MARRIED WOMEN SHOULD UNDERSTAND THEIR FAMILY FINANCES BEFORE DEATH OR DIVORCE PART THEM FROM THEIR MONEY

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I recently read a timely article at bloomberg.com, talking about the difficulties many post divorce women face financially, due to them not having participated in the handling of family finances while they were married.  Back then, their spouses handled the finances, who turned out to be better equipped in dealing with family related financial issues after the divorce was completed. Now, as newly single women, many wives who had left the money matters to the men, wish they hadn’t.

In Rise of ‘Gray’ Divorce Forces Financial Reckoning After 50, Suzanne Woolley writes of how “too many women” let their husbands make the long-term financial decisions, which has left them vulnerable when separation or death strikes.  That’s why it’s so important for any woman, married or not, young or old, to take the time to learn about the finances that affect them and their families, before death or divorce throw ungodly financial surprises upon you.  This is a regular instance with many family law clients. Many women, looking deer-lost in headlights, not having really any clear idea of the true nature of their family finances, seek legal advice related to family financial matters.  Surprise and shock are common responses when discussing the issues surrounding the division of community property. Issues related to income, expenses, assets, and debts might be clouded, personal property and community property commingled, or assets going unaccounted for.

By developing understanding of your financial affairs you will be better prepared to make the big financial decisions that you might have let your spouses make when you were still married.  Understanding family finances better helps to avoid the “nasty surprises” at the end, that your divorce lawyer will have to help you clean up.

Woolley notes some interesting facts relating to women and their investing, citing statistics from a survey found in a report called, “Own Your Worth,” which was released by UBS Global Wealth Management.

  • 56 percent of married women still leave major investing and financial planning decisions to their spouse.  
  • 61 percent of millennial women said they leave investment decisions to their husbands.
  • 54 percent of baby boomer women leave investment decisions to their husbands.
  • Twice as many men as women in the UBS survey said they were highly knowledgeable about investing.
  • Three-quarters of the women surveyed said they don’t know much about investing.

Woolley’s article also cites a stark difference between married women and women who were divorced or widowed regarding the “making (of) major financial decisions” during their marriage  She cites, for example, that:

  • 59 percent of widows and divorcees regret not taking part in long-term financial planning when they were a couple.
  • 85 percent of married women who weren’t active in making long-term financial decisions said their spouse knows more about financial issues than they do.
  • Eighty percent of women said they were content with how financial responsibilities were handled in their marriage.

The report concluded that a majority of married women are still handing over to their spouses important financial decisions that will profoundly affect their futures.  Women and divorcees who now find themselves alone wish they had been more involved in finances while they were married, says the UBS Global Wealth Management Report. Nearly all of them advise other women to get more involved early on and “break the cycle of financial abdication.”

WOMEN SHOULD BREAK THE CYCLE OF FINANCIAL ABDICATION

The UBS report cites “eight out of 10” divorced or widowed women who remarried as finding themselves to be “more active in the financial decision-making in their current relationship.”  Ninety-four percent of widows and divorcees surveyed insist on complete financial transparency with their spouse.

Again, for all women who are trying to make it work financially, you have one financial bottom line, and that is if you haven’t already — get involved now!  Wake up to the economic realities we all face right now in trying to move our families forward in a healthy and prosperous way. When the divorce comes about, you will be prepared in important aspects.  Remember that subsequent marriages have a higher rate of dissolving than do first marriages. So understand the income, expenses, assets and debts formula your family operates under now.

If you are a married woman, be involved with your husband when making all financial decisions.  You’re signature and / or consent is going to be required for most family related financial instruments, so you might as well understand what you are signing, and why.  If a divorcing woman understands her finances, and she can communicate rationally and intelligently with her spouse, come time for the divorce, she can conceivably steer the mediation of the division of the community property and in the long run save her and her family a lot of money and emotional expense.  If she needs an attorney or divorce mediator to help her with the process, she can always hire a family law specialist.

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PROPERTY DIVISION IN DIVORCE IS ABOUT ASSET PRESERVATION

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One of the primary issues a family law specialist deals with in divorce is helping his or her clients resolve their financial issues.  An experienced family law attorney can help you not only divide your property and assets, but your debt and liabilities as well.  A divorce attorney will utilize the best methods to put your entire family in the best financial position possible as you move forward into unfamiliar post-divorce territory.

