Unique issues older couples face during divorce after 50

When an older couple decides to end their marriage, a lot more is at stake. The divorce lawyer has to have access to all of the retirement plans, health insurance, and spousal support. Social security benefits cannot be divided in a divorce, but there are rules that impact your benefits if your marriage lasted longer than ten years. Older couples also have to remember to divide their retirement accounts properly. The best course of action is to divide the retirement accounts by Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO), which is a separate court order that covers the division of retirement benefits properly.

Health insurance is another major issue for older couples over 50. If you are not yet 65 years old, you do not qualify for Medicare and will need to properly research health insurance options. If you are currently on your spouse’s employer’s insurance, you have the option through COBRA to remain on their insurance for up to 36 months after the divorce, but the premiums are usually more expensive than obtaining your own personal health insurance through the Affordable Health Care Act.

And lastly, divorce in your 50s can have an emotional impact on both spouses. You will need emotional support from your family, friends, and possibly a professional who can help you cope with a loss in your life. Contact Doug Dreyer with Dreyer Law to help with all of your divorce decisions. He will help lead you in the right direction for insurance and professional counseling.

10 steps to financial security

Financial security is very important to obtain after your divorce. Whether you are looking to get out of debt or being able to live comfortably, the following 10 steps will help you become and stay financially secure.

  • Start Today. Don’t keep procrastinating. The first step is sometimes the most difficult to take. It requires making a personal commitment to take action.
  • List Your Goals. The best course of action is to start small and make a list of your top three goals. Identifying goals helps you better understand how realistic they are and what you need to do to achieve them.
  • Have a Plan. Create a written financial plan that includes each objective.
  • Automate Savings. Setting up an automated withdrawal system helps you pay yourself first. This will help keep you on a budget and still be able to save a few dollars along the way.
  • Focus on What Can Be Controlled. Instead of worrying about the financial shows on cable and news programs, focus on yourself and your financial situations.
  • Invest in Yourself. If you want to continue your education, take a fun- filled vacation, or build your dream house, now is your time. This will help build your self-esteem and confidence.
  • Live Within Your Means. Sit down and make a spreadsheet of all of your monthly expenses and your monthly income.  This will help you physically see where you can spend money and where you need to put some to the side.
  • Manage Risk.  An emergency fund is always a good thing to have just in case and unexpected event occurs. This will also give you peace of mind to know you aren’t living paycheck to paycheck.
  • Monitor Your Portfolio. Major events in your life could trigger a review and adjustment to your financial plan. Some major events include getting married, switching jobs, buying a new home, health issues, or retirement.
  • Get a Fresh Perspective. Make time for yourself. Take a trip to regain your energy or get a new fresh look. You need a break after all that you have been through with the divorce and regaining yourself.

For all of your divorce and financial questions, contact Dreyer Law today so that we can go into greater detail on financial situations on your specific case.

Maintaining your health insurance after divorce

As a divorce attorney, I get asked by a lot of clients if they can stay on their spouse’s health insurance after their divorce is final. Unfortunately, if you are insured through your ex’s job, you cannot stay on that employer’s health insurance after the divorce is final. Some companies will even bump you off during a legal separation. The most important thing is not to allow gaps in your insurance coverage. Normally, your spouse is required to provide coverage for any children that are involved in the divorce action. One party is frequently left to figure out how to obtain new insurance.

If your spouse works for a company that employs 20 or more people, you are eligible to apply for COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act). If your spouse’s company has fewer than 20 employees, you could still be eligible for continued coverage under the mini-COBRA coverage laws.  State mini-COBRA terms can differ quite significantly from those provided by the standard COBRA. Here is a helpful website to go over terms and eligibility: http://www.cobrainsurancedirect.com/COBRA-Insurance.html

Your spouse’s employer is required to provide COBRA coverage to you only if you notify the health plan administrator within 60 days of becoming divorced. COBRA insurance ends within 36 months. The 36 months allows you the time to look for the best insurance plan that meets all of your needs. However this type of insurance coverage is often very expensive.

Some of you may decide to just forgo COBRA and receive health insurance through your own employers’ plans. If you choose to obtain COBRA insurance, you will be responsible for the entire amount of the premium. And if you choose your own health insurance through your employer, it could be at little to no charge to you. Talk to the personnel at your doctor’s office to discuss what insurance plans they accept.

