Tax Status and Divorce

July 8th, 2014 at 7:00 am

dependent exemptions, divorce, divorce and marital status, tax status, tax deductions, tax brackets, tax credits, dependent deductions, married filing jointly, married filing separatelyFiling taxes can be a complicated endeavor at the best of times, and doing it during a divorce only serves to make it more difficult. This is because many parts of a person’s taxes depend on marital status and family relationships. Those sorts of relationships can affect things like tax brackets, deductions, and tax credits.

Two of the largest issues that a divorce presents in regards to taxes are marital status and dependent deductions. Marital status, which includes categories like single, married, or head of household, alters a person’s tax bracket and it can raise or lower their standard deduction. Dependents, which refers to people relying on the tax filer for care, allow the filer to claim them for the purposes of tax deductions.

How Divorce Affects Marital Status

The most obvious way that divorce impacts a person’s income tax filing is via their marital status, which has an effect on the tax rates applied to specific income levels, as well as on the standard deduction allowed by the filer. There are four basic filing statuses that most people will claim: single, head of household, married filing jointly, and married filing separately. Most of these are self-explanatory.

A single status means that the person is unmarried. Married filing jointly means the spouses are filing a single return. Married filing separately means the spouses are each filing their own return. The unusual one is head of household. The head of household status denotes a person, usually single, who is caring for a dependent. The head of household status receives preferential tax treatment in comparison with the single status.

Obviously, going through a divorce will alter the marital status categories available to someone. A single person cannot file as married and vice versa. This leaves open the question of how to handle the tax year in which the divorce occurred, if the spouses were married for part of it and single for the rest. For tax purposes, the IRS declares that marital status is judged as of the last day of the year, so in the example the couple would be counted as single.

How Divorce Affects Dependent Exemptions

Another area in which divorce can affect taxes is in dependent exemptions. These exemptions relate to the number of qualifying people relying on the filer for support. The most common example of a dependent is a minor child that the filer supports. For most people, that dependent exemption will not change in divorce. However, divorces involving blended families present a unique issue, since stepchildren also qualify as dependents. The U.S. Tax Court only recently ruled on this issue, holding that stepchildren remain stepchildren after the divorce, qualifying them as dependents for exemption purposes.

Filing for divorce is an important decision that can have a significant impact on many different areas of your life. Whether you have already made the decision to file or you simply want more information, contact a DuPage County divorce attorney today. Our firm can help you find the right type of divorce strategy for your specific situation.

The First Amendment Right to Infidelity?

July 2nd, 2014 at 7:00 am

alienation of affection, criminal conversation, DuPage County divorce attorney, First Amendment, infidelity, lawsuits for infidelityA handful of states, including Illinois, still recognize a pair of torts that allow spouses to sue their unfaithful partner’s lovers in certain circumstances. These torts, alienation of affection and criminal conversation, were recently the subject of a judicial opinion in North Carolina, where the trial court judge ruled that they were unconstitutional under the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of expression. While such a ruling would have no actual legal effect in Illinois, courts do often look to other jurisdictions for persuasive legal reasoning, and the opinion provides a modern view on some very old laws that still affect people today

The Two Torts

Illinois still allows people to bring lawsuits for infidelity, but the circumstances need to be precise. The first cause of action that allows people to do this is a suit for alienation of affection. People would not bring this cause of action against their unfaithful spouse, but would instead sue the spouse’s lover. In order to prevail, the spouse would need to show that the lover’s actions were the sole cause of the divorce. It would not be enough that the unfaithful spouse’s feelings slowly faded on their own. Instead, the lover must have “pirated” away the affection, a very high bar to meet.

The other related tort is criminal conversation, which counter-intuitively is still a civil matter. Unlike alienation of affection, which requires the end of a marriage, an action for criminal conversation just requires the plaintiff to prove that their spouse and the lover engaged in intercourse, and that the spouses were not permanently separated with the intent to divorce.

