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Can I Get a Divorce and Still Afford to Retire?

Published by: Scott Spooner • On: 10-18-2017 • Under: Divorce

how to get a divorce and still afford to retireFor many, living comfortably in retirement is the gold at the end of the rainbow. Married couples hope that they have planned appropriately so that they can share in this outcome. However, not all couples stay married up to and through retirement. What happens to the retirement nest egg in divorce?

Typically, retirement accounts are treated like most other marital property. If the contributions were made during the marriage, those contributions, along with the gains or losses, are considered marital property. These funds are taken into account when dividing all the assets and debts of the divorcing couple.

While there are many issues regarding retirement accounts, we have several scenarios and questions come up again and again. One of these common situations is when a spouse has been with their employer for longer than they have been married. Many think that their half of their entire retirement savings is now going to be transferred to their spouse. This, however, is not the norm. The only part of the retirement funds that should be considered marital (to be divided) is the portion saved during the marriage. The amounts contributed prior to the marriage (and the growth of those funds) are typically considered non-marital, and not subject to division.

For example, if you have been contributing to your 401-k for 25 years, but you have only been married for the last 10 years, the first 15 years of contributions would not be marital property. This would include any earnings on that 15 years’ worth of contributions. There can be exceptions, and this figure is typically not simple to determine, but it can make a big difference in the assets to be divided.

At Spooner and Associates, we have handled many cases with all types of retirement accounts and issues. We have the knowledge and expertise to answer your questions and assist you with these difficult financial decisions. We also have access to a team of financial advisors and accountants, if needed, including retirement and pension experts. Call us at (678) 714-1131 for assistance.

 

Divorce Question: Should I Do It Myself?

Published by: M. Ryan Mullis • On: 08-02-2017 • Under: Divorce

do it yourself divorce

Divorce is hard and emotional. It will impact you and your family for years to come, especially if you have children. Decisions must be made about the division of assets and debts, child custody and visitation, child support, dividing real and personal property, and many others. Just as you would hire a realtor to help you buy a home, an accountant to help you file your taxes, or a contractor to help you with home repairs, you should hire an attorney to help you with your divorce. There are ways to file for divorce “pro se” or on your own, without an attorney. We discourage a “do-it-yourself” divorce, as there are many details and issues that can be overlooked without the experience and knowledge of a licensed Georgia attorney. We are often retained to “fix” an agreement where the person represented themselves. In some instances, the agreement cannot be fixed and the person is simply stuck with the Court’s order. In most other instances, the “fix” ends up costing more than if the person had used an attorney in the original case.

Even if your divorce is uncontested, meaning you and your spouse are in agreement on all issues related to your divorce, you still want the help of an experienced Georgia attorney. There may be small issues you have not thought of, such as tax dependency issues or real property tax liability. Further, even though your case may be uncontested, it still must be filed in the appropriate court and be submitted to a Judge for final approval. Filing in the wrong court can get your case thrown out before it even gets to a Judge. Failing to present your case accurately to the Judge can result in needless delays and expenses that could have been avoided with the help of an experienced attorney.

In many instances, parties are really close to a full agreement but think they can’t file an uncontested divorce because of those last remaining disagreements. Sometimes, all it takes is the assistance of an attorney to help the parties reach that full agreement. An attorney can assist with negotiations, keep emotions from boiling over, and work towards the end result. You want a divorce agreement that works for both parties and is in the best interest of the children (if there are any involved). An agreement reached without court involvement usually works better for all involved, and is better at supporting long-term co-parenting arrangements. An attorney can help you achieve an agreement by maintaining focus on your long-term goals and helping you through this difficult process.

Don’t attempt to “go it alone.” We help our clients avoid costly missteps in a divorce. Call us to start solving your legal problems.

Divorce Question: What Am I Entitled To?

Published by: M. Ryan Mullis • On: 07-07-2017 • Under: Divorce

what are you entitled to in a divorceClients ask us all the time: “What am I entitled to in the divorce?”

This is a tricky question. Georgia is an equitable distribution state which means whatever assets and debts are determined to be marital property are subject to “equitable” distribution between the parties upon divorce.

So the first question to answer when it comes to the division of assets and debts is what counts as marital property that is subject to division. There are some major categories that are easily identifiable as NOT marital property such as gifts and inheritances, but other items may not be as clear.

For example, one party may have a significant retirement account that normally would be considered marital property. However, if a large portion was accumulated before the marriage, that portion of the retirement account may be deemed to belong solely to the individual. Trickier questions include the issue of settlement awards, real property, and personal items. Also, while an asset might have originally been non-marital, a change in title or mixing it with marital assets might convert the asset to a marital asset.

