Regardless of How Retirement Accounts and Pensions Were Equitably Distributed in Your Divorce, You May Be Entitled to Greater Social Security Benefits – Based on Your Ex’s Earnings if They Were Higher

Here’s a tip worth repeating for people who divorce relatively early in life, when retirement seems far off and is often out of mind.

If you are the spouse who earned less income, you may be able to collect some more social security based on your ex’s greater earnings and social security benefits.

Specifically, you may be entitled to half of your ex’s benefits.

You may even be able to collect six months’ worth of your share of their benefits for six months retroactively.

And, if you outlive your ex, you may be entitled to collect their full benefit.

All provided you were married to your ex for at least ten years.

There are some additional options and twists to collecting social security based on your ex’s social security entitlement.

It is well worth checking to make sure that you request and receive from social security all that the law entitles you to.

Read more in this Wall Street Journal piece: Boosting Mom’s Social Security Payments – When a Divorce Pays Off

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Divorce and Stress

Divorce causes stress.

But divorce often is the result of stress as well. Including external stresses.

A report has recently come out ranking the largest fifty US metropolitan areas according to how stressful each is to live in.

The criteria that factor into the ranking include extent of:

  1. divorce

  2. unemployment

  3. violent crime

  4. property crime

  5. suicides

  6. alcohol consumption

  7. mental health

  8. sleep troubles

  9. commute times and

  10. cloudy days

Each of the stress-ranking criteria (including divorce rate but excluding number of cloudy days) would seem to be directly impacted by the recession and weakened state economy.

Despite Florida’s generally pleasant, sunny climate, our state’s larger urban areas, including West Palm Beach, occupy five of the ten most stressful positions among metropolitan areas in the US.

Of particular interest is that West Palm Beach’s divorce rate of 10.67% lies in the ninety-third percentile. Orlando has a 10.7% divorce rate, Jacksonville 12.3%, Tampa 12.3% and Miami 11. 5%.

Read more in this CNBC article: Most Stressful Cities.

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Honey, I Want a Divorce … and I Want to Have a Child With Our Frozen Embryo

Husband and Wife want to have a baby.

They resort to in vitro fertilization and freeze some of the embryos created for possible future use.

Husband’s and Wife’s marriage breaks down.

They are divorcing.

What happens to their frozen embryos?

Or, more precisely, which spouse gets to decide what happens to their frozen embryos?

To some extent, that depends on which state the couple live in. The case law, to the extent that there is state case law, goes every which way.

Prudence may suggest coming to an agreement on this issue before going down that road.

That may be done as part of a broader prenuptial agreement or postnuptial agreement.

Or it may be incorporated into an agreement with the in vitro fertility center.

The perfect solution? In theory, yes, but, in practice, maybe not so much, at least, depending upon where the interested parties live.

Because at least two states, New Jersey and Massachusetts, have reportedly cast such agreements aside in the face of one parent’s subsequent change of heart to no longer wanting to become a parent to a new baby.

Florida, on the other hand, not only recognizes agreements regarding frozen embryos but actually mandates that such agreements be made in advance (although this is not divorce-specific law but more a requirement of reproductive rights law).

It is worth noting, however, that, in the absence of such an agreement, Florida law explicitly recognizes the legal rights of both spouses over the embryos. A very good reason to make an agreement in advance and greatly reduce, if not eliminate, the uncertainty in the event of a later divorce.

But if the couple neglects to enter an agreement (or, presumably, if the agreement is ambiguous), it remains anyone’s guess what a court will decide to do with a couple’s frozen embryos.

Read more in this Wall Street Journal piece: In Divorce, Who Gets the Embryos?

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Divorce With a Special Needs Child

Divorce and child custody can be particularly complex when the separating couple has a minor child with special needs.

For many divorcing and separating parents of special needs children, not only are they new to the law governing divorce and child custody, but also the complex patchwork quilt of state and federal laws that may impact their special needs child’s long-term financial and legal future, into their adulthood …

And the special measures, far beyond the Individual Education Plan (IEP) their child may have, that they, as parents of special needs children, may need to take to protect their special needs children’s long-term legal and financial interests, into their special needs adult life.

This means that these parents have a lot to learn, more than most divorcing and separating parents. And a lot to do.

As far as the divorce or separation itself, child support is, of course, part and parcel of it if there are minor children, and most divorcing and separating parents know that. But many divorcing and separating parents are fuzzy on the particulars of child support.

Many divorcing and separating parents in Florida know that the obligation to support a child generally ends at the age of eighteen, and that the amount of child support is based upon statutory guidelines. True enough.

