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A Little Lesson About Taxes and Divorce

200264112-001Oh, tax season. The time of year when you can hear the clickety-clack of calculator buttons, and smell the nervous sweat on men and women alike. The only thing that could improve this glorious season is divorce.

…Said no one ever, not even tax specialists. In fact, the only thing that makes tax season worse is divorce (or is it the other way around?). But it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom, taxes can still be relatively simple as long as you know the basics. Where divorce is concerned, the tax basics are: deciding on a filing status, navigating the exemptions, and figuring out the tax refund.

Find Your Filing Status

Filing statuses are fairly cut and dry, so there isn’t too much confusion or misinformation about how to file your taxes. However, there are a few options available to couples who are separating or staying together.

Generally, a person’s legal filing status goes by what their status was at the end of the tax year. If you were legally divorced, or legally separated by or on December 31st, 2012, or living separate and apart for the last 6 months of 2012, then you will file as single or head of household. If you were still legally married by or on December 31st, 2012, then you will file as married.

However, married couples do have the option of filing taxes together or separately. So if you were still legally married by December 31st, and your and your soon-to-be-ex don’t want to file together, you may file as “married filing separately.” Just note that by opting to file married but separately, you are opting out of the tax benefits of filing as married; so if you and your spouse can tolerate each other it might be beneficial to give filing taxes together one more go.

Catch a Tax Break or Exemption

The most common and plentiful tax exemptions are for married couples with children; and the most common misconception divorced couples have about taxes is that they can both take exemptions for the child. Divorced couples can divide the exemptions, but there cannot be two people claiming exemptions for one child.

Most couples choose to alternate years claiming the children on their taxes. For example, the mother would claim the children on even years, and the father would claim the children on odd years. However, the parent with primary custody of the child usually claims the child every year. If the other parent pays for the child’s medical expenses, that parent may take those deductions.

Just as a little disclaimer, one child expense that is not tax deductible is child support. The parent paying the child support cannot take deductions for the payments made because child support is considered tax neutral.

The Tax Refund Raffle

That night, after filing taxes, everyone goes to bed with dreams of a big, fat tax refund dancing through their mind. Divorce does not dissuade this pipe dream of swimming in your tax refund, but here are ways to increase your little neat refund pile. As tax refunds go, married people with children they can claim as dependents have it pretty good.

As a divorcee, you may be hanging your head, but don’t despair for too long. Divorcees can get better tax refunds if they pay alimony, if they can claim any children as dependents, and more.

Have any more pressing tax questions? Leave a comment below and we’ll get to the bottom of it for you. | Uncontested Divorce Questions Answered

uncontested divorce questionsContrary to popular belief, not every divorce has to be a drawn-out court affair with dramatic statements and ruthless negotiations. In fact, there are many ways to go about getting a divorce nowadays, and only a few of them involve nasty courtroom brawls. One of the easiest, pain-free ways to get a divorce is by getting an uncontested divorce.

What is an uncontested divorce?

An uncontested divorce does not involve lawyers, court battles, or rulings handed down by judges. Instead, an uncontested divorce involves the divorcing spouses sitting down and deciding for themselves how to divide their marital estate.

This is how it works: The spouses going through an uncontested divorce must either agree or be able to agree on how to resolve the issues brought up in the marital settlement agreement.

Points in the marital settlement agreement in need of resolution include:

  • division of assets (like checking and saving accounts, and profits from a shared business)

  • personal property (like home furnishings, electronics, and cars)

  • real property (like houses, condos, and apartments)

  • debts (credit card debt, mortgages, etc.)

  • whether or not to award spousal support, and how much to award

  • child issues (like child support, child custody, visitation schedules, and more)

How much does an uncontested divorce cost?

The cost of an uncontested divorce is quite minimal, since the divorcee doesn’t have to pay for a lawyer. In an uncontested divorce, you must only pay the filing fee (which varies from state to state).

However, the cost of an uncontested divorce can vary based on how you go about pursuing the divorce. These are your choices:

  • Fill out the forms yourself: The upside to filling out the divorce forms yourself is there is no additional cost. But the downside is that the slightest mistake or inconsistency in your paperwork can lead to your divorce forms being rejected, which would delay the divorce process.

  • Hire a lawyer: Some divorcees choose to hire a lawyer to fill out the divorce papers for them, which drives up the cost of an uncontested divorce quickly. True, the divorce papers will be completed correctly, but the cost is usually not worth the minimal labor.

