How the New Tax Bill Will Affect Divorcing Couples

March 2nd, 2018

Couples can be overwhelmed by the number of issues that arise during a divorce. From creating a workable parenting schedule to dividing assets and the payment of support, getting a divorce can be complicated and stressful.

New legislation recently passed by Congress has created additional special concerns for divorcing spouses. Among other modifications, “The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” has made significant changes to divorcing individuals who have minor children, pay or receive alimony, or wish to take advantage of the benefits of the head of household filing status.

Like divorce, taxes—and tax law in particular—can be complex. With the help of a great divorce mediator, you and your family can navigate the new changes to the tax laws while saving time and money by avoiding traditional divorce litigation.

6 Ways “The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” Can Affect Your Divorce

The changes contained in “The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” can create special concerns for divorcing spouses in 6 basic ways:

  1. No more tax exemption for children
  2. The Child Tax Credit is doubled to $2,000 per child under age 17
  3. The phase-out for the Child Tax Credit is now much higher ($200,000) and therefore there are now more couples eligible to negotiate who gets the credit
  4. The head of household filing status is now more advantageous
  5. All agreements and divorces signed in 2018 and not modified in subsequent years fit under the old alimony rules, namely that alimony is deductible by the payor and taxable income to the payee
  6. Agreements, divorces and modifications signed after December 31, 2018 will not have alimony be deductible by the payor or taxable to the payee

Parents of minor children: tax exemptions and the Child Tax Credit
The new law will eliminate the dependency exemption for children while modifying the Child Tax Credit in two ways. First, parents of children under the age of 17 will now receive a $2,000 credit for each child, doubling the previous credit of $1,000 per child. Second, the phase-out amount for Child Tax Credit eligibility has been increased to $200,000, expanding the number of families who are eligible and allowing more parties to use the Child Tax Credit as a negotiating tool during mediation.

Taking advantage of the head of household status
Being able to qualify for head of household status is even more advantageous under the new tax law, thanks in part to a higher standard deduction. To qualify for head of household status, you must be unmarried or considered unmarried at the end of the year, in addition to paying more than half the cost of maintaining your home for the year and have one or more qualifying dependents who have lived with you for at least half of the year.

Your divorce mediator can help you explore how the head of household status can be used to best advantage in your situation.

Alimony Deduction will be eliminated
One of the most significant implications of the new tax law for divorcing couples is the change in the way alimony is taxed and deducted.

Alimony—also known as spousal support or maintenance—is money paid by one party (typically the higher-earning spouse) to the other. The purpose of the payments is to help the lower-income spouse adjust to life post-divorce: examples of how alimony can be used include obtaining housing, purchasing a car, or receiving an education or job training to help the party become self-sufficient. Alimony can be paid out in different intervals—though typical arrangements require monthly payments—and can be paid either for a set amount of time or indefinitely (until remarriage or death).

Previously, alimony payments were deductible by the payor spouse and were taxed as income for the payee spouse. Under the new legislation, however, a spouse who pays alimony no longer receives a tax deduction and the alimony payments are no longer reportable by the payee.

The new tax legislation with respect to alimony only applies to those couples who enter into an agreement or obtain a divorce after December 31, 2018 which makes the timing of your divorce especially important.

Agreements and modifications signed after December 31, 2018 will not have alimony be deductible by the payor or taxable to the payee. It remains to be seen what changes, if any, will be made to the existing laws regarding spousal support in New York given this significant change in the tax law. Your mediator will help you understand how this impacts your settlement.

Understanding what the new tax legislation means for your family
While the tax legislation can create special concerns for divorcing couples, it’s important for the spouses to work together to try to mitigate some of the challenges under the new law. An experienced mediator can help the couple better understand what the new tax legislation means for their family and help them to find a solution that is mutually advantageous.

To Sell or Not To Sell – That is The Question

February 8th, 2018

One of the hardest decisions facing divorcing couples is whether to sell their marital home or not. If you are in this position, this is the optimum time to consider your options.

