Financial Issues

  • Divorce and Social Security

    January 8, 2018

    Divorce is complicated; so is social security.  Divorce is a State issue; social security is a federal issue and is not affected by state divorce laws.  So, social security is not usually addressed in a Marital Settlement Agreement.

    If you have been married less than 10 years, you can only claim a Social Security benefit based on your own earnings.  You can pull a Social Security statement online to see your estimated benefits.

    If you have been married for at least 10 years, you can claim a Social Security benefit based on your spouse’s earning, if his or her Social Security benefits are higher than yours.  However, you are only entitled to 1/2 of the amount that your spouse would receive.  This will not diminish your spouse’s Social Security benefit.  In fact, one earner could have several ex-spouses collecting Social Security based on his or her income if each of those marriages lasted at least 10 years.

    If you are divorced, you can claim the spousal benefit even if your ex has not retired, so long as he or she is eligible for benefits and you have been divorced for at least two years.  But 100% of your own benefits may exceed 50% of your ex’s benefits.  When you sign up for Social Security, your SSA representative can compare the numbers for you.

    (*Information based on AARP Bulletin of March 2017)

    For more information on divorce, contact Risa A. Kleiner, Esq. at 609.951.2222 or by email at

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  • Alimony: Can I Get it? Must I Pay it?

    April 20, 2017

    Alimony is, by far, the thorniest issue in a divorce.  The first question I get in an initial consult is usually either: “Will I get alimony?”  or “Will I have to pay alimony?” depending on which spouse I am seeing.  The answer is always the same, however, “It depends.”

    The purpose of alimony is not to reward or punish, although it may seem so.  The purpose is to allow the dependent spouse to continue to pay his or her reasonable and necessary expenses that he or she may not be able to pay without assistance.  Often, in a marriage, one spouse is the primary breadwinner and the other takes on more of the child-related duties, sometimes giving up a more lucrative career to do so.  Upon divorce, it may not be possible for that spouse to re-capture lost opportunity and income – at least not right away.

    In a long-term marriage (20+ years), alimony is almost always awarded if there is a significant disparity in incomes. And that alimony is likely to be “open duration” in nature — that is, without a specific end date — unless the parties agree otherwise.  In a shorter marriage, the presumption is that alimony will last no longer than the length of the marriage.  Case law provides for modification of the amount of alimony if there is a significant change in the financial circumstances of either party, if the dependent spouse co-habits in a marriage-like relationship or if the payor spouse retires at age 67 or beyond.

    Fault has no bearing on whether a spouse receives alimony, unless the fault is economic (think, Bernie Madoff) or is so egregious that it affects life or death (think, hit-man).

    There are no alimony guidelines in NJ.  Each party prepares a budget reflecting the family’s monthly expenses during the marriage and their projected expenses upon separation.  The court (or a mediator, if you are in mediation) applies the income of the dependent spouse against his or her reasonable expenses and then looks to the other spouse to make up any shortfall.  In practice, this can be a complicated exercise as there is no clear outcome.

    The statute contain a list of factors that the court considers in awarding alimony.  These include: length of marriage, need and ability of parties to pay, standard of living during marriage, parties’ ages and health, time spent out of the workplace, educational and vocational skills.  Income can be imputed to under-employed spouses, In mediated or negotiated cases, parties often start alimony at one level and agree to reduce it when the dependent spouse has had sufficient time and experience to earn a higher income.

    Because there are no bright-line rules about the amount of alimony, it is advisable to consult with an experienced family law attorney who can review the specifics of your situation and provide the appropriate advice.

    For more information, contact Risa A. Kleiner, Esq. at 609.951.2222 or by email at

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  • ABC’s of Divorce

    March 14, 2016

    Here are some of the basic questions that are asked about divorce.

    Q: Can I get a divorce even if my spouse does not agree?

    A: Yes.  You do not need the consent of your spouse to get a divorce.

    Q: How long does it take to get a divorce?

