What To Do With The Marital Home In A Divorce

marital home and divorceWhen it comes to dividing assets and liabilities between two spouses during their divorce process,Georgia is an equitable distribution state. This means the division is one that the family law court considers is fair, not necessarily equal.This includes the marital home which is often the most financially valuable asset the couple owns together. When both parties have an emotional and sentimental attitude toward the home and children are involved who still live there and do not want to move, what to do with the marital home may be complicated.

Although there are several possible solutions, they all begin with having the property appraised to determine its fair market value. Then, any debts owed relevant to the property, like the mortgage and taxes, are deducted to determine the equity, which is the amount that needs to be divided.

Selling the home to a third party

The easiest solution seems to be to sell the home to a third party. When the sale goes through, the amount will be distributed by the court under the principles of equitable distribution. One party may receive more of the home equity than the other after the court considers all relevant factors to a fair distribution.

One party buys out the equity interest in the property from the other

Either party can buy out the interest of the other based on the amount of equity in the home. The home will likely need to be refinanced which provides for the deed to the home to be placed in the name of the buying spouse, removes the selling spouse from liability and debt that comes with being a joint owner and provides the money to the other spouse for the buy-out.

Delayed distribution

When there are minor children and the court finds it would be in their best interest to continue living in the home, Georgia courts may order a delayed distribution of the equity of the home. The court may establish a timeline for the property to be sold. For example, the court may order the house to be sold when the youngest child graduates from high school or reaches the age of 18.

The court will consider all relevant factors and determine whether or not the party that will not be living in the marital home will have an obligation to pay for any of the expenses for the property, such as the mortgage, maintenance or taxes.

Tips for Succession in Your Family-Owned Business

family owned business 2Although the goal of most family-owned businesses is to pass the business down to the next generation, only about 35 percent of them do so successfully. Just 20 percent make it on to the third generation. Even with these statistics, there is no reason to get discouraged if your goal is to pass down your business. There are actions you can take now that will put your family-owned business in the category of successful transitions to the future generation.

View transition as a process: Early planning for succession

Family-owned business succession is not successfully achieved simply by writing a will leaving your business to your children. It should be an ongoing process beginning even with your original business plan. It then needs to be reviewed periodically and updated when needed. There may be changes in the goals of the business. The addition of family members through marriage may affect the plan as will a change in the abilities or the health of family members involved in the plan.

Communication among potential successors

You have likely heard the three most important considerations in real estate are location, location, location. Apply this adage to business succession and the three most important considerations translate to communication, communication, communication. The following areas may become contentious unless discussed frequently among all involved while allowing for modification of the succession plan when necessary.

  • What is the vision for the company?
  • What are the specific goals for the future?
  • What are the expectations of each family member?
  • What role will each family member play after the transition?
  • How will the next leader of the business be identified?
  • Are there some family members who do not want to be involved?
  • Are there non-family member stockholders or employees who will be affected by the plan?
  • Who will be included in the most intricate parts of the planning process?
  • How will conflicts between successors or potential successors be resolved?
  • How will extended family members be involved or affected, for example, will there be a role for your children’s spouses?
  • Who should be members of a transition team?
  • What, if any, will be the role in the business of the person who is stepping down?

Formal family meetings should be held periodically where all involved feel free to express their views. If there is significant conflict, a communications expert may be called in to assist. If all involved understand the goals of the company, how the succession plan will be implemented and what each individual’s role will be after the succession plan is in place, the smoother and more successful the succession will be.

Put the succession plan in writing

When the questions have been answered and the goals determined, the specific succession plan must be put in writing.  But, as some experts have said, you do not shove the plan in a drawer somewhereand forget about it. It should be an evolving document that is updated as the business evolves and new challenges arise.

Social Security Benefits After Divorce

Social Security after divorceThe law does not allow a court to consider current or future Social Security benefits when approving a divorce settlement even in an equitable distribution state like Georgia. But, you may be able to collect Social Security benefits on your ex-spouses earnings record. Here are some things you should know.