Spring is fast approaching, and that is the time of year considered by many to be the best time to sell a home. Why? After a long, cold, dreary winter, spring brings uplifting changes. The grass is beginning to green, the trees are budding, bulbs are blooming and birds are chirping. Everything looks better in the spring, and that adds to curb appeal. Buyers who have children, generally begin their search for a new home in the spring, as they want to close before the new school year begins in September. It is also a good time for sellers to list their home, as it enables their children to finish the current school year.

If you find yourself faced with the decision to possibly sell your home, now is the time to make that decision. If you do decide to sell, you’ll want to leave yourself enough time to make any repairs or cosmetic updates to the home to ready it for sale. Today real estate brokers talk about “staging” your home to make it more marketable. This generally includes a good clean up, purging the home of clutter, and removing photos and personal items that make the home unique to you and maybe a fresh coat of paint here and there. Even if you do not intend to get rid of any of your furniture after the sale, you might consider putting some of the unnecessary or overly bulky pieces in storage for a time to make the home feel more spacious.

You might want to talk to a real estate broker in your area to get a sense of the realistic value of your home, and how to price it. A broker can also recommend ideas for staging, and affordable cosmetic changes that will add value to your home.

If you have made the decision to sell, then it is not too soon to get your home ready to list as soon as possible.

What if you either haven’t decided on whether to sell or not, or disagree on the decision? Then this is the time to get the right kind of help to enable you to make a sound decision. Some people consult their accountant to go over budgets, and look at the financial costs of keeping the home. This certainly can be helpful but is just a starting point

Turning to a mediator can help you look at the pros and cons in other regards as well. Does one of you want to buy out the other, and is that feasible? Do you want to stay partners in the home, with one of you living there with your children for a period of time?  How does that work? Is it even financially possible? Your mediator can help you look at creative arrangements that might help make that possible. Sometimes, after exploring all possible options, there is no other choice but to sell. That decision is often more acceptable when the reality of the situation is explained by a neutral third party.

Some of the things to take into consideration when selling is whether to list the home privately, or with a real estate broker. When researching real estate brokers, explore what you can expect from them. Some things to consider are how much is his/her commission? Most brokers charge a percentage of the purchase price of the home as a commission. This can range from as little as 2% to 5 or 6% in some areas. Are there differences in a broker’s services? Will he/she arrange to have prospective purchasers pre-approved, and bring only qualified buyers to view your home? Will he/she personally supervise the showing your home? Will he/she have one or more “Open House’ showings for your home, and if so, how often? Where will your home be advertised? Will your broker use print ads, internet listings, or both? Will your broker arrange for photographs to be used as a “Virtual Tour” of your home? How familiar is he/she with your town and what is his/her track record for selling homes in your area? A qualified broker will be happy to give you answers to these or whatever other questions you might have.

In making the decision to sell, or to stay in your home, it is important to consider market conditions. Is it presently a seller’s or buyer’s market? The new tax law has limited what taxpayers are eligible to deduct for real estate expenses on their tax returns. Under the new law only $10,000 in real estate taxes are deductible. If your taxes are two or more times that amount, it might make the home less affordable to you in the future.  Currently, it is too early to know how this will affect the values of homes in your area, but it is something to consider.

On the other hand, if you are renting a portion of your home, or have the ability to rent in the future, your home may be a very reasonable place to house your children, at least until they graduate.

As you can see, there are many considerations that go into your decision whether to sell the house or not. For most couples, it can feel overwhelming. If you need help with these, and other important choices you are facing, call a mediator. We can help get you on the right path by exploring all the options available that may not be apparent.

How Divorce Mediation Can Help Contentious Spouses

December 20th, 2017

Divorce mediation is a growing trend among married couples of all ages; its rising popularity is due largely to the fact that, when compared to traditional litigation, it saves time and money while preserving the relationship between the parties.

Despite its growing numbers of advocates, misconceptions about divorce mediation still exist. Perhaps one of the most common misconceptions is that mediation is only effective for those rare couples who get along well and already agree on most major issues.