Another issue under division during a divorce is the question of debts and who will be responsible for paying the debts upon divorce. It may seem simple if each party has credit card debt in their own names, but things can become complicated if one party used the credit card on behalf of the other, or only used it because one party was the sole bread winner.

An issue that comes up often is student loans. One party may have a large amount student loan debt. Generally, student loans are personal and belong to that individual even during and after divorce. However, some student loan exceptions may include: if there is a co-signor or co-guarantor on the loan, if the parties took the loans out jointly, if one party worked to support the other party while they attended school, or if a portion of the student loan funds was used for marital expenses (rent, car payment, etc.).

Don’t try to answer these questions on your own without legal counsel. Contact the experienced attorneys of Spooner & Associates to avoid costly missteps during a divorce.

Divorce Question: Where Do I File My Case?

Published by: M. Ryan Mullis • On: 06-23-2017 • Under: Divorce

how to file my case in a divorceIn this second of a series of articles reviewing some common divorce questions, we discuss venue and jurisdiction.

One of the first issues that must be addressed in any family law problem is where to file the action. Whether the action is a divorce, modification, contempt, adoption, name change, legitimation, or other family law action, the case has to be filed in the appropriate venue. Venue generally refers to the county court that can properly hear the case per Georgia law.

A closely related issue to venue is jurisdiction, which involves two prongs: personal jurisdiction and subject matter jurisdiction. Personal jurisdiction refers to the court having the power to hear the case because of the people involved in the case. Subject matter jurisdiction refers to the court having the power to hear the case of what is at issue in the case. Venue, personal jurisdiction, and subject matter jurisdiction are all required for a legal action to properly proceed. Since a Court must have all three to properly hear a case, the appropriate place to file an action can sometimes become very complicated.

For instance, a divorce is generally an easy case for determining where to file, as most of the time both parties live in the same state and county. However, if the parties recently moved to Georgia, recently moved out of Georgia, or if one party recently moved to or from Georgia can affect the location for filing determination. Other cases can be even more complicated. If there are children involved in the issue and there is a prior Court Order involving the children, that prior Court may hold continuing jurisdiction over the children for any further actions.

However, the parties may not live in that county or state anymore. Then, the issue of whether a new Court can acquire jurisdiction becomes relevant. Or, if the parties have a prior Court Order in one state, for example, Florida, but one party now lives in Georgia and the other lives in Tennessee, which state is the appropriate state to hear the case? These venue and jurisdiction questions can be extremely complicated, and if you file in the wrong place, you can potentially damage your case or have to start over.

You need an experienced Georgia family law attorney to help you answer these questions so that you can file your action in the appropriate location. Failing to do so can cost you time, money, and hardship that can be easily avoided with a knowledgeable attorney on your side. The attorneys of Spooner & Associates are experienced in assisting clients with venue and jurisdiction issues. Call (678) 231-0607 to start solving your legal problems.

Divorce Question: Should I Move Out of the House?

Published by: M. Ryan Mullis • On: 06-20-2017 • Under: Divorce

Should I move out?A divorce can be one of the most trying times in a person’s life. There are already many emotions involved, which can only be heightened if there are children. The experienced attorneys of Spooner and Associates want to help you through this trying and difficult time, providing the necessary knowledge and resources to help you navigate it successfully.

Many clients ask us whether or not they should move out of the marital home before a divorce. This can be a very complicated question, with different answers depending on the situation. For example, a major determining factor is whether there are minor children. Moving out of the home while the children remain with the other parent can have a serious impact on the outcomes of child custody, both physical and legal, as well as visitation and child support. Other factors involved in the decision to move out of a marital home include: whether the home is owned or rented, who’s name the home is titled under or leased under, who has been paying the financial obligations on the home (including rent, a mortgage, fees, and taxes, and utilities), as well as what each party wants to do with the marital home after the divorce. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, if one party is concerned about domestic violence, leaving the home for safety purposes may supersede all other issues.

This is a difficult time, but don’t feel like you have to figure out all the best steps for you and your family on your own. Contact one of our attorneys at 678-714-1131 today. As your legal advocates, we will guide you through this process and help you make the best decisions for yourself, your children, and your family.

Lessons From the Brangelina Divorce

Published by: Scott Spooner • On: 02-06-2017 • Under: Divorce

learn lessons from the brangelina divorceWhen faced with divorce, especially when child custody is involved, it can seem impossible to put emotions aside and “play nice.” However, if you are able to do so and be reasonable in your negotiations, you will almost certainly save yourself much financial and emotional stress.

Once again in the headlines, we can learn some lessons from the Brangelina divorce: You may have heard that Angelina Jolie Pitt and Brad Pitt have reached an agreement on at least one issue related to their divorce. In a joint statement released to the Associated Press they described a desire to “act as a unified front to effectuate recovery and reunification.”

