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Women... You Can (Financially) Protect Yourself In A Divorce


Stacey Udell, CPA

Getting divorced can be mentally and financially draining.  It impacts so many facets of a woman’s life: social, familial, spiritual, emotional, and financial. You can protect yourself if you prepare, educate yourself, and think of the long-term.

Prepare
Establish (and then maintain) a solid financial foundation for yourself and your children by having access to funds and credit.  You will need money, not just for the normal day to day expenses, but for a qualified lawyer.   Do not go to the $395 for a divorce business you see on the highway.  In the long run, you will pay more (financially and otherwise).  You need to see a reputable lawyer that you feel comfortable with.  Ask friends for recommendations; ask your accountant.  

Where you may not have seen a therapist before, you may find it beneficial to see one now.  While divorce is painful, you can and will be o.k. if you maintain a healthy state of mind. 

It is recommended to have funds available to you in your own name, entirely separate from joint accounts. Maintain a credit card in your own name as well; it may be difficult to obtain one later.

Educate
Take an interest in the family finances, even if you are not contemplating a divorce.  Be sure you know where the important documents, files, and passwords are kept. When initially meeting with your attorney, bring as many of the documents as you can locate to the meeting.  If you are unable to locate some of the documents, they can be obtained at a later date. 

New Jersey is an equitable distribution state, which means the length of the marriage, income, and future earnings capacity may all be considered.  You will not automatically get 50% of each and every asset.  For example, if you’re a 60 year-old homemaker with no professional work experience, you could receive more; or, if you’re in your 30s with an advanced degree and a professional career, your share may be less.

In dividing the assets, a marital balance sheet is prepared that lists each asset (and liability) and its value.  A portion (or all) of each asset is allocated to the Husband or Wife.  When a business is owned jointly by the parties, it is often necessary to obtain a business valuation to determine the value of that business.  CPAs, like myself, prepare business valuations to assist divorcing spouses in determining the value.  Generally, the value is determined based on the value of the business’ assets, its income, or a market comparison.  The value of a business is often the largest asset owned by the parties and is most often not represented by the book value on the income tax returns.  It is important to get a qualified appraisal.

Think About the Future
While you may want to rush through the divorce process to get on with your “new life,” you should analyze all of the financial implications, including income and tax consequences, before making a final settlement agreement.  Put the time in now to make the right decision so you are not stuck with the consequences of a bad decision. 

For example, you may want to stay in the marital home that is paid off and worth $500,000.  Even without a mortgage, you will still have to pay real estate taxes, maintenance, and utility costs for that house.  When you sell the home, there may be tax consequences as well.  Based on the level of your income, can you realistically afford to stay in that house? 

After the divorce is finalized, it is important to remember to update your will, and the beneficiaries of any retirement plans or life insurance policies you may own.  If you do not update your policies, your ex-spouse may receive the proceeds of your 401k or life insurance policies.

A special thanks to Karen Sampson, Esquire and Bruce Matez, Esquire for their advice in writing this article.

Stacey D. Udell, CPA/ABV/CFF, ASA, CVA, is a partner in the Certified Public Accounting Firm of Gold Gerstein Group, LLC.  Her practice involves business valuation and litigation support, income taxes, and accounting for individuals and businesses.  She is a founding member of the South Jersey Collaborative Law Group.  She can be reached at 856-727-0100 or through email at sudell@G3cpa.com.  Her firm’s website can be viewed at www.g3cpa.com.


Additional Documents that may be needed to be obtained after the initial meeting:

  1. Business financial statements, bank statements, credit card statements, and general ledgers for a business owned or controlled by you or your spouse
  2. Shareholder, Partnership, and Joint Venture Agreements to which you or your spouse have been a party during the marriage
  3. Financial statements submitted to banks, lending institutions, or any other persons or entities, which were prepared by you or your spouse at any time during the last five years
  4. Any loan applications made within the last five years
  5. Wills

DOCUMENTS & INFORMATION FOR INITIAL MEETING


1. )  Income tax returns: Last three personal, business, partnership, joint venture, or other income tax returns (federal and state), including W-2, 1099, and K-1 forms