  • Use a divorce forms service: A divorce forms service is not a legal advisory center or other type of legal aide; it is a company that specializes in completing divorce forms. These companies are usually a good option because the services do not cost as much as a lawyer, and the forms are completed by professionals.

However, be wary of false divorce forms services. Scammy divorce forms service companies usually do not have a method of contact on their website (like a phone number, address, or live customer support module). Before making payments to an online divorce forms service, make sure the website has a method of securing your payment.

Can we get an uncontested divorce if we don’t get along?

You and your spouse may not be the best of friends during your divorce, and that’s okay, even in an uncontested divorce. The divorcing couple may not stand the sight of each other, but as long as they can agree on how they want to settle the matters discussed in first section (division of assets, child issues, and more), they can get an uncontested divorce.

If during the divorce, the spouses find an area they cannot agree on, negotiate, or otherwise overcome, then they may have to seek mediation. If the divorce is at a standstill because of certain issues, then the divorce is considered contested, and the couple will have to hire a lawyer.

Is this helpful information, or is there a question about uncontested divorces we missed? Let us know in the comment box below.

The Evolution of Child Custody

history of child custodyLittle more than a decade ago, it was estimated that 90% of child custody was settled with the mother gaining full custody of the children. This obvious imbalance in custodial arrangements has made fathers all over America wonder at the horrible injustice and sex discrimination perpetrated by American courts.

But the courts didn’t just wake up one day and decide mothers were better parents; and family court judges are not battling Oedipus complexes. The reason about 90% of mothers received child custody in the past is due to a little thing called the Tender Years Doctrine. But we’ll get to the Tender Years Doctrine in a bit; first we have to make our way through a short history of the evolution of child custody law.

From Ancient Rome to 2013 America

Roman common law, established around 439 B.C., dictated that children of a marriage were the property of the father. This meant if a Roman husband and wife divorced, the children stayed with the father and the mother left.

Jump ahead hundreds of years to English common law, established around 1000 A.D., which upheld the same child custody outline as Roman common law. Simply carry the same basic common laws over into the founding of America, and you have the basis of American custody laws. The law theory pertaining to child custody was that the father was the only suitable parent to teach the children the ways of the world.

However, hundreds of years later during the time of the Industrial Revolution in the late 1800′s, the question of what was best for the child became the focus.

Tender Years Doctrine

The Tender Years Doctrine replaced old Roman and English common law child custody arrangements by giving mothers custody of children, until the age of 6. This change was spurred by the Industrial Revolution’s impact on family structure.

The Industrial Revolution caused men to seek jobs away from the remote villages the English people lived in up until that point. The absence of husbands and fathers forced women and mothers to handle the housekeeping and child rearing completely by themselves. When divorces occurred during this time, the courts saw how impossible it would be for fathers to continue to take full custody of the children.

The Tender Years Doctrine stated that children under the age of 6 were too young to leave their mother’s love and care. However, once children grew older, they were of sufficient age and maturity to follow their fathers to industrial towns to work. In America, the Tender Years Doctrine extended the mother’s custody indefinitely, which is the cause of the statistic describing mothers retaining child custody 90% of the time after a divorce.

Do We Have a New Doctrine?

The 1960′s marked the beginning of the divorce spike, which peaked in the 1980′s; but the divorce revolution also sparked a child custody revolution in the U.S. The new child custody doctrine is defined not by the gender of the custodian (a.k.a. the parent granted with child custody), but by the best interests of the child.

So far, this new “best interests” custody doctrine adopted by American family law courts has created the joint custody option. The first joint custody statute was implemented in California in 1979; by 1991, joint custody was written into more than 40 state statutes.

But here’s the catch: Many people are still seeing mothers gaining preferential custody rights in the divorce process. This claim produces many questions, like “Is this still true today?”

Check back with us later this week for the answer to that question.

Do Fathers Have Custody Rights?

fathers rightsParents: Have any of you parents found yourself with your foot shoved far into your mouth? Yeah, so has every other person at one point in time. But trips to the playground seem to coincide with sudden cravings for the taste of feet. The huddle of parents watching their children play is a breeding ground for innocent-enough small talk, until one person makes the assumption that the divorced father just has visitation.

Each person in the group suddenly is interested in the look of their shoes, eyes widen, and lips slowly are pressed into a thin line. If the seemingly-innocent comment was fresh of your lips, your eyes mirror the apology currently flowing from your mouth.

The Truth About Father Custodians

If the father had heard this before, and is aware of the statistics, they probably were not too offended. After all, the 2009 U.S. census reports only about 17.8% of fathers gain full custody rights of the children after a divorce. It was just your luck that you bumped into the 1 father out of 6 who was the custodial parent. But, if you are the father fighting for custody, don’t let past statistics guide your choice to fight the good custodial fight.