Not only is this misconception wrong, but it fails to understand the purpose of mediation and the ways it benefits even the most contentious spouses. One of the reasons that divorce mediation works so well for couples that don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye on various aspects of their divorce is also one of the biggest positive characteristics of the mediation process: mutually agreed-upon compromise. Further, the purpose of mediation—and the reason that parties decide to engage in the process—is dispute resolution. If the parties did not have a dispute about an issue, then there would be no reason for mediation to occur!

Even the most conflicted couples can benefit from the divorce mediation process and the services of an experienced divorce mediator: by understanding the differences between mediation and litigation, how a mediator can help spouses who are at odds, how to choose the right mediator, and simple tips to help your mediation be successful, you and your spouse will be in the best position possible to reach an amicable resolution.

Litigation can worsen tensions between hostile spouses

Although divorce litigation is viewed as the traditional route for couples who are parting ways, it can increase tensions between the parties and make already contentious spouses even less civil for several reasons.

First, litigation is adversarial in nature. As such, parties tend to think that there is a “winner” and a “loser”; for couples who are already assigning blame and fault to each other, the desire to “win” the divorce can sometimes prevent the parties from acting in their own self-interest.

Second, traditional divorce litigation is a lengthy process. Some divorces can take several years of bitter litigation before concluding: this delays the parties from finding closure and prolongs the stress and negative emotions that both parties and their families are already experiencing.

Third, litigating your divorce in court is expensive. While the divorce litigation drags on, the cost of the divorce continues to increase. Because money is usually already a point of contention in most divorces, having a lengthy and expensive litigation will only make the spouses even less likely to get along.

Further, because the outcome of litigation is decided by a judge, and because of the idea that one side “wins” and the other side “loses,” there is a good chance that one or both parties will attempt to modify some portion of the judge’s decision. This aspect is often overlooked by couples who are considering litigation: if one party feels that the judge’s ruling was unfair or is unhappy with the outcome of the litigation, this typically leads to more litigation in the future which wastes even more time and money!

Overall, traditional divorce litigation is not necessarily the ideal route for contentious couples to take and should be the last choice, even if there are major differences of opinion on how certain issues should be resolved, not the first choice!

How mediation benefits warring couples

Divorce mediation, on the other hand, can help ease tensions between the spouses, save time and money, and is more likely to result in an outcome with which both parties are satisfied.

In mediation, each spouse is able to raise their concerns in an informal setting to a neutral third-party mediator. The mediation is more informal and not adversarial in nature. The mediator does not have the power to issue a binding order on the parties (unlike a judge), so it reduces the “winner” and “loser” mentality and primes the couple for more of a compromise mentality.

Also, since the separation agreement only contains the provisions that both parties agreed on, they are less likely to be unhappy with the outcome and have to revisit the divorce through modification.

Another significant benefit of divorce mediation is that it is considerably faster than traditional litigation. The quick process helps reduce the amount of time and money wasted which often ratchets down the tension between the parties significantly.

How a good mediator can bridge the gap between antagonistic parties

Choosing an experienced and knowledgeable divorce mediator is a crucial step in the success of your mediation.

An effective mediator can help previously contentious parties find common ground and encourage a solution-based approach that avoids blame and lessens tension. A mediator who is experienced mediating contentious divorces will know how to keep the parties calm, focused, and remain reasonable about even the toughest issues.

Choosing the right mediator for your divorce

Divorce, by its very nature, is contentious. The high emotions, major life changes, and significant financial consequences that stem from a divorce are all extremely stressful and upsetting. Especially in cases where the divorce stems from infidelity or is one-sided, having a mediator who can defuse escalating situations and encourage the parties to communicate in a fact-based, rather than fault-based way, can be an invaluable asset.

Your mediator should have superior communication skills. They should be able to listen carefully to each party’s side and be able to reframe each side’s argument to increase the effectiveness of the spouses’ communication. They should also be able to explain complex areas of law in a way that is simple and easy to understand.

Your mediator should also have a thorough knowledge of divorce law in your state. While it’s not a requirement for mediators to be family lawyers, many are because of their education, professional experience, and familiarity with the state statutes. Further, your mediator should have not only general experience with divorce mediation, but specific experience with couples who are querulous.