The importance of timing

Either spouse may be eligible to collect benefits on his or her ex-spouse’s employment record if the marriage lasted at least 10 years. Even if the marriage lasted for 9 years, 11 months and 27 days, neither of you will be eligible for benefits on the other’s record. The date the divorce becomes final is the date that determines the length of the marriage. This can be helpful when one spouse did not work, or worked very little, during the course of the marriage and the other one earned a significant amount of money. If the 10 year mark is not too far in the future, the couple may decide to put off the final dissolution date so the lower earning person may have the future benefit to look forward to.

Other relevant factors

  • If you do collect benefits on your ex-spouses record, it has no effect on what your ex or a current spouse can collect. Your ex will not even be notified that you are collecting.
  • You have to be at least 62 years of age to be eligible.
  • You have to have been divorced for at least two years.
  • You must be unmarried at the time you apply for benefits even if you remarried and that marriage also ended in divorce.
  • The benefit on your own record must be less than the benefit on your ex’s record.
  • You will receive half the amount of the full retirement amount your ex is eligible to receive.

Widow/Widower benefits for ex-spouses

If your ex-spouse dies, and you were married 10 years or more, you are entitled to receive 100 percent of your ex-spouses benefit. This has no effect on how much the current spouse or any children will receive. The Government Pension Offset (GPO) also applies to widower/widower’s benefits.

The GPO

According to the GPO, if you collect a government pension from a job like Civil Service where your employer did not pay into Social Security, two-thirds of the amount of your pension will be subtracted from the 50 percent of the ex-spouses benefits you are expecting if your ex is alive, or from the 100 percent you are expecting if your ex is deceased. The GPO may result in you receiving very little benefit money or none at all. For example, if you expected to receive $400 from your spouse’s record, but are receiving $600 from a government pension that did not pay Social Security taxes, $400 (two-thirds of $600) will be subtracted, or offset, from the $400 you are expecting to receive leaving you zero benefit.

Social Security law is complex. If you have questions about your divorce and Social Security benefits, call a family law attorney who will be able to help you understand.

Keys To Success In A Family Owned Business

Almost everyone who shops knows Walmart is the largest family owned business in the United States. The company now has 11,000 stores in 27 countries with annual worldwide net sales of more than $482 billion. The founder, Sam Walton, opened his first store in Arkansas in 1962 and, as the saying goes, the rest is history. Although Walmart is now owned by stockholders, Walmart family members own the controlling shares of stock.

In 1869, Henry John Heinz started his business making his first product: horseradish. His famous ketchup appeared on the market seven years later. It now sells 650 million bottles of ketchup every year. When John Heinz died in a plane crash in 1991, his wife Teresa took over the management of the family business.

Levi Strauss, owner of a dry goods store, became passionate about a new type of men’s pants designed by his partner, Jacob Davis.  They obtained a patent and began selling their blue jeans in 1872.  When Strauss died childless, he left the business to his two nephews, one of whom brought his son-in-law, Walter Haas, in to the business. The business is still run by Strauss and Haas descendants.

There are many other examples of family owned businesses that have thrived for years. They all have some elements in common that contribute to their longevity and success.

  • Passion: The driving force behind the success of the family owned businesses is the passion the members have for the product or business and the connection they feel to their family members as they all work together toward their common goal.
  • Values as important as wealth: The founders of the business have a compulsion to transfer their values, such as their work ethic, volunteering in the community and philanthropy, to their family members who they bring in to the business. Transferring wealth is important but takes a back seat to values. Almost all successful family businesses have a track record of philanthropy and charitable giving.
  • New generations learn from the older ones: As young family members enter the business, they are willing to listen to their older family members as mentors. They respect how the business has been conducted through the years and recognize it as key to its current success.
  • Older generations learn from the younger ones: The older generations are willing and eager to listen to the new ideas and introduction of new technology by the new family members. Both generations respect what they can learn from each other.
  • Keep the family and business reputation intact: Both generations are cognizant of the business and family reputation. They are aware that how they act outside the business and how they treat other people will reflect on the entire family and on the business.

