt you might have.

Take note, there are no guarantees that you can sell the home at a profit. Your home’s value will depend on several market factors, including the condition of the house, the neighborhood it’s in, and the general real estate outlook in your city or county.

Deciding to end a marriage is always hard, and dealing with the fallout is even harder. It’s best to plan ahead for what happens after the divorce, especially in matters that deal with money and property.
Continue reading