    A: That depends on whether you and your spouse can reach agreement on the issues of custody, distribution of assets and debts and support.  In mediation, these issues are often resolved in 3-5 sessions over a few months.  In a litigated divorce, it may take more than a year for a court to address your issues.

    Q: How much does a divorce cost?

    A:  Again, it depends.  Litigated divorces are the most expensive as your attorney will spend much more time on formal discovery (exchange of documents), court appearances and perhaps a trial. At a rate that averages between $300 to $400 or more per hour for an experienced family law attorney, the fees grow quickly.  Mediation and Collaborative divorce are more amicable, take fewer hours and cost less.

    Q: Can I represent myself?

    A: The court system can be difficult to negotiate on your own.  Getting advice from an experienced family law attorney at the outset will help you decide if you can do it yourself or will need professional help.  The forms for filing a Complaint are online (njcourtsonline) but the forms are the least of it.  Knowing what to ask for and how to negotiate a reasonable settlement are skills honed by attorneys after much practice and experience.

    Q: Am I entitled to alimony?  Will I have to pay alimony?

    A:  The answer depends on the facts of your case — how long have you been married; how much does each party earn; how old are each of you; what is the marital lifestyle; can you support yourself without help from your spouse; are there children; does either party have health issues; what is your earning potential.  Alimony is often the thorniest issue to resolve.

    For more answers to basic questions, stay tuned for the next installment.

    For more information about mediation and Collaborative Divorce, contact Risa A. Kleiner, Esq. at 609.951.2222 or by email at

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  • Following the Collaborative Roadmap

    April 15, 2015

    Divorce is a life transition not just a legal event.  Every transition has a starting place and a destination. In the Collaborative Law process, the parties carefully assess where they are when they start the divorce process and where they want to be when it ends.

    Instead of spending time and money waiting for a judge to determine their future, Collaborative clients discuss their goals and interests.  This helps them craft a settlement that gets them to the destination they choose, not one which is chosen for them.

    To arrive at their chosen destination, Collaborative clients, with assistance from their Divorce Coach, Financial neutral and attorneys, follow a “Roadmap” – a planned journey — with consensual exchange of information — that allows them to make the best decisions for themselves and their children.

    You wouldn’t drive to a new destination without a GPS, a map or something to guide you along the way.  Neither should you “drive” yourself to a life after divorce without a Collaborative Roadmap to guide you along the way.  The steps include: 1. Signing onto the Process and Assembling the Team; 2. Gathering information regarding children and Finances; 3. Identifying Interests and Concerns; 4. Making Decisions; and 5. Finalizing and Implementing the Plan.

    Sound organized and rational?  It is. And best of all, the clients “drive” the process to reach their chosen destination in a respectful, non-adversarial and focused manner that saves angst and money.

    For further information on Collaborative Law, contact Risa A. Kleiner, Esq. at 609-951-2222 or by email at

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  • Married Households Decline in the U.S.

    March 13, 2015

    The percentage of married households in the U.S. has fallen to an historic low, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center. In 1960 72% of households consisted of two married adults.  In 2012, that number dropped to only 50.5%.

    Even more surprising is the divide between the more and less well educated.  Although 64% of college-educated Americans were married in 2011, fewer than 48% of those with some college or less were married.  In 1960, the two groups were about equal.

    Other studies have shown that married men and women tend to be much better off financially than those who are unmarried.  A 2012 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that while the median 65-69 year old married household had savings of $111,600, those in that age group who were single, had only $12,500.

    While having two incomes obviously contributes to greater savings, having a spouse and a family also appears to provide a greater incentive to create financial stability.


    For information about Collaborative Divorce and Mediation, contact Risa A. Kleiner, Esq. at 609.951.2222 or by email at

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  • NJ New Alimony Statute: 5 things you need to know

    October 10, 2014

    The new alimony statute in NJ has widespread consequences for pending divorces.  Here are 5 things you need to know about it.