This is a marked change from their attitudes earlier in the litigation, where authorities were called to investigate allegations of abuse and it seemed that there was no hope of an amicable, civil resolution between the parties with regards to the custody of their six children. Assuming they can continue to work together in a productive way and maintain a level of civility, they will be able to save money on legal fees. Perhaps more importantly, they will be saving themselves and their children from much unnecessary stress and heartache.

When looking for a divorce attorney, it is important to seek a lawyer who will fight for you as hard as it takes, but not someone who will create a fight where none exists. At Spooner & Associates, we pride ourselves on our ability to work with our client and the opposing party towards a resolution that is swift and fair. Call (678) 714-1131 to discuss your current situation with an attorney.

Flip or Flop: How to Handle the House After Divorce

Published by: Scott Spooner • On: 01-27-2017 • Under: Divorce

house after divorceIt seems the stars of the HGTV show “Flip or Flop” are headed for divorce. For those who do not watch the show, a married couple, one a designer and the other with an investment eye, purchase homes and attempt to profit from the improvements. The couple is a “rags to riches” story, and their fans liked that they seemed to be on solid relationship footing. Unfortunately, the relationship appears to be ending and the husband has filed for divorce. In addition, their show and their joint business are now on the rocks.

While most of us are not HGTV stars and are not in the business of buying and selling houses, many divorcing couples own real estate and have their own businesses. These items must be dealt with in a divorce and can be very difficult issues. Even what appears to be simple, as in how to handle the house after divorce, can lead to catastrophic mistakes.

For example, a couple may decide that the wife will remain in the home because she is going to be the primary custodian of the children. This may seem to be an easy decision and easily accomplished. What happens, however, if both husband and wife are on the deed and the mortgage? Will the husband remain on both forever? If so, what happens if he wants to purchase another home and can’t qualify due to the mortgage obligation on the marital home? Or, if the wife is late on the mortgage payments and his credit is ruined? Perhaps language will be put in the agreement that the wife will refinance the house. Will she qualify? What happens if she does not? Maybe the couple decides to sell the house. Who picks the agent? How is the list price determined? What if the person remaining in the house doesn’t really want to sell and keeps the house a mess when potential buyers come by?

These are all things that have to be considered in a divorce when real estate is involved. Even when the couple are in agreement and work together, outside forces can get in the way. Recall the housing bubble of 2008-2009. Many couples had divorce agreements that never contemplated what would happen if the value of their house declined. It was never even considered that the house would not bring a profit at the sale and there were many problems with these divorce decrees.

It is extremely important to have an experienced attorney on your side in this situation. You need an attorney to walk through your options and to protect you from making significant mistakes with your real estate. Don’t “flop” on your divorce. Call Spooner & Associates PC today at (678) 714-1131 for peace of mind.

Who Gets Physical Custody of the Children After Divorce?

Published by: Scott Spooner • On: 10-03-2016 • Under: Divorce, Family Law

physical custody after divorceWhen Angelina Jolie filed for divorce from Brad Pitt in a California court recently, she reportedly requested sole physical custody of their six children. If she is successful, Brad’s rights and access to the children could be very limited. While we cannot speculate on the California court’s eventual decision, it is important for divorcing parents to understand their rights in a Georgia divorce involving children.

In Georgia, there are two main parts to “custody,” legal custody and physical custody.  Legal custody, in a nutshell, simply provides for certain legal rights to the children.   For example, will both parents have access to medical records and school records? In the vast majority of divorces, joint legal custody is awarded. Again, this means that both parents retain legal rights to the child. Typically, the only portion of legal custody that is debated by the parties involves decision making for the children. Most courts divide the areas of decision making into four categories (religion, extracurricular, schooling, and medical). While most parents agree, and most courts order, that the parties need to discuss these issues, someone has to make the final decision.  These categories can be divided between the parents, or it may be that one parent is the final decision maker in all areas.

When most people think of “custody,” they mean physical custody. Physical custody is the determination of where the children will live the majority of the time. While there may be numerous terms describing physical custody (sole, primary, joint, secondary), it is more important to look at actual parenting time. In nearly every divorce case with minor children, the Court will require a full schedule for the children to be submitted. The parties, or the court, will need to determine a schedule of when the children will be with each parent. It may be that the children spend alternating weekends with one parent and the majority of the rest of the time with the other parent. Special dates such as holidays, religious days, birthdays, and summer vacation must be considered.

If the parents can work out a reasonable schedule that is acceptable to both sides, in most cases, it will be accepted by the Court. If the parties can work together, it is almost always better for the children. Also, even though there is schedule in the divorce order, the parents can agree to deviate from it. For example, if the parents want to switch weekends with the children, and they both agree, they can switch weekends. The custody and visitation order is there for the times when the parents cannot agree.