A great alternative to COBRA is Obamacare (Affordable Healthcare Act). The health insurance exchange offers far less expensive coverage options. While there is a limited general enrollment period for health insurance under the health insurance exchanges, you can enroll at other times of the year during a special enrollment period if you’ve experienced a qualifying life event, such as divorce or marriage.

Call Dreyer Law for a free consultation today. We are here for you if you are thinking about getting a divorce or need advice on health insurance and divorce settlements.

Modifying an existing order

How often can a visitation agreement be modified?
As a parent, if you wish to change an existing court order without the consent of the other parent, you must file a motion for modification. Typically there has to be a substantial change in circumstances for the court to modify an existing order. Consider the reasoning behind this: If parents were able to easily change the visitation agreements the court would be exhausted with the sheer amount of cases brought before it. For this reason, the burden is on you to show a substantial change of circumstances that would warrant the change.

What will the court consider a significant change in circumstance?
There are two main categories of changes that the court will possibly consider for changing an existing custody order:

  1. Location changes: When one custodial parent makes a move out of state, or the move will impede the current schedule, the court may consider that significant enough to modify the existing custody or visitation order. In the event one parent plans to move out of state, Georgia law permits a trial judge to consider the move itself to be a change of circumstance that may be sufficient to change custody. Keep this in mind when planning a move out of state. Prior to that legislation being passed, it was far more common for the custody to continue with the primary custodian, regardless of where the decided to move. Now, a move out of state can put your custody at risk.
  2. Lifestyle changes: If the employment schedule or availability of one parent changes significantly or if behavioral changes have taken place such as substance abuse or criminal activity, the court will consider changing an existing order.  Overall, if there are significant changes that impact the child in a negative way, the court will consider changing the visitation schedule or custody arrangement. Courts tend to pay close attention when the well-being of the child is at risk and will make changes necessary for the safety of the child.

These are the mitigating factors that courts tend to look at when modifying an existing custody or visitation order. If you need help with modifying your child custody order or visitation schedule, call our offices at (770) 253-7256 for a free consultation.

The basics of child custody in the state of Georgia

When you say that you want custody of your child, do you know what that truly means? The definition is often misunderstood especially to people going through the legal process of seeking custody for the first time. Under the law, there are different types of custody.

Legal Custody

1. Primary legal custody – One parent is given the right to make major decisions for the child. The law usually earmarks four different aspects of a child’s life where major decisions are made: medical, educational, extracurricular, and religious upbringing. The primary legal custodian has the right to make these decisions on their own, without the input of the other parent.

2. Joint Legal Custody – Very common in the State of Georgia, this arrangement refers to both parents having the right to make major decisions regarding the child. What happens when both legal custodians disagree? The custody agreement will designate one parent as the tie-breaker. This doesn’t mean that he or she is all powerful and can force decisions upon the other. It means that after discussion between parents, if a consensus cannot be reached, the conclusion is determined by the designated decision-maker.

Physical Custody

1. Primary physical custody – The child’s primary residence is with the physical custodian. The term primary physical custodian inherently means there is a shared physical custody agreement with another parent, although not necessarily shared evenly.  This is different from the term “sole custody” in which there is only one parent designated as the custodian and there is no other parent with legal rights to the child (see below).

2. Joint physical custody – both the parents have the right to have the child live with him or her. Joint physical custody will often be awarded when the child spends significant amounts of time with both parents.

3. Sole Custody – This means that one parent has full custody and the other parent has no legal rights to the child. Even though the other parent has no rights, they can still be held accountable for child support.

These are the basic definitions of child custody. If you are thinking of pursuing custody of your children, contact us today for a free consultation. Join us on our next blog when we look closely at the issues that arise after a custody agreement. We will answer questions such as, “how often can a visitation agreement be modified? What if I want to move after gaining custody of our minor child?”

Divorce season and tax refunds

January is often referred to as the kickoff of divorce season. Research has shown filings increase by 1/3rd at the beginning of the year.  Divorce attorneys generally report inquiries nearly double in January. There are reasons why waiting until the new year to file for divorce can provide benefits during the divorce process.