Importantly, the Illinois legislature reformed both of these torts in the 1940s to limit the amount of damages available to plaintiffs. Rather than allowing punitive damages or damages for emotional distress, the law limits plaintiffs to the quantifiable economic harms of losing a spouse.

First Amendment Protections

A court in North Carolina, the nationwide leader in infidelity tort suits, recently reexamined these types of lawsuits in view of the First Amendment. The First Amendment protects freedom of speech and expression, but courts have long recognized that such protection is not absolute. Instead, courts examine the type of restriction on speech, the type of speech, and the level of state interest compelling the restriction. The court here held that these torts constituted the most severe type of restriction on speech: a restriction based on the speech’s content.

The opinion stated that, because the torts restrict the couple’s expressions of intimacy, it is presumptively invalid unless the state has a compelling interest in regulating the speech. The court found that no interest existed serious enough to justify restricting consensual sexual intercourse and what it expresses, so it held the torts unconstitutional. Whether that holding survives an appeal remains to be seen.

Whether you are considering filing for divorce or have already made your decision, reach out to an experienced DuPage County divorce attorney today. Our firm can help guide you through the process and answer your questions.

Tips for Childhood Obesity in Divorce

June 29th, 2014 at 5:49 pm

divorce trends, Illinois family lawyer, Wheaton divorce attorney, eating habits, children's eating habits, childhood obesity, children’s weightDivorce can be a stressful process for everyone involved, including the children of the divorcing spouses. That may explain why a study, recently published in the BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal), discovered a correlation between childhood obesity and parental marital status.

The researchers studied over 3,100 third-graders and found that children whose parents were divorced were 54 percent more likely to be overweight. This means that parents going through a divorce may want to keep a special eye on their children’s weight, and ensure that they take steps to keep their children healthy.

What the Study Found

The study’s authors reported more than just the 54 percent increase in the likelihood of obesity. They also analyzed the breakdown by gender, finding that boys were more likely to be at risk of being overweight than girls. In fact, boys with divorced parents were 63 percent more likely to be overweight when compared to those whose parents were still married. Additionally, the research found that children whose parents had separated were 89 percent more likely to have fat buildup in their abdominal region.

The study did not go into the details of why this correlation might exist, but the study’s authors did suggest some theories. One theory holds that the increased emotional stress at home could lead to changes in the children’s eating or exercise habits. Another possible reason is that the financial strain of the divorce leaves less time and money for parents to prepare healthy meals. Fortunately, there are steps parents going through divorce can take to help keep their children healthy.

Obesity Strategies

Parents have a variety of strategies available to them to prevent their divorce from impacting their child’s weight. First, parents can attempt to maintain a civil demeanor with each other, especially around their children. An amicable divorce is often less stressful. This can lead to greater emotional stability, which may help maintain a child’s healthy eating habits. Beyond that, a parent’s being conscious of a child’s needs can help prevent obesity.

Divorces are emotionally trying for parents, and there is a risk that kids can be lost in the shuffle. Easy food options tend to be unhealthy food options, but parents adjusting to a new lifestyle often fall back on them nonetheless. Awareness of the risk can help curb the impulse to provide fast food as a meal option during the sometimes hectic divorce process. Additionally, common steps people take to prevent obesity like encouraging physical activity can also work just as well in the divorce context.

If you are considering seeking a divorce from your spouse, reach out to an experienced Illinois family law attorney for advice. Our skilled team can help analyze the particulars of your situation to provide you with the best advice.

How Spouses Hide Assets: Part 2 – Income Manipulation

June 27th, 2014 at 12:47 pm

concealing income, Illinois divorce attorney, income manipulation, income manipulation strategies, concealing assets, filing for divorce, hide money, divorce and financesOne of the main focuses of the divorce process is the division of the marital assets between the spouses. This requires the court, through the spouses and their attorneys, to take a thorough accounting of all of the marriage’s property. This can tempt some spouses to hide away assets for themselves rather than revealing them for division. Because the concealment of marital assets can be a problem, people going through a divorce should be aware of the different strategies others can use to hide assets, as well as how to spot them.