Family members who work long hours together for the success of their business find they need to create balance. They need to respect each other and the time they each need away from the business. They also need pleasant family gatherings where they do not talk about business and enjoy being together as family members, not just business associates.

Divorce After 50

In March 2013, the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University published a study on the divorce rate for couples who are over the age of 50. The researchers discovered that in the last 20 years, the divorce rate in the nation as a whole has gone down. Meanwhile, the divorce rate for those over 50 has doubled and now, one in four marriages of couples in that age group ends in divorce.

There are emotional issues that impact this age group, but the biggest impact is financial. Although division of assets and liabilities are part of every divorce, for those nearing retirement age, they have less time to rebuild. For those who were unemployed during the marriage, but need to work after the divorce, there are fewer opportunities for them than there were when they were younger.

Emotional issues

Divorces at older ages often come after a long-term marriage. Even if both parties agree a divorce is in their best interest, there may be a feeling of loss along with invigoration that a new life awaits. Even when the couple has children who are no longer living at home, the children often express sorrow over the dissolution of their parent’s marriage. Some singles relocate and others may lose some friends that were couple friends. These emotions are normal, but need to be addressed in order to productively face the new life.

Financial issues

Statistics show that the cost of living for single people is 40-50 percent more than for married couples. Household income drops about 25 percent for men and 40 percent for women. When the divorce comes in the later years, there is less time to make up the financial loss experienced with the division of assets through the divorce. Some major financial issues the 50+ couple deals with include, but are not limited to:

  • What to do with the house: Many couples over 50 own a home together and whether or not to sell it is a big decision. There may be equity in the house they can share if they sell it, but there are benefits to home ownership, such as tax savings, that they will lose.  At age 62, a person is eligible for a reverse mortgage.  On the other hand, if one person keeps the house, that person will be responsible for all upkeep and taxes. If the market goes down, that person will take the loss. There may be tax benefits to both parties with a sale and the timing of the sale may be important.
  • Retirement assets and liabilities: Couples aged 50+ may have more assets than younger couples but they often have more debt. They generally have retirement accounts that have to be individually evaluated and divided equitably. To divide some retirement plans, such as a 401(k), a specific court order is required.
  • Social Security: Although Social Security benefits are not divided by the divorce court, it is important for each party to know the amount they expect to get at retirement. If a couple has been married at least 10 years, an ex-spouse may collect benefits based on the other spouse’s record without affecting the primary beneficiary.

With so many financial issues that need resolution, 50+ divorcing couples need the assistance of an experienced family law attorney to help them through the divorce process.

Modification of Child Support

child support modificationThe divorce is over and the final orders have been signed. The formerly married couple is now ready to begin their lives as single parents. Then, circumstances change and one or the other of them wants to make changes to the court order concerning child support. Under Georgia law, either parent can petition the court for modification of child support if certain criteria are met.

Criteria for modification of a child support order

According to Georgia law, a parent can only petition the court for a modification of a child support order if there has been “a substantial change in either parent’s income and financial status or the needs of the child.” Some changes in circumstances that qualify include:

  • The paying parent involuntary losses his or her job.
  • The paying parent becomes too ill to work.
  • Either parent receives additional income due to remarriage, promotion at work or even winning the lottery.
  • The needs of the child change.
  • The child moves in with the paying parent.
  • There has been a change in the law governing the calculation of child support.

A petition for modification may only be filed every two years unless certain exceptions apply. The burden is on the parent who files the petition for modification to prove that circumstances have changed to such a substantial degree since the final order was entered that a modification is warranted. If the court agrees the evidence supports the request for modification, and that the modification is in the best interest of the child, it will issue an official and binding court order.

When paying parents lose their job or have income reduction

If paying parents involuntarily lose their jobs, or suffer a 25 percent reduction in income, a petition for modification can be immediately filed even if it has not been two years since a previous modification request. The court may make a temporary order reducing the amount of child support until a full hearing can take place.