The holiday season is rife with distracting social and financial obligations. Couples going through a huge undertaking, such as a divorce, typically try to avoid any undue stress during this busy time.  Social obligations tend to open up conversations not ready to be discussed yet. “Where is your wife?” No awkward response required. Remaining together through the holidays helps you sidestep explaining a spouse’s absence.

The holidays also bring more close contact with extended family and in-laws. Making decisions about how the family will divide it’s time are easier. Once the divorce is in progress it will help to have a long period of months to adjust to the changes in the family structure. This will give the family time to prepare and plan for the emotional as well as the logistical demands of the new arrangement. Also children tend to have a harder time over the holidays with changes. Most couples want to wait for the sake of the children’s well being. Those couples who aren’t strategically planning their divorce, sometimes emotionally, the stress of the holiday can often act as an impetus for the divorce.

January has financial implications for divorce as well. The close of the fiscal year is December 31st.  Locating year end statements, such as debt and credit card statements are very important to do before you file. Also, if your spouse is set to receive a year-end bonus, it will benefit you financially. It could give your post-separation finances the little extra cushioning it needs.  Lastly, April and tax season are just around the corner and you will need to prepare. Making sure all of your tax information is gathered and organized will help smooth out the process of you and your spouse filing those taxes, in a post-separation context.

Your tax refund which typically comes in the early months of the year is a great way to pay initial retainer fees. These can vary widely depending on your attorney and your specific case, so a hefty tax return can be just the thing to get your legal ball rolling.

One side note about filing at the end of the year is the limited availability courts and judges. There are many cases attempting to be wrapped up before the end of the year in addition to the holiday breaks that create a limited schedule for everyone involved. January is more open and tends to be the best time to enter into the legal system.

The fresh start of a new year can bring in a resolution to make changes that weren’t possible the previous year. Whether or not you make the decision to file in January for emotional or strategic reasons, you will find that it is one of the best to pull the trigger on this challenging life event.

Please remember, this article is merely meant for guidance and information purposes.  It is NOT intended as legal advice nor does it establish attorney/client relationship or privilege.

What is Contempt of Court?

When one party is not following the orders of family court, they are said to be in violation of court orders and being deliberately and willfully disobedient. Even though the case may seem fairly straight forward, there are some particular aspects that need to be addressed if you are to prove your spouse or former spouse is in contempt.

Because there are stiff penalties for being held in contempt, such as jail time, the burden of proof for willful contempt is significant. The court has to be careful not to violate a person’s constitutional rights since they can be jailed, fined  or have future support deducted out of their pay as a result of being found in contempt. Here are some questions to ask yourself before filing your motion for contempt:

  • Is the order specific? Does it have one meaning that is clearly stated? Is there an agreed upon date for a support payment or an agreed upon specific custody schedule? Is there room for interpretation or any cause for confusion? Can there be more than one meaning to the order?
  • Does the spouse or former spouse know about the order? Did they sign the agreement? Were they personally served the paperwork?
  • Do they have the ability to comply? Are they knowingly avoiding the responsibility even though they have the means to do so? If your spouse is claiming they cannot afford to pay a certain amount of child support, yet you can prove they are earning enough to do so, can you show that they are knowingly and willfully avoiding the court order? Be prepared with evidence of their ability to comply, such as income statements, bank statements, etc.
  • What circumstances could excuse them from their compliance of the Court’s order? Jail time will usually be avoided in contempt of court cases when a spouse being detained results in him or her losing their job, dependent children would be left without a caretaker, the spouse has a disability or they have a proven inability to comply with the court order. Evidence is crucial to proving your case, so be prepared to provide plenty of it.
  • The Court can also order that the party who is not in compliance pay attorney fees and costs.

The results of this filing can be very effective for enforcing an order. The judge can rule that your spouse or former spouse has to immediately comply or will give them a set amount of time to comply. Either way, it helps you to enforce an order that your spouse or former spouse could otherwise walk away from.

 

Please remember, this article is merely meant for guidance and information purposes.  It is NOT intended as legal advice nor does it establish attorney/client relationship or privilege.

In which Country should I file for divorce?

There are several pieces to the divorce puzzle.  In this article, we will discuss venue and judicial circuits and how it impacts where you file for divorce.  Remember, it is always a good idea to have an attorney to represent you during a divorce or family law matter.

