The Divorced Person’s Guide to Social Security

Divorce LawMost young couples marry in full anticipation of growing old together. But life is complicated. Sometimes, as couples grow older, they grow apart rather than together. And, sometimes, they divorce. Among the many things that must be considered in a divorce, it is important to think about the future-including retirement in general, and Social Security benefits in particular. What effect, if any, does divorce have on these benefits?

In order to answer this question, first we must consider the benefits to which married persons are entitled under Social Security. Married persons have the right to apply for:

Benefits based on their own contributions to Social Security over their lifetimes;
Spousal benefits based on their spouse’s contributions to Social Security, so long as they are at least 62 years of age and their spouse is receiving (or is eligible to receive) benefits. This sum can equal as much as half the amount of the spouse’s retirement benefit; and Survivors’ benefits based on their deceased spouse’s contributions to Social Security. This sum can equal the full amount of the deceased spouse’s benefit.

Using Mediation in a Divorce Agreement

When couples get divorced it’s usually not a happy situation. Even the friendliest exes may disagree over the way things are being handled. And that’s where mediation may be appropriate.

Mediation is when both parties in the divorce come together in the same room to talk and make their own decisions about how to handle the divorce and what to do next, with the help of a neutral third party called a mediator.

Mediating as soon as possible is important, before communication breaks down and negativity and distrust is the norm.

Divorces that occur in Iowa will sometimes require a mediator if it is deemed necessary by a judge. Either party involved in the divorce may also request mediation at any point during the proceedings. Iowa is a no-fault state as well as an equitable distribution state. The court will divide most property, with a few exceptions, equally between the two parties with some considerations.

Mediation in a Divorce AgreementMediation is a private and confidential way to sit down calmly with the person you are getting divorced from. You should be able to communicate openly and honestly about your feelings, ask any questions you may have, and be able to talk directly to each other without outside influence.

Mediation is successful when couples reach a result that both parties agree with. Mutual agreement is a must.
Many people have doubts going into mediation; however statistics show that over 70% of couples who use mediation come out of it with an agreement. This allows people to save time, money and to feel good about the outcome of the mediation session.

The parties getting divorced get to choose the mediator they want to work with. Search through the roster of mediators available, then both parties should speak with a few different mediators to see if you think you would get along well. The chosen mediator should be acceptable to both parties in order to make an agreement more likely.

The amount of time that mediation will take is different for each situation. If the divorcing couple has only a few issues they need help resolving, mediation may take only a few hours. If mediation is necessary to resolve multiple issues, additional sessions may be needed. A typical mediation session lasts about two hours, however it is up to the couple to decide what topics need discussing, when the session is finished, and whether further sessions are needed.

The role of the mediator is to assist in communication between the two people who are divorcing. Many divorces can cause communication to be stressed and sometimes nearly impossible. A mediator facilitates the communication between the two parties in a calm, reasonable, rational and honest manner. Once all the outside noise is removed many times a couple can have an honest discussion. Mediators do not offer advice, opinions or recommendations to the court.

Any and all topics are up for discussion in mediation except one: neither party can discuss whether domestic abuse occurred.

Even with a mediator, it is recommended that each party also retain their own legal counsel. Their personal attorneys are welcome to attend mediation sessions, however they typically do not. Most attorneys meet with their clients before and after mediation sessions to advise and prepare their clients.

Even if an agreement is not the final outcome from mediation, many people feel much calmer and have a better understanding of not only the other person’s viewpoint, but also of where the proceedings are headed to next.

A final mediated agreement that both parties are willing to sign will then be typed up by the mediator or an attorney, and presented to a judge. Most likely after reading the agreement, the judge will accept it. After the judge authorizes the agreement it becomes an official legally-binding document, where if one party breaks the agreement the other party can return to court to have it enforced.

Who Benefits From ‘One-Day Divorce?’

The question about one-day divorce, or do-it-yourself divorce, is this: Is it a good thing or a bad thing?

I think the answer is “yes.”

One-day divorce is a relatively new option, limited in the U.S. so far to certain courts in California. The program, as The New York Times reported, does not actually start and end a divorce in the same day. But for couples who have met residency and notification requirements and filed the initial paperwork, the program helps get people through the legal system quickly when their divorce is relatively simple and uncontested. The eligibility requirements vary between jurisdictions, but for couples who meet them, the program is designed to alleviate long waits and potentially confusing court rules.

Just because it’s possible to divorce without attorneys, though, does not mean that it is always a prudent idea.

One-Day DivorceAlmost any financial planner will probably tell you that divorce of any kind is one of the most efficient destroyers of household wealth around. You instantly nearly double the cost of maintaining two adults by separating their households. Divorced individuals also lose the security that comes from having a second income stream, at least in the typical dual-income American household. Often, a divorce means you have to sell a residence or other assets at an inopportune or unwanted time. And in many cases, the operation of a family business is imperiled.

With all of these concerns in play, the legal fees can seem to add insult to injury. Such fees are often significant and are sometimes exorbitant, especially if there are highly contentious issues to be resolved such as the custody of children or the division of significant property. Few would blame a couple for looking at ways to lower or avoid them.

Still, nobody advises people to spend their lives in unhappy marriages for financial reasons. Many families find themselves better off when people who can’t live together happily chose to live separately instead. In the same way, I suspect few financial planners would advise pursuing a DIY divorce solely because it is cheaper.

Divorce, like marriage, is a significant financial transaction. And just as some marriages are best entered with a prenuptial agreement while others have no need, some divorces can only be prudently accomplished with the help of legal counsel while others could appropriately and cheaply be terminated quickly and on demand.

Until recently, the bar held the key to the divorce courthouse because judges and legislatures were unwilling to establish simplified procedures that were accessible to laypeople. Thankfully, that is changing. While California’s one-day program is so far unique, many states offer “simple” or “summary” divorce in cases in which the split is amicable and there are no minor children or disputed assets involved. The precise requirements vary from state to state, and while such divorces do typically involve attorneys, they may serve as a template from which a more accessible process might be developed.

Of course, many divorces must proceed the traditional way, and that will not change any time soon. Not only do couples with minor children or significant wealth need legal counsel, but there are cases in which one spouse may suspect the other will try to hide or lie about assets, or take other measures to pursue an unfair outcome. Where a prenuptial agreement exists, couples will often want a legal team capable of making sure the agreement is executed properly.

In cases where there are no children, no controversy and little in the way of assets, however, having each party hire a lawyer can simply be wasteful and time-consuming. It is good to see the legal system evolving to provide alternatives. Some state legal aid offices provide their own free divorce packets, while services likeĀ ApricotLaw provide document preparation for a fee that is still significantly less than the cost of retaining an attorney.

If you are considering a do-it-yourself divorce, ask yourself this question: Are you comfortable preparing your own tax return? If not, don’t even think about handling your own divorce filing. Same-sex couples should also be especially cautious because of the still-evolving legal status of their unions; an attorney’s advice may be essential.

If you feel comfortable proceeding, carefully weigh the pros and cons of a one-day or DIY divorce before you proceed. In some cases, a cheap divorce could turn out to be a lot more expensive than you expect.