2.)  Last three payroll stubs of you and your spouse

3. )  If your most recent income tax return has not been filed, last paystub for that year and showing year-end income and deductions

4. )
  Listing of, and current (and, if you have separated, date-of-separation), statements on all:
  • a.)  Bank accounts (checking, savings, money market, etc.)
  • b.)  Certificates of deposit
  • c.)  Stock brokerage account statements with retirement (IRA, SEP, SIMPLE) and non-retirement funds (money market, money management accounts, etc.)
  • d.)  Stocks or bonds held outside of brokerage firms
  • e.)  Employee stock option
5.)   Retirement account information for you and your spouse (i.e., Summary Plan Description, statement of benefits, statement of current value, etc).  Examples are:
  • a.)  pension
  • b.)  profit-sharing
  • c.)  deferred compensation 
  • d.)  401(k)  
  • e.)  Individual Retirement Account (IRA)
  • f.)  SEP (self-employed retirement plan)
6.)    Real property
  • a.)    Listing of properties and identification of whether you or your spouse own, individually or jointly, with one another or with others
  • b.)    Copies of the deed(s)
  • c.)    Copies of the settlement sheets (HUD-1 RESPA form) from the purchase (and from any refinancing of the mortgage(s) which may have occurred since the purchase)
  • d.)    Copies of all notes and mortgages for loans taken against the property or properties, starting from the purchase of the property or properties to the present
  • e.)    Copies of your most recent mortgage company statement which shows the most recent principal balance
  • f.)    If any of the above are not available, please indicate the date of acquisition, ownership, how acquired (purchase, gift, inheritance), and approximate mortgage balances
7.)    Personal property
  • a.)    List all personal property, including furniture, fixtures, jewelry, artwork, furnishings, furs, equipment, antiques, and any type of collections (coin, stamps, gold, etc.)
  • b.)    Documents, invoices, contracts, insurance policies, and appraisals indicating values
  • c.)    Identify any assets owned prior to your marriage, as well as that acquired during the marriage by gift and/or inheritance
  • d.)    Take pictures or record pictures/video
8.)    Safe deposit boxes
  • a.)   Listing of safe deposit boxes
  • b.    Inventory of contents
  • c.    Take pictures if you need to
9.)    Vehicles
  • a.)   Year, make, and model
  • b.)    Who drives it
  • c.)    Mileage
  • d.)    Current balances on any car loans or leases (which can be obtained by telephone call to the lien holder/bank/finance company)
10.)  Business ownership interests 
  • a.)    Listing of any ownership inany businesses, corporations, partnerships, etc. 
  • b.)   Partnership and Joint Venture Agreements to which you have been a party during the marriage
11.)  Individual credit card account statements
  • a.)    Current (and, if you have separated, date-of-separation) statements
  • b.)   Joint and individual accounts
12.)  Debts, such as personal loans, home equity loans, promissory notes
  • a.)    Current (and, if you have separated,date-of-separation) statements
  • b.)    Joint and individual accounts
13.)  Insurance policies
  • a.    Any policies of insurance on yourand your spouse’s life
  • b.)    Declarations page of your current automobile insurance policy (the page showing the coverage limits and cost of each component of the coverage)
  • c.)    Declarations page of your current homeowner’s policy and any riders for jewelry,  furs, and other valuables (the one showing limits of coverage)
14.) Employment related
  • a.)    Copies of your employment benefitbooklets and those relating to your spouse’s employment
  • b.)    Employment contracts under which you or your spouse have performed services during the past five years, including a list of description of any oral contracts
  • c.) Employment records showing evidence of wages, salaries, bonuses, commissions, raises, promotions, expense accounts, and other benefits or deductions of any kind whether in cash, stock and/or other property.  All records showing any fringe benefits available to you or your spouse from any business entity including, auto, travel, private aircraft, boat, apartment/home, entertainment, country club, health club/spa, educational, vacation pay, severance pay, personal living expenses, etc.
15.)  Listing of children, their dates of birth, and social security numbers



As seen in Camden County Woman and Burlington County Woman

 

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