    1. There is no longer any “permanent” alimony.  Previously, there was a presumption that alimony was going to continue until death, remarriage of the recipient or significant changed circumstances.  The word “permanent” has been replaced by “open durational” alimony and the presumption is that all alimony ends when the payor reaches his or her full Social Security age.

    2. Alimony cannot exceed the length of the marriage in marriages of less than 20 years.  Previously, even in short term marriages, the court could (and sometimes did) make lengthy or permanent alimony awards.

    3. The new alimony statute is NOT retroactive. If you are already divorced or have signed a settlement agreement, the terms to which you agreed or were ordered by a court will control.  If your Judgment allows for modification of alimony, however, the court may consider full social security age as a reasonable retirement age to end alimony.

    4.  Loss of employment for 90 days is sufficient to apply to reduce or terminate alimony.  Previously, courts required a showing that a loss of employment was a permanent change of circumstances.  The length of time that a payor needed to be out of work to meet this burden of proof was unclear.

    5. “Cohabitation” no longer requires actual living together as a basis to reduce or terminate alimony.  Instead, the court requires only a “mutually supportive, intimate, personal relationship” with “duties and privileges that are commonly associated with marriage.”

    The new Statute provides a long list of factors for the court to consider in determining or modifying alimony.  As the new law has not yet been tested in court decisions, its ultimate application is yet to be determined.  But it is clear that, overall, alimony will be of shorter duration and will likely not go beyond the payor’s full Social Security retirement age, except in unusual cases.

    For more information, contact Risa A. Kleiner, Esq. at 609.951.2222 or by email at

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  • Dividing Retirement Assets in Divorce

    July 28, 2014

    Dividing assets in a divorce can be easy (you take your car, I’ll take mine) or difficult (I want part of your 401k, but you can’t have any of my pension).  In NJ, the courts apply a list of factors to decide which asset each party receives.  While 50/50 is not a hard and fast rule, it is the most common division of most assets.

    Courts view retirement assets in the same way they view bank accounts, cars, houses and furniture.  If the asset was acquired during the marriage, each party is entitled to receive part of it in a divorce.  And that part is usually half.

    There is something personal about pensions and 401ks and IRAs.  Parties tend to feel that, if they had to get up every day and go to work to earn it, they should be able to keep it in a divorce.  Especially if they didn’t want the divorce in the first place.  But unless there is another asset to trade off against it, most pensions, IRAs, 401ks, 403bs and other retirement plans will be equalized in divorce.

    The division of tax-deferred assets is exempt from income taxes when it occurs as part of a divorce.  A special Order, known as a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO), can be drafted to divide qualified plans such as 401k accounts and pensions.  IRAs can be divided with a simple Transfer Order.  Funds can be rolled over from one party’s tax-deferred account to the other party’s tax-deferred account — all without tax penalties.  Pensions (whether or not vested) can also be divided by QDRO with payments divided as directed when the pension-holder retires.

    It is always wise to consult a family law attorney for advice on your specific case.  Gather plan documents in advance to make the meeting worthwhile.  Mediators and financial planners can also provide guidance in dividing these assets.

    For more information on mediation and collaborative divorce, contact Risa A. Kleiner, Esq. at 609.951.2222 or by email at

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  • Getting the Financial Help you Need in a Divorce

    March 11, 2014

    Every divorce involves a division of the family assets and debts.  How this division occurs will affect the future of both parties and their children.  So it is critical that both parties fully understand the consequences of their financial decisions.  How can you best address these issues?

    In the Collaborative process, a trained financial neutral is brought to the Team to assist the parties in reviewing their finances.  Both parties will share all their financial information and will provide information on their joint expenses.  The expert will provide various scenarios for distribution of assets and debts. This will take into consideration the needs, goals and interests of each party.  Tax consequences will also be considered.  Armed with full knowledge of the family investments and property, as well as the debts, the parties will be in a strong position to make decisions concerning their financial future.