Venue is a legal term used to describe the place that an event is to take place.   Where you currently live, where the other spouse lives and where the marital domicile was located all come in to play when determining venue for a divorce case.  Once you determine the correct court to file for divorce, it is referred to as “venue is proper”. First, in order to file for divorce in the State of Georgia, you OR your spouse must have lived in the state for the previous six (6) months – military families have some exceptions.  Second, you should generally file for divorce in the County that the other spouse resides.  .  In domestic cases there is an exception that will allow you to file for divorce in the county where the marital residence is located if you have been separated less than six (6) months.  In the event that the spouse has moved out of state, you may file for a divorce in the County which you lived during your marriage (marital domicile).   What if you do not know where the other spouse lives, works or where he/she can be served with a copy of the divorce request, what now?  You definitely want to seek advice from an attorney in this instance.   The Court requires the Plaintiff (the person filing for divorce) complete several steps to show a diligent effort to contact the other spouse.

A judicial circuit is simply a particular number of counties that use the same judges.  The judges travel within a specific area to hear cases in this given “territory”.   For example, Coweta County is in the Coweta Judicial Circuit.  The circuit is composed of five counties:  Carroll, Coweta, Heard, Meriwether, and Troup.  There are seven Superior Court judges serving in the Coweta Judicial Circuit:  Chief Judge A. Quillian Baldwin, Jr.; Judge John Simpson; Judge Dennis Blackmon; Judge Jack Kirby; Judge Emory Palmer and Judge Travis Sakrison.

How do venue and judicial circuits tie together?  Once you have determined the Superior Court (venue) in which you need to file your paperwork, your case will be assigned to a Judge in the judicial circuit of that County.  As we noted above, a judicial circuit may cover several counties.  You can then request that your case be placed on the calendar of the assigned Judge the day that he/she is hearing cases in that particular county.  For example, you cannot have a case filed in Coweta County and have a court hearing in Carroll County, even though your assigned Judge is hearing cases that day.   Although, the Judges serve several counties, your case will most always be kept in the county where venue is proper.   There are exceptions to every rule but this can only be changed by agreement of the parties and an order of the Judge.

Please remember, this article is merely meant for guidance and information purposes.  It is NOT intended as legal advice nor does it establish attorney/client relationship or privilege.

Should I change divorce attorneys?

Patience is virtue, or so you’ve been told.  If you find yourself beginning a Divorce, patience is probably the last virtue you want to hear about.  Divorce can be one of the most terrifying, frustrating and biggest emotional roller coaster rides you may ever endure.

Complications and disagreements are just the tip of the iceberg of challenges you will face during a divorce.  But what happens when you are not seeing the results you would like or feel your interests are not being protected or considered by the attorney you have hired?  How do you talk with your attorney about your concerns?  How do you know what to expect next?  How do you handle rebuttal from the opposing party?  How do you communicate your preferred outcome of your divorce to your attorney?

First, let’s talk about the things to expect when you file for divorce.  Prepare yourself for the long haul.  A divorce   especially a contested divorce, does not happen overnight.  There are specific rules in place by the Court that require time.  For example, once you file for divorce the opposing party has to be served the divorce paperwork.  The opposing party generally has at least 30 days to file an answer with the Court or hire an attorney.  Next could be the discovery phase of the divorce.   Discovery is when both sides begin to gather information about the other party. Both sides can request a list of documents (referred to as Production of Documents), request answers to a list of questions (referred to as Interrogatories), request a sworn testimony from the opposing party (referred to as a Deposition) and the list can continue.

Next, there can be a requirement for Mediation.  This is a meeting with a specially trained neutral party with no connections to your case to listen to both parties and try to negotiate an agreement.   If an agreement is not reached, your divorce attorney may request a hearing before the Judge to determine the terms and conditions of your divorce.

Divorce is a cumbersome and very meticulous process.   Here are some tips to consider when hiring a divorce attorney.

  • Trust your attorney.  From the beginning, have a clear understanding of what to expect and what your responsibilities are as a client.
  • Your attorney is hired to represent you and your best interest.   Your attorney will provide you with guidance within the guidelines of the law.  While your attorney should always be empathetic to your situation, remember, he/she isn’t a therapist.
  • Determine the most effective method of communication with your attorney.  Ask your attorney to copy you on all correspondence and ask if the attorney prefers email or phone call for communication.
  • Be mindful of timelines.  It is general practice that you give your attorney at least 24 hours to return your phone call or email.  Also, daily updates are not typically feasible either.  With Court determined timelines, you should to touch base with your attorney every 30-45 days.

