While income equality is more of a reality today than just a few decades ago, the fact is, many women still earn less than men. In the event of divorce, family law judges seek to equitably divide assets and establish support payments were necessary.
However, our Brooklyn divorce lawyers are well aware that far too often, women become financial victims in these situations. Ensuring that divorce settlements are fair - or more than fair - requires an experienced attorney who is emotionally removed from the turmoil.
One of the primary mistakes made by divorcing spouses (of both genders) is focusing too heavily on alimony, also known as spousal maintenance. Of course, there is nothing wrong with asking the question or with insisting that such payments be made. This is particularly true if the spouse making the inquiry has foregone career opportunities (or a career altogether) in favor of staying home to raise children or helping the other spouse to advance his career.
But here's the problem: Almost always, alimony is temporary. It's not a long-term solution to achieving self-reliance or long-term financial security. First, there is always the possibility the ex-spouse will abscond and simply not make payments. Or, he could become disabled, rendering him unable to work. He might die. All of these factors should be considered when weighing what other elements require focus.
Sometimes, provisions can be written into divorce agreements to allow payments for tuition or other educational training, which might help bolster your viability in the job market.
There should also be ample consideration for health insurance coverage and receiving a fair share of the pension/retirement fund.
Another common mistake is focusing too much on the house. This often proves one of the most self-defeating decisions in property settlements. There may be an emotional attachment to the property. They may believe keeping the children in the same home allows for greater stability as they make this difficult transition. While there is nothing inherently wrong with keeping the house, far too many people focus on this aspect without considering some of the more negative aspects. For one thing, many homes are underwater in the wake of the housing crisis. A home that is worth less than what's owed will quickly become a money pit. Beyond that, affording not just the mortgage but the maintenance on a home can become extremely difficult when household incomes are divided.
Consider too that even if you can afford the house, payments and maintenance may preclude you from setting aside any meaningful savings which, again, can help to ensure long-term financial security.
We often encourage exploring whether a home sale - with an equitable division of profits or debts - makes more financial sense.
Finally, one of the best ways to ensure you don't become a financial victim in a divorce is to plan properly. While it may seem one is never fully "ready" for a divorce, there are steps you can take to put yourself in a better position. Those measures include having access to funds and credit. Additionally, each party will want to make sure they can readily access important documents, such as checking account statements, tax returns, property deeds, vehicle titles, etc. Also, each party needs to know what they own - and what their spouse owns and owes.
Talking through all of this with an experienced divorce lawyer prior to filing will help ensure you are financially prepared for the next chapter of your life as an independent person.
If you are contemplating a divorce in Brooklyn, call our offices at (718) 864-2011.
How Women Can Keep From Making Themselves Victims in Divorce, Sept. 4, 2014, By Laura Mattia, Baron Financial Group
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