Informal agreements are not binding

Ex-spouses who are co-parenting sometimes enter into informal agreements concerning modification of child support without court involvement. Such agreements are not binding and have no legal effect unless they are filed with the court and signed by the judge. This can create problems for either parent. If the receiving parent informally agrees to a reduction in child support payments, that parent can still go the court and ask for the original order to be enforced. If the paying parent agrees to increase the amount and then does not do so, since the increase was not ordered by the court, there is no way for the receiving parent to enforce it.

Attorney fees and court costs

Under the Georgia Family Code, the court has the discretion to award attorney fees and other costs of litigation to the prevailing party if the court determines that such an order would be in the “interests of justice.”

Whether you are a custodial or noncustodial parent, an experienced family law attorney can assist you with filing a petition for modification of a child support order or assist you in challenging a request for modification.

Family-Owned Businesses

familly owned businessAccording to the Small Business Administration (SBA), family owned businesses account for between 80 and 90 percent of all large and small businesses in the country. Even so, barely one-third of them carry over into the next generation, often due to discord and lack of planning.

Many experienced business consultants have suggestions for keeping a family business alive and thriving well into the second and third generations. The main recommendation that is found consistently is to treat the business like a business, not like an extension of the family. Some specific recommendations include:

  • Have a written business plan: The business must have a written business plan with goals articulated and a mission defined so that all members are in agreement about the purpose of the business. The plan should include details of how the business will be passed on to the next generation.
  • Define the roles: The role of each family member participating in the business should have his or her duties specifically articulated. The compensation should be in writing as well as how the ownership shares will be divided. Anything that would be written for non-family member employees should also be written for family members.
  • Establish a chain of command: The decision making hierarchy needs to be clear. Employees often resent being told what to do by a family member the employee does not report to. Also, family members need to be aware of who in the hierarchy they report to so that one family member does not overstep his or her authority by “bossing around” another one.
  • Set boundaries: When family members mix their personal lives with their work lives, it is too easy for them to continuously “talk shop” or bring their personal problems from home to work with them. As much as possible, there should be boundaries set. Shop talk should be reserved for the workplace and family problems worked out at home.
  • Treat all workers fairly: It is easy to either favor family members over non-family members, or to go overboard trying to avoid favoritism to a degree that family members are not treated fairly. The same work standards and required qualifications should apply to all employees whether family members or not.
  • Treat all employees equally: All employees should have the same pay scale, work schedules and opportunity for advancement. Avoid giving a family member a “sympathy” job based only on the fact that the person is a family member. Employment should not be based on the family relationship, but because the family member has the qualifications necessary to do the job.

Communicate, communicate, communicate: One consistent piece of advice is to maintain communication. This is true in any business, but family business relationships take on a dynamic that makes clear communication even more important. Regularly scheduled weekly meetings are an excellent feature to establish where all employees, including family members, feel free to express their concerns so disagreements can be solved before they fester out of control.

Modification of Property Division in Divorce

propery divisionGeorgia law is clear concerning the modification of a final judgment concerning an equitable division of property in a divorce case. It cannot be done. Although some final orders, such as those for alimony, child custody, child support and visitation may be modified based on a change in circumstances, a change in circumstances does not allow for the modification of a final property division order.

The Georgia Supreme Court made it clear nearly two decades ago that a final judgment of divorce that resolved all issues regarding property division cannot be modified simply because one asset was not divided. There is one narrow exception to the rule provided for in Georgia statutes: If the judgment was based on “fraud, accident, or mistake or the acts of the adverse party unmixed with the negligence or fault of the movant…” the final order may be set aside.

Elements of fraud for setting aside a final judgment

It is not easy to have a final judgment set aside due to fraud. The party seeking to set aside the judgment must prove:

  • The adverse party made a false statement of fact.
  • The party who made the statement knew or should have known that the statement was false.
  • The statement was made specifically to make the other party rely upon it.
  • The aggrieved spouse reasonably relied upon the false statement.

The adverse party may claim that there was no way he or she could have known the fact relied upon by the other party was false. Even if the statement was false, the adverse party may also claim there was no intent to deceive, or that the allegedly false statement was an opinion, not a fact. Finally, there may be a challenge that the complaining spouse should have known not to rely upon the statement and should have conducted an independent investigation.