The strategies for concealing assets fall into two major groups: expense manipulation, making it look like more money is coming out than actually is, and income manipulation, making it look like less money is coming in than actually is. The prior post in this series covered some common expense manipulation strategies. This post will focus on the other type of concealment: income manipulation.

Income Manipulation Strategies

Income manipulation strategies focus on concealing income. This usually means deferring it until after the divorce has finalized. One common method of doing this is when a spouse coordinates with their boss to hold off on compensation or compensation increases during the divorce. For instance, a spouse who works in sales and is owed commissions may ask to have them paid only after the divorce is finalized, or the spouse may ask their employer to wait to promote them until after the process ends. This tactic can be difficult to spot when it happens, but it could possibly be grounds to modify support orders if it affects the concealing spouse’s income on a going-forward basis, like a promotion would.

Spouses who are also business owners have access to another means of deferring their payments. They can have their business hold off on billing customers for their services, which will decrease the business’ cash flow during the divorce. Then, after the divorce ends, they can send out their bills and pocket the money. Catching this requires a thorough examination of the business’ records to see whether the company’s customers are paying on time, as well as whether the bills are still going out.

Spouses looking to hide their money can also take advantage of their taxes. IRS regulations provide people with the option of receiving their refund as cash or banking it against taxes in future years. Most people choose the cash refund, but a spouse attempting to conceal their assets can leave the money with the IRS in the hopes that their husband or wife will not notice it, leaving them to reap the benefits of the banked money in future tax years. Alternatively, the IRS also allows spouses filing jointly to have returns deposited into an individual account, meaning a spouse could attempt to hide the refund in an account solely in their name. Spotting these strategies requires people to diligently review tax forms to ensure that any overpayment is accounted.

Speak with a Lawyer Today

If you are considering filing for divorce, contact a DuPage County divorce lawyer today. Whether you are concerned your spouse may attempt to hide assets, or you simply want more information about the realities of divorce, our experienced team can help you better understand the process.

How Spouses Conceal Assets: Part 1 – Expense Manipulation

June 19th, 2014 at 7:00 am

DuPage County divorce lawyer, expense manipulation, income manipulation, property division, review bank statements, unusual expendituresMany divorces occur amicably with the two parties reaching agreeable compromises on property division. However, some divorces are more acrimonious. One common way that confrontation can manifest is through spouses attempting to conceal marital assets to keep from having to divide them in the divorce. This happens despite the fact that many jurisdictions contain rules requiring the disclosure of assets.

People have developed a variety of strategies that they can use to hide their funds, ranging from simplistic and easy to detect to highly subtle or sophisticated. Broadly speaking, they fall into two categories: expense manipulation and income manipulation. Expense manipulation involves techniques that make it appear as though the person is spending more money than what is actually be spent. They can then secret the difference away without having to divide it in the divorce. Income manipulation, which will be covered in part two, involves the opposite: people deferring income until after the divorce to keep it out of the marital estate.

Expense Manipulation Strategies 

Unscrupulous spouses have many different types of expense manipulation techniques available to them. One of the simplest is to drain an account of some or all of its money and move it into another account in their name about which the other spouse does not know. This is one of the easiest techniques to spot. A review of bank statements for unusual expenditures can often reveal this ploy, and then it is just a matter of tracking down the new bank account to retrieve the assets.

A more advanced version of this tactic involves a spouse using a friend to open the other bank account and treating it as a loan to that person. Then, once the divorce is final, he or she can call in the loan and retrieve the cash. Once again, defeating this trick is just a matter of keeping a diligent eye on the bank statement for unusually large withdrawals.

Another strategy operates on a smaller scale, but is much more difficult to catch. Many retailers offer people the ability to get cash back with their purchases if they buy with a debit card. It acts like making a withdrawal from the account, but the bank statement shows it as a store purchase. Detecting this requires people to watch for unusually high spending amounts and then to keep an eye on receipts if something seems suspicious

Spouses who own businesses have access to other expense manipulation techniques. They can reduce their business’ income either buy purchasing real assets with the business’ money or doctoring up fake expenses. Capturing these techniques may require the use of a forensic accountant.