If you feel that your attorney is not representing you to the best of his/her ability and your best interest is not being protected and you are considering changing attorney’s mid-voyage, consider the following before making the decision:

  • Are my expectations unrealistic?
  • Am I making this decision out of anger and emotion?
  • Have I given my attorney all of the items he/she has asked for?
  • Have my legal needs changed from the initial divorce petition?
  • Have my expectations changed from the initial divorce petition?

Your right to discharge your attorney is absolute, meaning you can discharge him/her at anytime during the case.  You are still responsible for fees incurred.

There are also some other considerations you should take into account prior to deciding to change attorneys mid-case.  Not only will your new attorney need to take time to read over the paperwork you already have, your new attorney will need to determine what has been done, what you would like to do and what it will take to accomplish your goals.  Generally, you will have to pay another retainer; you will have to pay the attorney for his/her time to go through the paperwork already completed and for future work on your case.

Best advice is talk with your divorce attorney.  If the case factors have changed since the initial divorce petition, maybe it is time to map out another plan of action for your case.

Getting divorced without breaking the bank

“My divorce was so cheap,” said no one ever.

In the last blog, we talked about patience and what to expect when you file for divorce. This post, we are going to expand on divorce and how to lighten the load on your checkbook.

Divorce is an unfamiliar and confusing path. It is important that you educate yourself. Learn the difference between fees that are necessary and mandatory versus fees that can be minimized or possibly avoided.

Let’s look at the fees commonly necessary and required when filing for divorce:

  1. Retainer is the initial fee you pay to hire an attorney. This fee is necessary to hire an attorney to represent you during your divorce case.
  2. Filing Fee is the fee charged by the Court to file your Petition for Divorce. This fee is set by the State.
  3. Service Fee is a required fee that is paid to a person that is certified through the Court to present the Divorce paperwork to the other party.
  4. Mediation is a step that is required by the Coweta Judicial Circuit. This specific step is an attempt to agree to the terms of your divorce without going before a Judge for a final hearing. You will need your attorney’s guidance through this process.
  5. Children of Divorce Parenting Class cost is a seminar that is required by the Coweta Judicial Circuit. The Court has specific agency/agencies that comply with the Courts standards. Remember, you must use a Court approved agency to receive credit for the seminar or receive prior court permission to attend another program.

Now, take a breath & let’s look at the financial aspect of your divorce that you can control! Obviously, uncontested divorces are the least expensive way to go. In this situation, all terms are agreed upon and it’s essentially “cut and dry”.

In the case of a Contested Divorce, what can you do to keep your fees to a minimum?

  1. Organize, Organize, Organize! – Gather all financial information. Be prepared to give your attorney tax returns, bank statements, mortgage information and map out all expenses.
  2. What is really important? Create a list of items that are important to you and address during your divorce case. Choose your battles wisely! Determine items that you will negotiate versus items that are non-negotiable.
  3. Short term & Long term Impact. It is very easy to be overwhelmed with the “right-nows” of your divorce you lose sight of the “what-is-to-come”. Consider all possible scenarios and how each will impact you 1, 2, or 5 years from now. Don’t leave loose ends and loop holes that will create a need for additional cost in the future.
  4. Involve your attorney as little as possible. The main purpose in hiring an attorney is to protect your rights and best interest in accordance with the law. Consider touching base with your attorney every 30-45 days if you have not heard from him/her. If you have questions during that time, write all questions down and ask during the same email/phone call/meeting. Your attorney is paid by the hour, each time you call, email or meet, the meter is running.
  5. Court hearings are sometimes very necessary, especially if the other party is being unreasonable. However, a court hearing, and waiting in court for your hearing, is one thing that will quickly add to your fees. You need to determine how important that particular issue(s) is to you and factor in what the expense may be.

In conclusion, there are necessary costs that come with a divorce and then there are the optional ones. As with many things in life, the more proactive you are about how you approach you divorce, will determine just how much money you spend in the long run. It has been said, “luck favors the prepared,” in this case educate and prepare yourself on the financial landscape of your situation and you will likely come out very lucky.