Picking a mediator who can stay neutral and unbiased helps encourage each side to be open to communication and reduces the risk of one party feeling that the mediation is too one-sided.

Tips on ensuring your divorce mediation is a success

There are some simple steps you can take to increase the likelihood of your mediation being a success:

  • Hire a competent and qualified divorce mediator with which both parties are comfortable
  • Actively participate in the process
  • Be open to compromise
  • Know what you want before the mediation begins
  • Bring pertinent documents—mortgage, tax returns, bank statements, etc.—with you and know what information these documents contain
  • Don’t feel rushed to agree to terms: take your time to decide
  • Be realistic and practical
  • Understand the issues
  • Maintain control of your emotions as much as possible
  • Don’t lose sight of how an adversarial stance can negatively impact your children
  • Remember that mediation can be positive for both parties and look for win-win solutions

Ultimately, the key to having a successful divorce mediation lies both in the skills of the mediator and the ability of the parties to act in their own best interest: reaching an equitable divorce settlement that is fair while saving time and money and preserving the relationship of the parties for the future.

5 Myths About Divorce Mediation

November 1st, 2017

When spouses agree to divorce, it is a stressful and emotional time for the whole family. Litigating a divorce is time-consuming, expensive, and exhausting: as the cost and amount of time invested rises, typically so do the tensions and animosity between the spouses. Especially in cases involving minor children, a long contentious court battle can often cause irreparable damage to the relationships between the family members.

Increasingly, more families are looking for better ways to separate without the stress, animosity, cost, and time-commitment of litigation. One great option that has been steadily gaining in popularity over the years is the process of mediation. Divorce mediation is a type of alternative dispute resolution where a neutral third-party divorce mediator helps guide the parties towards a legally binding and enforceable divorce agreement that is fair and workable for both parties, rather than placing such important issues in the hands of an anonymous judge whose order may not best represent the interest of both parties. Divorce mediation is typically much faster than a traditional court proceeding: by avoiding potentially dozens of hours in the courtroom, couples can greatly reduce the cost of divorce as well as the stress of litigation, without sacrificing the enforceability of a legally binding agreement.

Despite its many benefits, some clients are hesitant to engage in divorce mediation because they do not understand exactly what divorce mediation is, what it accomplishes, and how it can spare the parties the emotional strain of an adversarial proceeding. This article debunks 5 common myths about divorce mediation to help you better understand how a New York divorce mediator can help you and your spouse reach a separation agreement that is best for your family.

Myth 1: You can get a divorce for $399

One of the biggest misconceptions about divorce mediation is that it is unnecessary because couples can get a divorce relatively easy with little cost. This myth is perpetuated by dubious advertisements that promise a fast divorce for a small fee: the idea that a divorce can be obtained simply for a small fee, such as $399, is not only false, it misrepresents the overall expense involved in an adversarial divorce proceeding and misleads consumers about the amount and quality of legal guidance they will receive in exchange for their hard-earned money.

Typically, when you see advertisements claiming that you can get a “quick and simple” divorce for $399 (or similar), there are a few important caveats that the ads fail to mention. First, you can’t obtain a divorce without the consent and signature of your spouse. Second, the advertised fee only pays for a non-lawyer to complete the paperwork for you: not only does the fee not include the services of a licensed attorney, the filing fees in many cases are the same or more than the advertised price of the divorce. Third, after payment of the fee, you are left to complete the filing of your paperwork, service of process, and court appearances on your own.

While a simple flat-rate for a divorce sounds like an affordable and convenient solution, unfortunately the services and help you receive after paying the fee is virtually non-existent. With an experienced and qualified New York divorce mediator, however, you can greatly reduce the cost of an average divorce proceeding without sacrificing the quality of services or being left to complete the majority of the work yourself.

Myth 2: Mediation doesn’t result in a legally binding agreement

Some clients may be hesitant to attempt mediation because they mistakenly think that only a court order issued by a judge is legally binding.

While mediation is not binding until the parties agree upon and sign a separation agreement, once the agreement is signed, the terms contained within are just as binding as if the case had been decided by a judge in court. Think of mediation as a series of discussions; each side may present terms and, with the help of a mediator, a compromise is agreed upon and entered into as an agreement by both parties. Just like a court order, if one party fails to fulfill the terms of the separation agreement there are legal consequences and actions you can take to enforce the agreement.