    In mediation, the parties are urged to meet privately with a joint financial expert or to consult individual advisors.  Again, it is critical that the parties share all of their financial information, including investments, property values, college and retirement savings and debts.  They are encouraged to prepare budgets that reflect the marital expenses and their individual expenses going forward.  This will allow the financial expert to assist in recommending options for the division of assets and for alimony and child support, if applicable.

    When one or more parties owns all or part of  a business, the financial expert is essential in determining the value of the business and its cash flow.  The cost often keeps couples from having this done, but doing so avoids inequitable distribution of assets and possible future litigation.

    Mediators, even attorney-mediators, are not qualified to provide the financial information that CPAs or CFPs can provide.  Their input assists the attorneys, the mediators and the clients.

    For more information on mediation and Collaborative Practice, contact Risa A. Kleiner, Esq. at 609.951.2222 or by email at

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  • Understanding NJ Child Support

    February 24, 2014

    New Jersey has presumptive Guidelines for child support in a divorce.  The Guidelines are used if the combined net family income is $187,200 or less and the children are under 18 years of age or over 18 and living at home while attending college.  Good cause must be shown for a court to deviate from the Guidelines, but parties who mediate their divorce or resolve the issues through negotiation can agree to an amount which is different from the Guidelines.

    The cost of health insurance for the children is included in the child support calculation so that it can be allocated between the parties.  The cost of work-related childcare for the Primary Parent may be included in the calculation or it may be allocated separately.  Because childcare costs often vary from year to year, many parents opt to handle this cost separately.  

    To start the Guidelines calculation, you need to know the annual gross income for each party, the amount of any mandatory deductions (such as union dues) and the amount of alimony, if any, that will be paid and received.  The program automatically calculates the anticipated federal and NJ income taxes and arrives at a net annual income for each party.  The total estimated cost to cover a child’s share of the shelter, food, clothing and personal expenses is then automatically calculated and allocated proportionally between the parents.  

    The Parent of Alternate Residence (previously known as the Non-custodial parent) pays his or her share of the child support to the Primary Residential parent.  While the Primary parent does not “pay” child support, it is assumed that his or her share of this cost is being spent for the benefit of the children when their mortgage, taxes, insurance, food, clothing, etc. are paid for.  Some expenses, such as private school, camp and larger activity fees are often shared and paid separately from child support.

    Child support can be paid directly or through the Probation department of the court in the county in which the divorce is venued.  If paid through the court, parents have online access to their account and can track their payments.  A wage garnishment may also be requested to insure payment.  Probation will automatically enter a Judgment if any arrears accrue and will initiate enforcement proceedings upon request. 

    For further information, contact Risa A. Kleiner, Esq. at 609.951.2222 or by email at

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  • Is Mediation Right for Me?

    October 7, 2013

    If your answer to the following 10 questions is “yes”,  mediation is a good option to resolve your divorce issues.

    1. Do my spouse and I want an amicable divorce? 

    2. Is my marriage free of domestic violence? 

    3. Can my spouse and I sit across from each other at a table and talk civilly with the mediator and each other about our divorce issues? 

    4.  Do my spouse and I want to resolve our issues without going to court?

    5. Do we want to protect our children from a protracted and adversarial divorce?

    6. Do we want to move through the divorce process relatively quickly and keep fees to a minimum?

    7. Do we want to keep our discussions private and confidential?

    8. Are we willing to be transparent and provide all our financial documents to the mediator and each other?

    9.  Do we understand that the Mediator will prepare a Memorandum of Understanding, but that nothing is final until we have signed a Settlement Agreement?

    10.  Do we understand that the mediator can provide options and alternatives but cannot provide individual legal advice?  (Individual legal consults are recommended for each party before the Agreement is finalized.)

    If you answered “yes” to all the above, mediation is a good option for you.  Feel free to review my website, call Risa A. Kleiner, Esq. at 609.951.2222 or email her at for more information.



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