But what they usually do not know is that, where divorcing and separating parents in Florida have a special needs child, there are a couple of special twists to child support law.

First, the obligation to support a child who is dependent, such as a special needs child, may extend beyond the child’s eighteenth or nineteenth birthday or completion of high school, indeed, indefinitely. The child’s dependency must be the result of physical or mental incapacities from childhood.

Second, the amount of the child support obligation for a special needs child may deviate from the amount provided for in the child support guidelines. A greater amount of support may be awarded based upon the intact family’s preexisting spending to meet the child’s special needs.

Where the divorcing or separating parents of a special needs child have not done any special needs planning for their special needs child, their divorce or separation doubles as an opportunity to learn about special needs planning for their special needs child and to undertake some measures for the protection of their special needs child’s long-term financial and legal interests, into their adult lives with special needs.

Care and treatment for a special needs child over their lifetime can be quite expensive. It is never too early in their special needs child’s life for their parents to :

  1. agree on and jointly designate formally a guardian for their special needs child in the event that both parents should die or otherwise be unable to care for their special needs child

  2. consider seeking out government benefits available to their special needs child

  3. consider ensuring that no gifts or inheritances pass directly to their special needs child, which could jeopardize their special needs child’s access to government benefits, such as Medicaid

  4. consider establishing a special needs trust for their special needs child, to provide for their special needs child’s supplemental needs into their adulthood, without jeopardizing any government benefits their special needs child may receive, such as Medicaid

Read more in this Chicago Tribune article: Caregiving? Take care to plan for long term

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Golden Years Marriage Planning

Getting married later in life is generally more complicated. Each spouse is more likely to have kids, assets, debts and health issues.

Accordingly, couples should reach agreement on the following matters before tying the knot:

  1. how will expenses be shared / paid

  2. which spouse will provide medical insurance, and how will it be paid for

  3. to whom will each spouse leave their assets upon their death

  4. should each spouse’s life / estate planning documents (wills, living trusts, powers of attorney, health care surrogates, etc.) be changed

  5. should designations of beneficiaries of each spouse’s nonprobate assets (life insurance, IRAs, bank and brokerage accounts, etc.) be changed

  6. should the couple enter a prenuptial agreement or prenup

  7. should each spouse change their designations of beneficiaries of any other retirement, social security or pension benefits, and should the other spouse sign any necessary waivers of interest in such assets

  8. has each spouse assessed the impact on their cash flow of loss of alimony and survivor’s benefits from previous spouses

The above considerations are not exhaustive but should serve as a springboard for discussion.

Read more in this Fairfield CT Minuteman News article: Financial planning for later-life marriages.

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How Long Does a Divorce Take? Sometimes, An “Indefinite” Amount of Time

Spouses divorcing in South Florida often have preconceived notions about how long it may take for their divorce to go through. Or how long it will take for their “emergency” motion to be heard by the divorce court.

These notions usually bear no relation whatsoever to the reality prevailing in family court here in South Florida.

They are typically idealistic as to how courts operate routinely, let alone during periods of budget cuts and the like, which can exert a sudden, dramatic impact.

Divorcing couples in South Florida would probably be even more shocked by the current reality in divorce courts in Essex County, New Jersey, which is close to New York City.

Specifically, all divorce trials of contested divorce cases in the family courts have been suspended / stopped / canceled. Indefinitely.

With six judicial vacancies unfilled, there simply aren’t enough judges to hear all the divorce cases waiting to be heard.

Reportedly because the governor of New Jersey has held up appointments of judges.

Reportedly because the opposing political party has held up appointments of commissioners to local governmental bodies.

So, perhaps impatient divorcing couples in South Florida should take solace in the fact that they don’t live in Essex County, New Jersey. Where the situation could always be worse.

Read more in this Wall Street Journal piece: Want a Divorce in New Jersey? Get in Line

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Therapeutic Theater for Divorce

Everyone knows that arts and theater can be therapeutic.

And so, in keeping with the high spirits of the holiday season, the intellectually and emotionally adventurous may wish to take a fresh look at divorce (their own, or the institution) through Divorce Party: the Musical – The Hilarious Journey to Hell…and Back! Yes, you read that right.

The unlikely musical comedy will have its world premiere next week right here in Palm Beach county, Florida, at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach.

The underlying theme of the show, which is nonetheless serious despite the humorous treatment, is divorce recovery and embracing starting over.

The play also broadcasts the message “Don’t get mad – get everything!” I’m just saying.

The website for Divorce Party: the Musical boasts bullet points of inspiration and advice in the readily digestible form of the Divorce Party Top Tens.

Read more

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