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.


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.

Divorce After 50 | Grey Divorce | Atlanta Divorce Attorney

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 rate of divorce over 50 has doubled and now, one in four marriages of couples in that age group ends in what is also known as a grey divorce.

There are unique emotional issues that impact married couples over 50, but the biggest impact is in the financial area. Although division of assets and liabilities are part of every divorce, those nearing retirement age have less time to rebuild their nest egg.

For those who were unemployed during the marriage, but need to work after the grey divorce, there are fewer opportunities for them than there were when they were younger.

Divorce Over 50 Comes With Unique 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 empty nester 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 friends of both the husband and the wife. These emotions are normal, but need to be addressed in order to productively face the new life.

Grey Divorce 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 a 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 homeownership, such as tax savings, that they will lose.

Beginning 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 housing 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 Benefits: 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 divorce after 50 financial issues that need resolution, grey divorce couples need the assistance of an experienced family law attorney to help them through the divorce process. Atlanta divorce lawyer Nancy Ghertner has been helping senior citizens with divorce for almost 30 years.

Nancy understands the unique complications and emotional upset that surround a mature divorce, and she is here to listen to your side of the story, and fight for your legal and financial rights so you will feel secure in retirement.

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 Business Succession | Atlanta Business Lawyer

Family-Owned Business SuccessionAccording 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.

How to Keep Family-Owned Businesses Thriving

Many experienced business consultants, and also Atlanta business lawyers like Nancy Ghertner, 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” the others.
  • 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 they are 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 rather 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.

Call Family-Owned Business Lawyer in Atlanta Nancy N. Ghertner Today

Attorney Ghertner has almost 30 years of experience working with family members who are in business together. She can help you craft shareholder agreements, articles of incorporation and contracts, and employee agreements.

Modification of Property Division in a GA Divorce

GA modification of property 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 in GA

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 an Atlanta family law firm 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.

Co-Parenting During the Christmas Holidays

Pic for December BlogContrary to a popular song frequently heard during the holiday season, Christmas may not be the happiest time of the year for divorced parents and their children. While movies and even greeting card advertisements focus on families being together to celebrate the holidays, this generally is not the way it works for a family divided by divorce.

Parents struggle with balancing the interests of their children while they both want to spend time holiday time with them. This is true whether the holiday is Christmas, Kwanza or Chanukah, all of which are celebrated during December this year. Then, there is New Year’s falling closely behind. Although it will likely never be easy, there are a few things you and the other parent can do to make the holiday celebrations fun and less stressful for your children.

  1. Plan ahead for time. Have discussions with the children and the other parent and plan for when the children will be with each parent. Acknowledge with your children that things have changed and there is now a new way of doing things. Emphasize the positive parts of the plan. Be sure the plan is in keeping with your court order regarding holiday visitation.
  2. Plan ahead for gifts. Discuss with the other parent gift-giving to the children. Avoid duplication and competition with each other. Also, help the children choose or make a gift for the other parent.
  3. Compromise. If one parent wants to take the children on a holiday trip and the other wants to have the children on the specific holiday day, compromise. One parent could spend the actual holiday with the children and the one who takes the children on a vacation trip could arrange to leave the day after.
  4. Begin new traditions, but incorporate past ones when possible. You may still enjoy sitting by the fireplace and reading holiday stories or watching a holiday movie. Add something new like making a holiday dinner on a day other than the actual holiday.
  5. Relieve your children of guilt and acknowledge their disappointment. Children have conflicting emotions during the holiday season. They may feel guilty when they are having fun without one parent, or disappointed when they would prefer to be with the other parent. Let them know these feelings are normal. Also, be sure they know that you miss them, but encourage them to have fun even when they are not with you.

Your business and the end of the year

Year end tax prep picIf you are a business owner, you are probably searching for ways to save money on your state and federal taxes. It can be confusing since tax laws are complicated and change frequently. What was deductible last year may not be deductible this year. Ask your tax professional about whether any of these suggestions will benefit you and if he or she advises you to take advantage of any of them.

  1. Purchase equipment, supplies and software: Whether these expenses are totally or partially deductible changes each year so you need to check with your tax professional to determine what is allowable for the current tax year. Make all possible eligible purchases of necessary items by December 31 so you can include the deduction on your 2014 tax return.
  2. Review personal financial records to be sure that business expenses have been paid: It is common for owners of a small business, whether a partnership or sole proprietorship, to pay for some business expenses through personal checking or charge accounts. Sort through your personal receipts and cancelled checks and submit them for reimbursement from your business account.
  3. Submit expense accounts for yourself and your employees: Be sure all receipts for all business expenses incurred by you and your employees are submitted by the end of the day on December 31 so that you can claim all possible allowable business expenses.
  4. Make maximum contributions to employee retirement accounts: Employer contributions are tax deductible so be sure that, by year’s end, you have made the maximum allowable contributions.
  5. Treat employees and/or clients to a holiday party: Expenses for holiday parties are generally tax deductible, so you have the benefit of being a good guy and treating employees and clients to a party while, at the same time, deducting the costs from your taxes.
  6. Make a charitable contribution: You can give money as well as donate items. Both categories are tax deductible.

Before you take any action, be sure to discuss with your tax professional specific recommendations to be sure you are doing all you can to lessen the amount of your tax bill.

Thanksgiving and Parenting Time

Norman Rockwell PhotoDivorced parents often find it challenging to make plans for the Thanksgiving holiday. They want their children to enjoy the tradition they have always associated with the celebration, but the facts are, things have changed. The old ways for handling holidays no longer work for most people who are dealing with the new family structure.

The first step: check your court-ordered parenting plan. The plan is controlling and if it spells out specifically how the time will be divided, you must comply with the order. If the court order leaves it open for you to arrange with the other parent how the holiday will be divided, some suggestions from parents who have risen to the challenge may be helpful.

  1. First and foremost keep in mind what is in the best interest of the children. Consider what arrangements will best meet their needs. Do this without putting them in the position of choosing between parents.
  2. Many parents alternate holidays annually. One year the children spend Thanksgiving with one parent. The next year, with the other parent.
  3. Keep in mind that children are not as tied to a specific day or date as adults are. Children may enjoy two Thanksgiving dinners on two separate days. One parent can arrange to have the traditional dinner on Thanksgiving Day. The other parent can set aside another day over the Thanksgiving weekend holiday to celebrate.
  4. When discussing with your children how the holiday will be spent, focus on the time you will spend with them, not on the time they will spend away from you.
  5. Develop new traditions instead of trying to replicate the old ones. Spend the day with your children serving Thanksgiving dinner at a homeless shelter or delivering dinners to shut-ins.
  6. Do not compete with the other parent. Focus on the children and encourage them to enjoy the time with each parent.
  7. In communication with the other parent and the children, be sure the arrangements are clear as to what the holiday week-end plans entail. Specifically, what day and time will the children go from one place to the other and which parent will be dropping off and picking up.
  8. If the children spend the entire Thanksgiving holiday week-end with one parent, arrangements may be made for them to “visit” the other parent by Skype.

Some parents put aside their differences for the day and spend it together with their children. Just be sure that if you try this, you agree not to disagree or argue so that you do not end up spoiling the holiday for your children.