Sometimes the community possesses complicated financial assets, like investment and retirement accounts or stock options, and a forensic accountant might be brought in to help analyze, value, and divide your property.  A forensic accountant can help unravel the essential financial formulas that might affect not only the division of community assets, but also child support and spousal support.  Forensic accountants can be expensive, however, and they’re not right for all divorces.  In a divorce case, a little common sense can go a long way when it comes to dividing community property.  The key is to think about how you’re going to preserve what you have in this dramatically volatile economic environment we live in.

My belief is that we are in the middle of the greatest economic free fall that we’ve ever experienced in this country during my lifetime.  The United States Congress says that the U.S. dollar has lost 96% percent of its value since its inception in 1913.  Some economists say that we are in the middle of witnessing 90% percent of the global wealth changing hands of ownership.  Whose hands are your wealth going into?  Will you and your family have anything left?

The purchasing power of the U.S. dollar, which is what we live and eat on, is down to an all time low, so low, in fact, that the U.S. Congress is contemplating bringing back the gold standard to back it.  At this time, more than ever, income, expenses, assets, debts, savings, and investments, should all be at the forefront of the minds of family law attorneys helping you divide your community assets in a divorce.  If you as a divorcing spouse aren’t considering your personal state of financial affairs, as it relates to your family’s future financial reality, and the value of the assets that you can take with you in your split, you could be in for some major surprises and disappointment.

TRUE INVESTMENT CAPITAL ONLY COMES FROM SAVINGS

Unemployment in this country is at an all time high.  Even if you have a job, inflation affecting everything you buy probably keeps you from being able to actually save money.  One of the greatest issues for family law attorneys in dealing with divorce is financial disagreement between the spouses, which is compounded by the fact spouses just aren’t saving enough in real value, so they end up fighting each other tooth-and-nail to squeeze every ounce of wealth they can out of whatever community asset they have left.  So be it for inflated assets.  Sets of silverware are being split down the middle because divorcing spouses have not been saving.  They’ve barely considered the true valuation of their assets up to this point in their lives.

Savings are important because they form the cash cushion that gets us through difficult economic times.  We get the best value out of our assets by saving for them first.  A lack of savings is one of the major problems we face not only as individuals but as a country during these economically challenging times.  Economic researcher Chris Martenson, PhD, MBA, says that savings are important nationally because they are utilized for the formation of investment capital; that is, the property, plant and equipment that create actual future wealth.

Same thing applies to spouses in a marriage.  If you are going to want to be able to invest in the “property, plant and equipment” of your future, so you  have some future wealth to be able to preserve for your family, without having a giant debt load attached to it, you’re going to have to save for it first.  True investment capital can only come from savings.

INDIVIDUAL’S SAVINGS RATES AT ALL TIME LOW

According to Martenson, savings rates have plunged to historic lows, “levels last associated with the Great Depression.”  Martenson says the personal American savings rate has steadily declined in America since 1985 to the present.  The decline we have experienced as a country and as individuals has resulted from “a culmination of a multi-decade erosion of savings as a cultural attribute of American citizens,” Martenson says.  Now, many of you are realizing this in your own lives, where you’re having problems making ends meet on a week-to-week basis, with nary the time nor thought given toward investing in yours or your children’s futures.  The truth is, you can barely deal with financing the now.  And you’ve probably got a lot of debt to go with it.

Martenson, a futurist and co-founder at PeakProsperity.com, believes that what a history of persistently declining savings tells us is that there is an “implicit assumption” by the majority of people in this country that unlimited credit will be available in the future, and so we don’t need to save now.  We have assumed a lifestyle where we have largely substituted a “save and spend” mentality, with “a buy it now on credit” mentality.

All debt across all sectors in this country, and personal savings of individuals, shifted in opposite directions in 1985, with the gap widening dramatically ever since.  “Our national tolerance of debt shifted drastically upwards beginning in 1985 right as our national approach to savings was beginning its long decline towards zero,” Martenson says.