When the parents cannot agree to the physical custody terms in the divorce, the custody battle begins. To protect the children’s interests, the courts may assign the children a lawyer. This guardian ad litem (from Latin, meaning guardian “for the lawsuit”) will speak with the children, visit both parents in their homes, and speak with the children’s counselors or teachers. Also, the parties may involve older children who may want their voices heard. While a custody battle is seldom recommended, there are cases when it is necessary. This can be a lengthy and expensive process, but there are few things more important than the proper determination of custody and visitation for a child.

The attorneys of Spooner & Associates can help you with a custody arrangement that is in the best interests of you and your children. While finalizing a bitter custody dispute could take many months, we can help with a temporary custody agreement and protect your right to spend time with your children in the upcoming holiday season. Call our office at (678) 714-1131 to speak with an attorney.

A Do-It-Yourself Divorce Can be a Costly Mistake

Published by: Scott Spooner • On: 07-21-2016 • Under: Divorce, Family Law

costly divorce mistakes spooner and associates imageSeveral times a week, I am contacted by people who did not hire an attorney for representation in their divorce proceedings.  These people represented themselves in court (known as appearing pro se) and had their final divorce hearing. Now, AFTER their final hearing, they are not happy with the final divorce order.  They want to hire an attorney to help them “appeal” the court’s decision and have their divorce case re-tried.

Avoiding Costly Divorce Mistakes

I wish they had contacted me for legal counsel and representation BEFORE their final divorce hearing (especially when children, property, or businesses were involved.)  Hiring an attorney for legal advice in a divorce may seem expensive; but with a do-it-yourself divorce, your long-term costs may be even greater! Learn more about the long-term costs of do-it-yourself divorces below.

Too Much or Too Little Child Support and/or Alimony

This situation is an unfortunate matter of “save now, but pay later.” Pro se parties may initially save a little on their divorce; however, without the counsel of a family law attorney, pro se parties may be paying too much money (or receiving too little) after the divorce. But the long term cost is measured in more than just dollars. There is also an emotional price tag to the continued disruption and disharmony in the life of your family after a divorce.

Divorce Modification Not Guaranteed

Don’t count on modifying a bad final divorce order later. In some situations, you can go through the legal process of filing for a modification to an existing order. Unless you can prove to the courts there has been a “substantial change of condition” (i.e., job loss, significant income increase or decrease, relocation, etc.), you will likely not be successful in getting a modification.  In addition, many terms of a divorce order (such as property division, college payments for children, etc.) cannot be modified by the court, except with the agreement of both parties. You could be stuck with a very bad result.

Get Your Divorce Agreement Right the First Time

Don’t count on a “do-over” with your divorce order. Many times I have heard, “I settled on that term just to get my divorce done” or “I agreed to that custody arrangement because I thought I could change it later.”  In many instances, we can change the original order with a modification, but at a greater cost (in money and time) than if the issues had been handled correctly during the divorce. However, in some cases, there is nothing that can be done. For instance, there was a gentleman who did not have an attorney for his divorce.  The man agreed to LIFETIME alimony payments in order to get his divorce completed. However, his wife’s attorney included language in the divorce agreement that did not allow for future modification of the alimony payments. The man did not comprehend the unfair alimony terms.  He never had an attorney review the divorce agreement before he signed it.  So the agreement became a court order. Now this gentleman will have to live with the mistake (regardless of his future income) for the rest of his life.  He saved money on his do-it-yourself divorce by not hiring an attorney, but that frugality will cost him thousands of dollars over his lifetime.

Avoid Costly Consequences with a Family Law Attorney

Would you design and build your own house? Install and adjust your child’s orthodontic appliances? Rebuild your car engine? Probably not.  When you retain the professional legal services of a Spooner & Associates family law attorney, the many pieces and parts to a divorce can be anticipated and handled BEFORE the divorce agreement becomes a court order. A skilled family law attorney will help you avoid costly consequences. Call (678) 714-1131 to meet with an attorney and start solving your legal problems today.

Alimony in Georgia

Published by: Scott Spooner • On: 12-10-2015 • Under: Divorce, Family Law • Tagged: , ,

Alimony in Georgia - Spooner & AssociatesWhen a celebrity couple gets divorced, the details of their settlement often make headlines. Take Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith, for example. You may have heard through the grapevine that Mr. Banderas will be paying Ms. Griffith $65,000 per month in alimony, also known as “spousal support”. You may be wondering where on earth that number came from and, certainly if you are contemplating divorce yourself, you are probably wondering what you may be entitled to or required to pay.

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The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. This website is designed for general information only.  You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation. We invite you to contact us and welcome your calls, letters and electronic mail. Contacting us does not create an attorney-client relationship. Please do not send any confidential information to us until such time as an attorney-client relationship has been established.

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