Myth 3: Your mediator will decide what is fair if you can’t agree

The role of the mediator is to help the parties communicate, maintain focus of the dialogue on productive and solution-oriented results, and guide the spouses towards an agreement that works best for the family as a whole. Your mediator is not a judge and, therefore, does not have the legal authority to decide the terms of your divorce for you.

One of the great benefits of mediation is that it allows the parties to retain control of the outcome, rather than having their fate decided for them by a judge. The parties are able to present their own terms and work together to reach an agreement that both can agree on.

Myth 4: Mediation is only for easy cases

Another common misconception about mediation is that it is only for simple cases. Mediation is a great tool for all types of divorce cases, regardless of the complexity of the issues involved. In fact, parties with complex cases benefit the most from mediation; by choosing to mediate the issues in dispute, the spouses avoid a lengthy and costly court case that can increase stress and contentions between the parties. Complex issues are also best solved by mediation because of the informality and flexibility of the process. Rather than having a judge decide terms that may disadvantage one spouse or even both spouses, in mediation the agreement is as good as the parties’ participation in the process and often prevents later disputes that can arise from court orders that are too one-sided.

Myth 5: You have to be amicable and agree on everything to mediate

Finally, mediation is not reserved for couples who agree on all the issues relating to their divorce. If the couple were able to agree on all the terms of their divorce, mediation wouldn’t be necessary!

Mediation is designed to help facilitate communication between the parties so that it is easier for them to come to an agreement. A good mediator will be able to listen to both spouse’s needs and concerns while helping to craft a separation agreement that represents the interests of both parties.

Divorce Mediation Professionals: helping New York families mediate for 30 years

At Divorce Mediation Professionals, we understand that divorce is a difficult and stressful time. Our team of experienced mediators can help your family avoid the expense and lengthy process of traditional court proceedings through mediation. To hear more about our services or to schedule your consultation at our Nassau county, Suffolk county, Westchester county, or Manhattan office, contact us today at

Banish the Guilt

October 2nd, 2016

Regrets? You’re not alone

bigstock-guilt-123830990By Barbara Badolato, LCSW

The process of ending a marriage can bring up a range of feelings, including anger, frustration and even grief. One emotion that often catches us by surprise is guilt, and it’s the most unproductive and insidious of them all.

In addition to all of the regrets regarding the marriage itself, many of us feel remorse for the divorce’s impact on the children. We can feel guilty about some or all of these circumstances:

·      Breaking up the family

·      Causing the kids to change residences

·      Having less money to spend on vacations and other fun activities

·      Destroying the image of the “perfect family”

·      Hurting your spouse

·      Creating anxiety in the children

·      Withdrawing from friends and family as you cope through this difficult process

Although guilt is a perfectly normal reaction to ending a marriage, it’s one that many can get stuck on, and there’s frankly nowhere to go with it. Mistakes were made on both sides, but focusing on the past will only impede your ability to move on.

What’s needed is a shift in perspective.

Instead of focusing on what you and your children no longer have, try thinking about what you’ve gained:

·      Personal happiness

·      Peace in your home

·      A closer relationship with your children

·      A chance to redefine yourself and your life

·      Time to flex your independence muscles

·      The opportunity to demonstrate what a healthy relationship looks like

It’s normal to feel guilt. It’s a common emotion for many going through divorce and those guilt feelings should pass as you work through the divorce process. Sometimes, however, extreme or prolonged guilt can cause emotional problems such as anxiety or depression.  If you are experiencing feelings of hopelessness or if the activities of daily life are becoming too difficult to accomplish, I urge you to seek the help of a mental health professional.

You should not go through this difficult time alone.  You might find it helpful to join a support group or seek the help of a qualified therapist to help process the difficult feelings you might be struggling with.

Remember: Your marriage ended for a reason, likely for several reasons. With the right kind of help and with the passage of time, you and your children can thrive, and you all can be happy again.