If you are thinking about filing for divorce and are concerned your spouse may be concealing valuables, talk to a DuPage County divorce lawyer today. Our experienced team can help you lay claim to all the assets you deserve.

Divorce and Privacy in the Digital Age

June 17th, 2014 at 8:48 am

digital age, DuPage County divorce lawyer, Illinois divorce attorney, privacy, privacy and divorce, social networking sites, divorce process, password protectionA large part of divorce involves the practical issues related to separating two lives that have been managed jointly. This presents unique problems in the digital age when an increased number of those lives take place online.

A recent study by the Pew Research Internet Project found that over one in four couples have a joint email account and 67 percent of people in a committed relationship have shared at least one of their passwords with a significant other. People going through divorce should make sure to stay conscious of these electronic ties that they share with their soon-to-be ex-spouse. Otherwise, they could unwittingly allow their former partner to look into their private affairs.

Dealing with Shared Accounts

Shared family accounts on social networking sites or joint email addresses can present a potential issue in divorce if the spouses are not cognizant of them. Oftentimes these shared accounts will allow one spouse to view another’s private communications, which can be painful during a divorce process. Fortunately, the accounts are simple enough to close down, so the couple can transition to individual accounts. In fact, most account services have a feature that allows the user to reach out to their entire contact list and inform them of the new individual addresses.

The more difficult type of shared accounts are those that come with fees and long term contracts. One prevalent example of this problem is a family cell phone account. Spouses on a joint plan may have access to each other’s phone records and texting data, so continuing to share a plan can lead to similar invasions of privacy. However, this is not so simple to fix. Usually, cell phone plans have contracts that require the users to stay with the company for a certain period. Decoupling this type of cell phone plan may require the payment of an early termination fee.

Changing Your Passwords

Another issue that crops up following a divorce is the online security flaw of password reuse. People tend to cycle through a list of passwords for online accounts. If an ex-spouse knows some or all of these passwords, he or she can then log into new accounts. Additionally, many online services protect people’s accounts with security questions, ones that ask for personal information. An ex-spouse is more likely to know the answers to those personal questions. Hence, recently divorced people should take care to use new passwords and obscure security questions to avoid allowing an ex to peek into their online life.

If you have concerns about emerging issues faced in divorce or would just like more information about the process, contact a DuPage County divorce lawyer today. Our experienced team can help guide you through divorce proceedings and will make sure you have an advocate on your side.

The Effects of Marriage and Divorce on Your Waistline

June 12th, 2014 at 7:00 am

DuPage County family law attorney, Illinois divorce attorney, marriage and divorce, Wheaton divorce attorney, filing for divorce, marriage and weight gain, divorce and weight gain, divorce and weight loss, weight shock, marriage and weight loss, weight shock in women, weight shock in menWhile there is a cultural idea that marriage tends to lead to weight gain and divorce to weight loss, based on whether someone is trying to attract a member of the opposite sex, the reality actually turns out to be somewhat more complicated. A study from the Sociology Department at the Ohio State University looked at BMI reports culled from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth.

That survey involved a group of researchers asking a set of lifestyle questions of a group of people from ages 14 to 22. The researchers then repeated the same survey with the same group every year from 1979 to 1994, at which point the surveys switched to every other year. This type of longitudinal survey provides valuable data to researchers about the effects of various life events on people.

What the Study Found

The researchers found that marriage and divorce can both act as “weight shocks” to different people. A weight shock describes an event that triggers a person’s sudden change in weight. Interestingly, the different genders did not respond the same way to the same marital transition. Marriages were more likely to trigger a weight shock in women, while divorces were more likely to trigger a weight shock in men.

