Monday, October 26, 2009

A good chat to have BEFORE you say "I do"


This weekend's New York Times published a great article about what couples should discuss prior to marrying -- as marriage is not just as a promise to love and honor each other. Marriage involves forming an economic unit -- and discussing the financial arrangements before you marry will leave you more time later to spend on the love and honor portion of marriage. You can read the New York Times Article here.


I have written previously on this subject, here and here.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Insurance options

Useful links for insurance information:

Basic insurance for eligible Pennsylvanians who have no health insurance


Pennsylvania Department of Health Website


Health insurance for eligible Pennsylvania children


Divorce or separation may mean that you must explore insurance options. Visit the websites above for more information.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

I do (again)

If you feel ready to walk down the aisle again, consider a Prenuptial Agreement. As Prenuptial Agreements can be costly (usually well in excess of $5,000 by the time the final document is drafted), you need to decide if this expense is warranted by your circumstances. In a case where you have your own, a family-owned or closely held business, have vastly different earning capacities or assets than your prospective spouse or have children from a previous marriage, you most likely need the protection that a Prenuptial Agreement can provide.


Even if you decide against a Prenuptial Agreement, before taking the leap again, prospective couples should be brutally honest with each other regarding their respective assets and liabilities. Then, the future spouses should decide how they will build their financial future. Sometimes, couples choose to have one household account, to which they both contribute, and then separate accounts for other discretionary expenses. Other couples like to keep everything separate. Some couples hold everything jointly. How you set up your finances will depend on your relationship and personal styles. Remember that managing money is an important aspect of any marital relationship. Additionally, keeping something in your own name, like a bank account or a house, does not usually give you any protection. Therefore, you should understand the laws in your state.


When remarrying, remember to always check and recheck your beneficiary designations. If you were married previously, and never removed your first spouse as a beneficiary designation from a document, even if your Will states otherwise, your life insurance or other asset could go directly to the beneficiary designation. A new marriage is also the time to revisit your estate plan - which can be combined with revisiting all of your financial goals.


Whether this is the second “I do” for you, or your future spouse, ask the difficult questions now so that you can protect yourself later.

Jumping over dollars to chase pennies


A few years ago I arranged for a complete renovation and overhaul of a bathroom in my home. As my house is centuries old, I did not take this project on lightly. I spent months picking out the tile, deciding on the colors, choosing plumbing fixtures and considering the plumbing work and electrical needed for my tiny bathroom.
The results were nothing less than amazing (at least in my mind!) However, the last step in the process was to arrange for painting the few parts of the bathroom that were not covered in brand new tile. In an effort to save money, I attempted this paint job myself.
I quickly learned that (1) painting, especially in a small room, is not an easy task and (2) a bad paint job can spoil a spectacular tile job. Fixing it cost more than I would have paid for the original paint job.


Like my quest to conserve resources in home improvement, I find that many people attempt to save money when they need legal help. Litigants become so concerned about the potential cost of hiring a lawyer (which admittedly can be daunting) that they attempt to handle matters by themselves. While their determination is admirable, nothing can substitute for the skill, expertise and experience of a lawyer, familiar with the type of matter in which you are involved. Much like my attempt to save money on painting, not getting a professional involved in the beginning can cost you more in the long run.


More times than I can count, I have been called on to fix cases wherein someone attempted to negotiate or litigate their own support, custody or divorce matter without the guidance of a lawyer. Not knowing the law and procedure can result in unfair, unenforceable and/or unworkable agreements. By attempting to save those pennies, unfortunate litigants can cost themselves real dollars in the long run.


Recently, the Superior Court of New Jersey addressed a matter in which a husband and wife negotiated a settlement agreement, including the details of their child support obligation. Husband did not hire a lawyer, but wife was represented by counsel. Husband calculated his child support obligation on his own, and presented his findings to Wife. Wife agreed and accepted Husband’s numbers, presumably with the help of her counsel. However, Husband later realized he had miscalculated his child support amount and overinflated the numbers. However, Wife had already agreed and the matter had been reduced to court order.


The case went through considerable litigation, going to the Appellate Court of New Jersey. However, the court eventually concluded that the amount of child support determined by the parties was not the result of a mutual mistake (which, in many cases, results in a “do-over”). Since the mistake in calculation was Husband’s alone, even though the resulting child support number deviated upwards from the guidelines, the court found that there was good cause for that deviation and the parties may very well have intended to agree to that inflated amount. Therefore, Husband’s argument that he had made a mistake failed.


As with most family law matters, had Husband engaged an attorney to calculate his child support, legal counsel would likely have walked him through the process, and there is less of a chance that a mistake would have been made. By failing to engage counsel to begin with, Husband eventually cost himself not only an inflated child support order but untold time and expense in legal fees attempting to correct the matter.


Before coming to any type of an agreement, or even embarking on litigation, savvy litigants should at least consult with an attorney, experienced in the appropriate area of the law. Use that advice as a baseline to plan out the strategy of your case.


If you are interested in reading about the New Jersey Superior Court case, please see Foster v. McGee, which can be obtained on the New Jersey Judiciary website.


