Protecting Your Assets

Protecting Your Assets

Protecting Your Assets

We live in a land of fairy tales. Think of all the movies and popular culture stories of happily ever after, true love, soulmates and other tropes that lead us to believe from a very young age that love is easy, love lasts forever, and everyone has the other person’s best intentions at heart all the time.

If only that were true!

I would not do such a brisk business if we had a smarter sense of what a relationship could be. There is romance in marriage, yes, and marriage can be a wonderful way to go through life.

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It also comes with hardship, heartache and hard times – like any relationship.

Any time we are around the same person day in and day out, year after year, we go through wonderful times and challenging times. And because of the nature of human relationships, there is a role for divorce attorneys.

There is also a role for the prenuptial or postnuptial agreement.

But again, back to fairy tales – the perspective of prenups and postnups, as they’re known, has more to do with quashing that perennial idea of perfect romance and long-time love than reality.

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When a couple decides to create a legal contract that protects their property, assets and sometimes, family heirlooms, it is not a statement that they don’t believe their relationship will last. It is not an acknowledgement that they will one day break up. It is not even a pessimistic outlook on the likelihood of lasting love.

It’s just practical action.

Real love can withstand planning and pragmatism. That’s why I encourage all couples to think about what assets they bring to a marriage that they might want to protect just in case.

Prenuptial agreements must be fair and reasonable, and both spouses sign. This happens before the marriage. A postnuptial agreement is similar in that it is intended to protect assets, only undertaken once a couple is already married, and to be enforceable requires different considerations than a prenuptial agreement and cannot be prepared for the purpose of divorce.

Some common protections included in such agreements are funds saved for education or retirement accounts. Both are examples of assets accumulated before the marriage and which each partner would want to keep intact in any event.

Think about if you own a house before you marry and you turn it into a rental property. It’s reasonable to say you want it to remain yours. It’s also ok to add it to the marital assets.

Again, I emphasize to clients that creating such legal documents is not a kiss of death to a marriage. It’s just practical, protective measures in any situation. And hopefully, it’s something you do and forget about it because you never need to go back to it!

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Significant Assets in a Divorce

Significant Assets in a Divorce

Significant Assets in a Divorce

Recently, I’ve been working with clients who have large estates to settle in a divorce, and it’s fascinating work. So many clients come to me thinking their divorce will be a piece of cake. They focus entirely on their significant assets, another task to check off the list, something they can remain distant from, not so connected to.

And then, they realize that just having a large estate does not shield you from the emotional side of divorce.

The emotional turbulence hits every client at some point. There’s no avoiding it. And if you think you can focus on the money and the assets as a way to side-step the emotions, you’re in for a rude awakening.

Both sides need careful attention to detail.

It’s imperative for me, as a divorce attorney, to understand my clients’ assets. With each divorce, I review and analyze tax returns, identify investment properties, Daytona Beach real estate and business income, and assess the unique dance of all of these unique situations in the overall picture.

With businesses, we look at how they’re held, individually or as part of a partnership, and how those chips will fall in the breakup of a marriage.With large businesses, we look at any restrictions on selling or transferring the interests with a divorce, and with a family-owned business, watch out. That’s a minefield I’ve learned to dance through without igniting any ignored bombs.

Prenuptial agreements are also part of the work I do – drawing them up prior to a couple marrying and wading through them once a marriage reaches its tipping point.

I’ve written prenups for people who never end up marrying, just so they can have peace of mind in the event that they do tie the knot. Some are long and include mention of alimony, property settlements, retirement and assets owned before marriage as well as those acquired during marriage. Some are just straightforward focusing on a business or other significant asset.

Whatever it is, understanding the unique predicaments of my clients with large estates and business interests is paramount for the work that I do. If I can’t step inside my clients’ shoes, I can’t represent them fairly and swiftly.

And at the end of the day, that’s what matters.

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The Cost of Divorce

The Cost of Divorce

The Cost of Divorce

Does anyone believe divorce doesn’t come with a price?

I’m not just talking about the lawyer fees, court fees, mediation fees.

I’m not just referring to the cost of selling a house or moving to an apartment or the cost of not having your kids with you every day.

And I’m not just referring to the cost of a relationship you had thought would last a lifetime that suddenly no longer remains intact.

Plain and simple, divorce is an expensive business; and when faced with the expenses, we lose perspective, feel uneasy and cannot see that eventually, things will balance themselves out.

Recently, I worked with two different clients who both faced financial constraints as most clients do. One client, a man, left a marriage of nearly 25 years, which produced three children. My client was devastated when his wife decided to end the marriage.

While she didn’t work much during the marriage, she did manage the household, the children and the family’s finances.  As part of being the financial manager, the wife kept some of her own assets separate from her husband’s and what the husband believed they were building together during their marriage.

When they divorced, by law, the wife was entitled to keep her separate property, and they split everything they had built and shared during the marriage.

So from the husband’s perspective now, his former wife is doing quite well and the ex-husband is feeling more significant financial constraints because in addition to the wife keeping her own assets, the husband has a pretty hefty bill of child support and spousal support.

There is this concept that money is energy, and it must flow in and flow out. When we are gripped by fear, though, we often don’t feel comfortable letting it go – for fear that it won’t come back.

The thing is, when we cling to our money too tightly, it stalls the energy flow and we create an even bigger problem.

It’s all about perspective. There’s a bit of truth in every perspective, but we all know the grass looks greener in someone else’s yard.

Now, post-divorce, the former wife keeps finding things to fight about (she just can’t let go, as happens with many clients, actually) and she keeps calling in her attorney.

To my client’s credit, he is trying to not involve me but to communicate with his ex-wife directly to work out issues because he knows that it is the better way, and he also wants to avoid having even higher legal bills.

Yes, he created the situation – he believed they’d be married forever, and he was devastated to see that dream crumble. I know my client is having a hard time financially – and there’s nothing I can do about it because it’s what he agreed to.

Still, it breaks my heart to see such imbalance.

Another client, a woman, was young when her marriage ended. She worked an occasional contract job to bring in extra cash during the marriage, but her primary role was to care for the children and manage the household.  She’s now receiving spousal support and looking for permanent work. She’s having a hard time even still because at 40, it’s hard to begin a career.

And the worst part is that the ex-husband is now late in making his payments due to some variation in his  income from a second job about which he is passionate and which largely subsidized their family income during the marriage. The ex-wife stayed in the marital home, and she probably can’t afford to keep it.

We hold onto things because we want to hold onto what was, or because we think it is best for the children – but probably, we need to break free and start over, in a more affordable, manageable way, creating a new life, a new definition of self.

Nevertheless, from this ex-wife’s perspective, her former husband is still controlling the money and purposefully causing her additional financial hardship. The husband is probably thinking his ex-wife can afford everything because of what he is (or is supposed) to be paying for spousal support.

Who really knows – all we know is that it’s a tough financial road for her at this point in time. And the perspectives can be drastically different.

As happens with every divorce, these families are facing very new situations, emotionally and financially. In my experience, I’ve come to see that everything does settle out over time. It just takes time and we’re often not all that patient.

In each of these cases, very different divorces, very different people, one receiving payments, one paying out –both individuals are struggling.

If for even a moment, you can recognize the other person’s perspective, you might feel better. It’s not the time to try to empathize with the person who left you, or whom you left.

But for your own sake, internally accepting that the other person may be struggling,too, may offer moments of peace amongst the chaos.  And, over time, the finances, along with your emotions, will balance out. Try to be patient.

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