Do It Yourself Divorces

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

    One of the great income generators for lawyers can be, curiously enough, the do-it-yourself divorce.

    If something is done incorrectly in your divorce, you may spend a great deal of money trying to fix the matter.  

    Often, no matter how much money is spent, it is not possible to fix the problems that may later emerge, or, at best, a very unsatisfactory and partial fix is all that is possible once the divorce is final.

    As one lawyer recently put it, a divorce is one of the most important matters of a person’s life.  And it is complicated.

    There is often more money at stake than there is in what most people think of as the biggest financial transaction they will ever undertake - the purchase of a home.

    There are also other issues, relating to custody and parenting time, which can be even more important, but which will be discussed in another article.

    The custody and parenting time issues also have significant financial implications, as well.  In theory, these issues, and even spousal support issues, can sometimes be modified after the divorce is final.

    Unlike some of the custody and parenting issues, and the related support issues, most other financial issues cannot be modified even in theory after a divorce is final.

    Badly thought out divorce judgments often do not properly deal with real estate issues, business issues, pension issues, or issues of retirement assets such as IRAs or 401Ks.

    These situations often simply cannot be resolved after a divorce is final.

    Sometimes, even if both former spouses want to modify a divorce judgment, they cannot do this.

    This can cause real and significant problems when a family business is involved, when there are debt issues involved, or when there is real estate (including the family home) involved.

    All too often there is a divorce judgment for example, that says that the family home will be sold.  If the judgment does not way WHEN the home will be sold, who shall have the responsibility for selling the home, how the price shall be determined, whether repairs shall be made to the home, who shall live in the home until the home is sold, or even who shall pay the mortgage and real estate taxes until the house is sold, there can be real and serious problems.

    One party can find themselves in a situation where they have no right to enter the house, they have no right to force the house to be put on the market, or the like.  They may not be able to force the sale of the house even if they find a buyer who is willing to buy at a reasonable price.

    If the Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage just says that the house shall be sold, with nothing more, there may be little the person can do, except, sometimes, to force matters through an action for partition and sale.

    Meanwhile, they may still be liable on the mortgage.  This may mean that they have no available credit to allow themselves to qualify to purchase a new house.  It may even mean that they have to pay the mortgage on a house in which they do not live if they wish to preserve their credit score.

    Similar complications can arise if there is a family business.  This can be true even if the business is one in which only one former spouse was ever actively involved.

    There can also be significant negative tax consequences.  A person may be forced to report the amount of any home loan that is forgiven as if this were income to them.  A person may also be forced to pay capital gains taxes on the sale of the home if the sale takes place more than three years after they left the home.

    Similarly, transferring interests in business property once a divorce has taken place can result in tax issues which need not have arisen.

    Even after a divorce is final, there can be other issues that arise.  For example, many divorces divide up retirement assets such as IRAs and 401Ks.  However, this may not be done in a way that is proper, if expert advice is not sought.  In addition, while the divorce may itself purport to divide (or may require the division of) such assets, usually this division is actually accomplished by a later order or judgment called a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO).  If the QDRO is not properly drafted, great harm can result, and if the QDRO is not drafted and filed at all, the assets may remain undivided.  This can cause great difficulties if not discovered until years after the fact, when circumstances are vastly different than they were when the marriage ended.

    For all of these reasons, it can be very important to work with a skilled lawyer as you go through a divorce.  You do not want to find, once all is said and done, that mistakes were made in the divorce, that these mistakes cannot now be fixed, and that this will affect your financial realities for the rest of your life.