The marketing of our financial system has created in us a belief that in order to have a grander and brighter future, we are going to need more money, which equates to greater debt, so we can buy things.  We have become a country of mass consumers fueled by credit availability.  Everything is about beating the Joneses, now, the future be damned, and the Joneses have a lot of credit at their disposal.  The idea has been ingrained in us that low savings plus high debt equals prosperity, or what Chris Martenson calls, “at least a perpetual feature of our future economic landscape.”

THE BOTTOM LINE FOR DIVORCING COUPLES

The bottom line for most Americans has become that of low savings rate and high debt, which is a major problem because it means that most divorcing spouses have a very thin safety cushion to ride out the economic hardship we are experiencing at this time.  This equates to the fact that most people have failed to invest in their families’ futures.  Dealing with the present while preparing for the future has posed a difficult task for most Americans, and, as a result, divorcing spouses have little left to divide.  They’re not alone in this.  A lack of savings is a nationwide problem.

Our bottom financial line to get through these difficult times has to be pretty straight forward from here.  Save as much as possible, now, and get out of debt.  Many financial forecasters predict that a credit freeze is imminent.  Prepare for it.  Know the truth of what’s really going on in the world, and with our banks.  When possible, move those hard-earned savings into assets that will hold or increase in value during this time of the declining U.S. dollar.  The theory behind hard earned savings, and the investment thereof, should include a ‘smart plan’ on how to preserve those assets for future family needs.

 

 

DIVIDING ASSETS AND DEBTS UPON DIVORCE

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In a dissolution of marriage, California family law courts are empowered to allocate assets of comparable value to the former husband and wife to make the overall division of the gross marital estate substantially equal.  It need not divide each asset.  For example, when dividing a business might impair its value, the court will generally preserve the ongoing business interests if the court can still make an overall equal division of the marital estate.

If you and your spouse own a home together and one spouse continues to reside in the home after separation, that spouse could owe “rent” to the community, subject to an offset for payment of the costs of the home.  If one spouse pays on community debts after separation, he or she will generally be reimbursed for those payments.  An exception might apply if the debt payments are made in lieu of support.

DIVIDING ASSETS IN CALIFORNIA DIVORCE

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One of the most important aspects of all divorces is the division of community property.  To do so in a fair and reasonable manner, it is important to begin with properly valuing a community’s income, debts, assets, and expenses.

Remember, California is a community property state.  This means all property acquired by a spouse during marriage while living in California is presumed to be community property.  Upon death or divorce, the value of all community assets is divided equally in terms of value between both spouses.

Both marital partners are equal agents of the partnership, and they are able to bind the partnership if acting within the scope of his or her authority, and if acting for the joint benefit of the family.  The California community property system adds to joint ownership the right of equal management and control.

All benefits which come from either spouse’s employment during the marriage are community property to the extent they are earned and/or accrued during the marriage.  This can include:

  • retirement benefits
  • pension, savings plans
  • stock purchase plans
  • 401k plans
  • sick and vacation pay, and
  • stock options.

If the benefits are not fully vested at the time of a separation, an allocation is made between the community and separate interests.

Separate property is property:

a)      owned before marriage

b)      acquired during marriage by gift or inheritance, or

c)      acquired after separation.

Earnings, income, or appreciation from separate property sources remain separate property.  If there is a dispute about when an asset is separate property, you must have proof that you acquired the separate property in one of these ways, and have documentation to trace the separate property back to the original source.

If you use separate property to acquire property in joint names during the marriage, you are only entitled to reimbursement for the amount of the separate property contribution (no interest or appreciation) and, again, you must be able to trace the contribution back to the separate property source.

If you own a business prior to marriage, the community may acquire an interest in the business if the business increases in value during the marriage, depending upon the reason for the increase in value.  If you own a home in your own name and community funds are used for mortgage payments or to pay down the principal on a loan, the community will acquire an interest in the appreciation in the value of the property, but only in the ratio that the amount paid on principal bears to the total purchase price.  The community will also be reimbursed for the amount paid down on principal.

The way you hold title to real property will affect disposition of property upon death of a spouse.  For example, property held as joint tenants will automatically become the property of the surviving spouse.  Property held as community property or tenants in common will be distributed according to the Will or Trust of the spouse, or according to the laws governing intestate succession in the absence of a Will or Trust.