Historically, fathers were the preferred custodian of any children in a divorce or marital split (which we discussed at length in a previous blog); but at the turn of the century, mothers became the championed custodial parents. Ever since the switch in child custody doctrines (read the blog and you’ll understand), the number of custodial mothers have all but stomped out the number of custodial fathers.

In custody battles, fathers may dejectedly say or think, “What’s the point of fighting for custody? The courts never favor the father.” But we are here to say, “Buck up, soldier. These days, fathers have just as many rights to custody as mothers.”

Fighting the Good Fight

We don’t normally endorse any kind of animosity or battling, but when a child’s true best interests are at stake, we fully support fighting the good fight. And besides, single fatherhood is quickly gaining momentum in American society.

In 1993, Indiana became the first American state to pass a child custody law in favor of joint parenting plans. Since then, the other U.S. states have passed similar custody laws championing joint parenting plans. As a result, the amount of single fathers grew by 37.9 percent between the years of 1990 and 2000; the rate continued to increase by 27.3% between the years of 2000 and 2010.

The Pen is Mightier

Although the world we live in might seem to enjoy horrific wars, the pen really is mightier than the sword; this is true especially during a custody battle. Nowadays, courts are focusing more on the best interests of the child, instead of the genders of the parents and child involved.

The courts generally consider the best interests of the child to be factors like:

  • maintaining the same standard of living

  • living in a stable, familiar environment

  • living with the parent who cared and provided for the child on a daily basis

If the father provide examples of all the factors above (and the other state-specific requirements), then he has a good chance of gaining custody. However, don’t take our word as divorce law. If you’re embroiled in a heated custody battle, you should probably seek legal guidance.

We try our best to be helpful and informative at, but we can’t cover everything without hearing from you. If you have a question or comment, let us know in the comment box below. We’ll do our best to get you the best information available.

Collaborative Divorce: Stuck Between Contested and Uncontested

78630844The availability of the collaborative divorce process is gaining steam as more states sign it into law. A less adversarial form of divorce, collaborative divorce still allows the couple to make all separation agreements without sitting, or heatedly standing, in a courtroom.

Although uncontested divorce is the most ideal case in which spouses can settle things peacefully on their own, a collaborative agreement involving two lawyers keeps the situation out of any court drama that often ensues during contested cases. Thankfully, a new collaborative divorce law was just passed in Washington, solidly making available a more peaceful divorce experience for all involved.

Terminology Lesson

Just so we’re all on the same page, here are definitions of most kinds of divorce:

Uncontested Divorce: A divorce in which the couple agrees on all allocations of marital property, child custody, child support, and/or alimony. Uncontested divorce essentially eliminats the need for lawyers or a judge in court. An uncontested divorce usually gives a no-fault grounds for divorce.

Contested Divorce: The opposite of uncontested, contested divorce means the couple cannot make a settlement agreement on their own due to disputes. Lawyers and a judge are needed to make the settlement for them. The process is longer and more expensive.

Mediated Divorce: A divorce where the couple hires a mediator, who is usually a divorce attorney trained in mediation, to help them settle allocations agreeably.

Collaborative Divorce: Similar to mediated divorce, except the couple hires two lawyers, one for each spouse, to help them come to an agreement and draft the divorce settlement.

Good News for Washington

Despite its effectiveness, the collaborative divorce option is only enacted in a few U.S. states. One state that just made it available and signed it into law is Washington, to the joy of many supporters.

Called the Uniform Collaborative Law Act, it enables couples to utilize mental health professionals and child specialists as well as lawyers to make the out-of-court option run even smoother. Child therapist Kristin Little remarks, “You’re helping people to be good parents through the divorce, so you’re actually preventing a lot of the damage that can occur during the divorce.”

Indeed, going through divorce is especially hard on children, who tend to be caught in the eye of the storm. “I have been doing family law litigation 25 years and court is no place for families,” says Washington based lawyer, Cynthia First. When disputes need to be resolved themselves, leaving them out of the court’s hands means less hassle and more peace.

Amicable Splitting

The best way to settle any conflict or disagreement is through reasonable compromise and speedy resolution. That kind of attitude and problem-solving leads to feelings of goodwill for the ex-spouse and life after divorce. Even though spouses often have serious disagreements over what will happen to their life’s possessions during divorce, they can find a way to temper them independently through options like collaborative divorce. The collaborative divorce process frees up more time and resources for the divorcee to focus on other things, like moving on.