However, the researchers do point out that these effects of marriage and divorce appear to only occur to people later on in their lives. There were no significant weight differences based on marriage or divorce for people in their mid 20s. Yet, once people passed 30, the gender-based weight shocks became noticeable.

Possible Explanations

The study’s authors stressed that the research could not provide reasons for this change, however they did offer some theories based on other research in the field. Other studies have shown that married women tend to take on a bigger role around the house than their husbands. This leaves them with less time than their unmarried counterparts, which makes taking the time to exercise and stay fit more difficult.

Conversely, sociology research has revealed that men tend to receive health benefits from a marriage that go away upon divorce. As for the weight shocks not appearing until after 30, the researchers believe that may be based on people’s routines. By the time people turn 30, they tend to have set patterns in which they live. Marriage or divorce can disrupt these patterns, which may cause a weight shock if it leads to less exercise time or more unhealthy eating.

Whether you are thinking about filing for divorce and would like more information or you have already made your decision, reach out to a DuPage County family law attorney. Our skilled team can provide you with information and counseling on your various options so that you can take the best path for your situation.

Women in the Workforce: Demographic Changes to Divorce

June 10th, 2014 at 7:00 am

divorce cases, primary caregiver, shifting gender roles, Wheaton divorce attorney, working moms, working women, divorce trends, child custody, working mothers, primary custodyOver the past several decades women have made great strides in entering the workforce. In fact, a study by the Pew Research institute revealed that, in 2011, 40 percent of households with children under the age of 18 have mothers as either the sole or primary source of income. This number has almost quadrupled since 1960, when it was only 11 percent.

These mothers fall into two distinct groups. A little over one third of them are married women who earn more income than their husbands. The rest are single mothers. The first group, married women earning more than their husbands, is driving an interesting demographic change in the outcomes of divorce cases.

How Working Affects Child Custody 

The increase in the number of working mothers has had a noticeable impact on the outcomes of child custody decisions. Courts determine child custody based on a variety of broad factors while keeping the best interests of the child in the forefront. The idea of focusing on the child’s best interest can, in some cases, push the court towards awarding custody to the parent who was the primary caregiver during the marriage. With gender roles shifting and women taking on more jobs with high stress and long hours, that is becoming increasingly likely to be the child’s father. Nationwide one in six fathers has full or primary custody of their children. This is an increase of 900 percent since 1960, and the trend only looks to continue.

The Effect on Support Obligations

The fact that more women are now working and outearn their husbands also means that they are now more likely to be responsible for child and spousal support obligations. Half a century ago it was almost unheard of for women to be the ones paying support to their husbands and children, but now it arises in almost 10 percent of divorce cases. However, that number does not tell the full story. In reality, the number of cases where women could qualify to pay child or spousal support may be even higher.

Yet women who earn more do not always end up paying for support. This is because men are more likely to allow their pride to get in the way of receiving support payments. It is not uncommon for men who are eligible to receive spousal support from their ex-wives to waive that right because they do not want to be seen as dependent on them. While there are women who make such waivers as well, it is more commonly seen among men.

If you are considering divorce and would like more information about issues like support obligations or property division, contact an experienced DuPage County family law attorney. Our firm’s skilled lawyers can help explain your rights to you and make sure that you are fully represented in court.

Summer Break and Joint Custody Arrangements

June 5th, 2014 at 8:09 am

child custody, child custody agreements, co-parenting divorced couples, DuPage County divorce lawyer, filing for divorce, joint custody arrangements, summer break, summer vacation and child custody, visitationSummer can be a particularly stressful time for parents. Kids are home from school and need supervision and entertainment. In addition to the time these things take, there can be an added financial stress during an already stressful time.

In fact, the majority of adults feel extra worry about money during the summer, and this worry is particularly pronounced among parents of children under 17, with 62 percent of whom expect to spend over $1,400 on activities for their kids, according to a study done by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. These stresses are only compounded for divorced parents who have an extra layer of complexity because of joint child custody agreements.