One less thing to worry about

Divorce and separation can cause untold anxiety. Try to control what you are able, so that you are more equipped to handle the stress.

Divorce and separation often mean that you are handling tasks that used to be shared by your spouse. It is natural to have difficulty adjusting.

Making your life easier can come in a variety of forms -- whether it is relying more on friends and family, reducing your activities or commitments or just taking advantage of time saving services available. If you are concerned about managing your household try this website -- designed so to help prevent you from running out of necessary items, and to prevent frantic trips to the store.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Cyber-security


Apparently, October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month. Experts recommend that you should run antivirus software on your computer. Some free programs are available:









The purpose of these types of programs is to protect your computer from viruses, spyware and harmful code it can pick up from the internet. Sometimes, however, the threats are a bit closer to home. Unfortunately, I have heard stories of people merrily reviewing someone else's email by going into the "history" bookmark on the computer or guessing the password. Divorcing and separating spouses can be extremely resourceful so take extra steps to make sure your computer, email, online accounts and digital files are super safe. Change your passwords frequently, change your "hint questions" and erase the "history" on your computer. Being on high alert will go a long way in protecting your sensitive information.


Now where did I put that?

Whenever I receive an important order or document in one of my cases, I duly send it to the client, along with a reminder to "keep it in a safe place." Invariably, I receive a call, in a week, a month, or even a year, asking for another copy because the client lost it.

You should keep all papers in your case organized. You may want to set up separate files:

Correspondence

Pleadings and Orders

Financial

Notes

I use color coded fodlers in my office to make the diferent categories more obvious. Each case is different and you may need more categories. Once you decide on your system, whenever you receive something on your case, you can place it in the appropriate file, in chronological order, rather than keeping a jumble of papers in a bag or a box or on a table.

Some documents are more important than others and should be kept safe, and usually for a longer period of time. Examples of these important documents are:

Divorce Decree

Property Settlement Agreement or Court Order Dividing Property

Support Order

Custody Order

Some people manage to never have to refer to their orders again. Those are the lucky ones. More likely than not, if you have ongoing financial obligations, have orders involving children or had tasks or duties under your order, you will have to refer to these papers again. Despite their importance, many people manage to lose the paperwork. You can usually get another copy -- from the court or your lawyer -- but this generally takes time and money.

Avoid the hassle later and get organized now. Assign one cabinet, box or area for your paperwork. Keep it locked and keep it organized.

For the most important papers, consider keeping them offsite -- in the event of a fire, move or some other disruption, the papers will still be safe.

I advise clients to also keep a scanned copy. You can also keep your scanned copy off site -- using a simple service that allows you to store digital data safely. One such website is LockYourDocs. For a small fee, you can upload important papers, and keep them safe. You can also access them from anywhere you have a computer.

So -- get control of your paper -- and save yourself anxiety later.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Go Phillies!




How do I find financial advice?




Occasionally, I like to pass along websites that appear useful and informative. The world of investing and managing finances can be daunting but resources exist for newcomers to the financial game. If you are divorcing or separating and are stressed or anxious about the financial aspect of your life, the more you learn, the better able you will be to make decisions.
Here are some sites that may help:


The website, down-to-earth finance, includes articles and tips for those interested in learning more about spending, saving, investing and paying down debt.


The Motley Fool also contains tons of articles and tips -- and is updated constantly.


The Real Simple website includes straightforward tips, budgeting worksheets and helpful articles.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Quote of the Day

“The first step to getting the things you want out of life is this: Decide what you want.”

―Ben Stein

Friday, October 09, 2009

Mini-COBRA - what is it?

As most people understand, COBRA is a federal law that requires certain employers to offer continued health insurance benefits to a terminated beneficiary at the group rate offered to an employee (plus an administrative fee). People can be terminated from an insurance plan for a variety of reasons but, in my practice, divorce or legal separation from the employee covered by the insurance is a common occurrence, especially for spouses who stayed out of the workforce and relied on their husband or wife employee benefits.

The traditional COBRA law only applied to larger businesses, thus leaving many employees of small businesses without the protection. Pennsylvania enacted a “Mini-COBRA” which requires smaller businesses to offer some extended health insurance coverage. Continuing benefits under COBRA are usually only designed to be a temporary measure as it may be most cost effective to obtain a new plan at a later date from another source. Accordingly, while COBRA (or the new Mini-COBRA) is not a panacea, it can provide stopgap coverage. There are many restrictions and contingencies regarding COBRA and Mini-COBRA. The forms and notification requirements can be daunting.

If you are concerned that your health insurance coverage will end due to a divorce or separation from a potentially eligible employee, you should contact the Human Resources Department of the employee. In addition, do your own research so that you stay well informed. The Pennsylvania Insurance Department provides information this website: www.ins.state.pa.us. Shop around for insurance plans so you understand your options.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

The Art of Living Obliquely

Please visit Neuro Detour: On Paper - a wonderful blog of art by a friend who has been diagnosed with a debilitating illness.

Her art, including paintings andwritings, is truly inspirational.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Quote of the Day

"In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on."

- Robert Frost -