Setting aside a judgment for fraud is easier when marital assets existed at the time of the final judgment but were intentionally not disclosed by one spouse. It may also be set aside if it can be proved that one spouse deliberately deceived the other about the value of an asset, such as the amount of money in a retirement account.

Consequences of having a final order set aside

If the ex-spouse is successful in setting aside the order for property division, the entire divorce judgment will be set aside. If the spouse who asked for the judgment to be set aside received property, the property must be returned and the entire property settlement will be adjudicated anew.

Since the final judgment of divorce does not allow for modification of a property settlement, and the standard for setting aside the judgment is difficult to meet, the ideal approach is to be sure the settlement is done right the first time. Both parties should consult a family law attorney who can help.  If you have further questions and need help please contact me.

DO YOU NEED A LAWYER TO PROTECT YOUR BUSINESS FROM FACEBOOK’S LATEST CHANGES?

Facebook articleThere are many of us nowadays that use Facebook not only as a social tool, but also a tool to promote our businesses.  And as you know, Facebook has recently updated its terms of service and data use policy.  As a result of these updates, there has been an absolute uproar with customers’ concerns over content ownership and the prospect of privacy invasions.  Should our fears be valid?  The answer to me appears to be a resounding “NO”.

Experts in intellectual property law are telling us that only one of these latest updates is substantive, i.e., Facebook’s agreement NOT to unilaterally change its terms of service in the future without prior notification; all the other updates appear to be merely cosmetic in an attempt to reduce clutter.

For all of us who just checked “Agreed” to Facebook’s terms of service when we signed up and never took the time to read the terms themselves (which includes me), here are some of the most relevant:

 

  1. You own all of the content you post on Facebook.
  2. By posting on Facebook, you give Facebook permission to use any and all content free of charge.
  3. You can revoke Facebook’s permission to use content by deleting the content from Facebook or by deleting your account, unless the content has been shared by someone else.
  4. If you delete an individual photo, Facebook deletes that photo.
  5. When you share a photo other than an active profile photo (which can be seen by everyone on or off of Facebook), you can control who sees it, even if one of the Facebook “friends” shares it.
  6. If you comment on someone else’s post or photo, they control who sees it.
  7. You can control whether search engines off of Facebook, such as Google, can link to your profile.
  8. No matter what anyone tells or tries to sell you, you cannot see who has viewed your profile – Facebook is not LinkedIn.

 

Facebook seems to be safe (enough) for now. . . . . .

Your Business and Year-End

Year end pic for blogAs the year draws to a close, many business owners meet with their accountants and focus on tax planning issues. There are other factors to analyze that will assist in ending 2014 in a positive way while focusing on improving success in 2015. Many advisors recommend business owners add the following topics to their end-of-year accountant meetings.

  1. Review the financial results of your business and compare it with the same year-to-date results from the previous year. Use these figures to evaluate your success and make a plan for improvement in 2015.
  2. If you have not already done so, set up a system to track your success. You should be able to tell how much profit is generated by each dollar that comes in from sales.
  3. Compare your profits to those of other similar businesses within your industry. The information is important to help you know how to plan for 2015.
  4. Consider what resources you need to grow your business in 2015. Do you need to invest in new equipment or hire new people? Will you have cash shortages? Do you need a business loan?
  5. Evaluate whether debts have been made on time and if not, will that be a problem for you in getting any necessary business loan. If so, work with your accountant to help you rectify the problem.
  6. Analyze whether equipment you purchased or people you hired in 2014 have given you the return in the investment that you expected.
  7. Schedule quarterly meetings with your accountant for 2015. Discussions should center on cash flow and improving profitability.
  8. Determine the value of your business. Business owners are advised to frequently assess the value of the business if it had to be sold. This generally considers cash flow and earnings as they compare with other businesses in the same industry.
  9. Identify and evaluate strengths and weaknesses from 2014. Make a plan for overcoming the weaknesses while emphasizing and improving on the strengths for 2015.
  10. If you have thought about changing the structure of your business, such as forming a partnership or a type of corporation, the end of the year is a good time to do that so that you start the new year with the new structure in place.