Added Summer Stress from Divorce

Handling joint custody arrangements can be especially difficult during the summer months for a variety of reasons. First, many co-parenting divorced couples find harmony in routine. The school year tends to lead to more predictable schedules than the summer, which often involves more plans with friends, camps, and possibly even family vacations. Beyond this, the summer can cause problems because it is another time when parenting styles can conflict.

Debates can occur regarding what types of camps or programming to send a child to, how trips and vacations should be planned, and how much time is spent with family or friends. All of these can lead to disagreements between well-meaning parents.

Finally, divorce often places a financial strain on families. Divorces can often lead to duplicate expenses for things like living space and groceries, meaning that money does not go as far as it once did. This can be felt especially keenly during the summer when people are already prone to stressing about budgets.

Fortunately, these problems can be solved, or at least mitigated, through careful planning and good communication. The lack of a normal routine for the children can lead to unpleasant surprises where one parent is planning a family vacation while the other is giving them permission to spend time with their friends that week.

It is especially important during this time of year to keep the lines of communication open between parents so that the lack of a routine does not lead to conflicting schedules. Similarly, communication and compromise can also help resolve conflicts related to parenting. Understanding that both parents have the child’s best interest in mind and reaching some balanced middle ground between the styles can often make the summer go more smoothly

Careful planning can also help alleviate financial issues. While sitting down and calculating a budget cannot make money stretch further, it can alleviate the constant financial worry. Additionally, people who have a budget worked out will be less tempted to spend more than they have, which can prevent stress later on.

If you are thinking about filing for divorce and would like to learn more about child custody and joint custody arrangements, contact a DuPage County divorce lawyer today. A skilled attorney can help you understand the complexities of the divorce process and let you make an informed decision.

Divorce Negotiations 101

June 3rd, 2014 at 7:00 am

competitive negotiating, divorce mediation, divorce negotiations, DuPage County divorce attorney, Kendall County divorce lawyer, negotiations, Oswego divorce lawyer, spousal supportMuch of the divorce process involves a negotiation between the two spouses. This can be a difficult experience for many people since Americans as a culture tend to shy away from negotiating, according to a report by Business News Daily.

Fortunately, the spouses will have their lawyers there to handle much of the negotiating for them, but understanding basic negotiation strategy, particularly how to handle the opening phase of negotiations, can still help people feel more comfortable with the process.

Negotiation Strategies

Negotiations are a complex affair that people approach with different strategies based on their personality type. Some people opt for a very competitive negotiating style, where they attempt to come out as the “winner” at the end of the day. Others choose to adopt a more collaborative divorce style. They seek to find outcomes that are win-win situations, and often operate with an eye towards preserving the relationship between the negotiators in the long term.

While both of these tactics can be effective, it is important for people to remember that they may end up having to deal with their spouse again after the divorce decree is finalized, especially if children are involved. Consequently, even people opting for a more competitive negotiating strategy should avoid burning any bridges.

Opening Negotiations

One of the most important parts of any negotiation is the opening offer. Experienced negotiators differ over whether it is a good idea to make the first offer. On the one hand, it reveals information about what you want to the other side.

For instance, suppose two parties are in divorce mediation, and the husband would be willing to pay $500 a month for spousal support. If the wife opens negotiations at $300 a month, she’s lost out on at least $200, and possibly more since the husband can then make an even lower counter offer.

On the other hand, the person who makes the first offer gets the benefit of “anchoring” the discussion. Behavioral psychologists often find that people have a tendency to treat the first bid as an anchor around which the rest of the negotiation is tethered. This means that a person who makes an opening offer may have the opportunity to set the basic range in which the negotiations take place.

However, anchoring does not work in all circumstances. Setting an anchor too far away from what the other side considers reasonable may offend them or may force the person who opened negotiations to offer a new, much lower anchor to keep negotiations moving forward.

Of course, if you are considering divorce you will not need to negotiate alone. Reach out to a skilled Oswego divorce attorney today. Our firm can help represent your interests and make sure you get the best possible deal.