The Strength of the Collaborative Team
Many people choose to engage in the collaborative process for many reasons. One of the reasons I hear over and over again from clients that have chosen this process is that the strength of the team is one of the greatest benefits, but what does that really mean. When you choose to divorce using the collaborative process, it means that you not only have your attorney representing you, but you also have two additional neutral professionals. The financial professional is trained and has a background in finance. Many are either certified divorce financial professionals, CPAs, or financial advisers. These professionals have been trained in the many financial nuances and issues that arise in divorce including the implication of tax law changes, how different types of assets are treated to ensure the best outcome for both parties and how to manage debt after divorce. The financial neutral is not representing either party, but working as a team member to support the family and generate options for the best possible outcome for both parties.
Similarly, the coach facilitator also works in harmony with the financial neutral and both attorneys to ensure that the case is proceeding smoothly. Because the collaborative divorce operates outside the oversight of the court’s case management system, the coach facilitator acts as a kind of case manager for the process. Ensuring that the team stays on task, the parties use their time in meetings efficiently and effectively and most importantly manages the emotion between the divorcing couple so that they can stay on task, focused on obtaining the best possible result for their family. While this role is frequently undervalued by parties, as a professional I have witnessed numerous families fall into the trap of spending hours arguing over a particular issue, those issues are often simply the focal point of an underlying deeply emotional concern. Having a coach facilitator able to work with the parties in order to recognize those emotional triggers, helps to keep them at bay and move the process forward to a more equitable and cost effective resolution.
Congratulations to Jane Schirch
Many congratulations to our friend and colleague, Jane Schirch, who is the 2019 recipient of the NH Collaborative Law Alliance John Cameron Memorial Award. Jane is the forth annual recipient of this award since its creation in 2015 to honor the memory and work of Attorney John Cameron. Jane was honored at the NHCLA annual meeting held on September 26, 2019. T he Cameron Award is given annually to a member of the NHCLA who embodies the spirit and practice of collaborative law. Jane demonstrates the qualities that John embraced in his practice to promote the tenants of the collaborative law practice and to maintain respect and dignity for families during divorce and separation. During Jane’s entire career, she has embraced the practice of collaborative law to keep divorce and parenting matters focused on parents and children, maintain the priorities of the family and to minimize the impacts of divorce and separation. From all that she does through her work in collaborative law, in helping other attorneys who call our office with questions, in teaching, in her parenting coordinator and mediation trainings, Jane always reflects the idea of working together with others to create something great. Jane is a current member of the NHCLA Board of Directors. Shanelaris & Schirch is proud of all Jane’s accomplishments and congratulate her on this honor.
Winner of the Distinguished Pro Bono Service Award
On February 15, 2019 Attorney Schirch was awarded the Distinguished Pro Bono Service Award. Jane is a dedicated attorney who works with determination and compassion for all her clients and we want to congratulate her for the work she performs for pro bono.
Jane has made a difference in the lives of dozens of families and children in crisis, applying her knowledge, skills and empathy to their challenging situations giving them an opportunity to secure a more stable and hopeful future. We are so proud of all her accomplishments.
Modifying child support in light of the February 2018 NH Supreme Court Case of In the Matter of White and White
The law in NH provides for when and how child support payments can be modified. Specifically, the law allows a parent to request a child support modification 1) if at least three years have passed since the most recent support order OR 2) if there has been a substantial change in circumstances.
The law in NH does not provide a list of what equals a “substantial change in circumstances” but if there has been a loss of a job, a significant pay raise, moving from part-time to full-time employment, the emancipation of a supported child turning 18 and graduating from high school, and other such significant changes that now make the support order unfair, you might qualify for a modification.
There can be complex factors involved in whether requesting a modification is the right move for you and this should be a time to consult with an attorney. The attorneys at Shanelaris & Schirch, PLLC will be able to help you understand whether a modification would most likely benefit you.
Additionally, it is important to talk to an attorney soon rather than waiting. The law in NH will not make a support modification retroactive back to the point when the substantial change happened but only back to the point when the other party received notice from the court that you are seeking a modification. This important point was reaffirmed in the February 2018 NH Supreme Court ruling for In the Matter of White and White.
If you believe that you have had a substantial change of circumstances, or if it has been at least three years since your most recent child support order, it is a good time to consult with our attorneys to determine whether requesting a modification from the court is the right move for you. If it is, our attorneys can assist you in petitioning the court for that modification.
Congratulations to our friend and colleague, Cathy Shanelaris on being selected as the 2018 recipient of the Marilla M. Ricker Achievement Award from the New Hampshire Women’s Bar Association. Cathy works tirelessly for the advancement of women in the profession and this recognition is so well deserved. Congratulations Cathy!
In New Hampshire, the court has the authority to issue an order for alimony. Alimony is spousal support. It is usually intended that alimony is rehabilitative. In other words, it is a payment for a period of time to allow a spouse to get back on their feet and to become self- sufficient. The current alimony statute in New Hampshire, RSA 458:19, provides that the Court shall make an alimony award if the court finds that the party in need lacks sufficient income, property, or both to provide for that party’s reasonable needs, and that the party from whom alimony is sought is able to meet their reasonable needs while meeting those of the party seeking alimony. This two part test generally is very fact specific. The Court will analyze whether the party seeking alimony is unable to meet their reasonable needs taking into consideration the style of living the parties were living while married. Once the Court determines that a spouse is in need of alimony, the analysis then shifts to the paying spouse to determine whether that spouse can afford to pay alimony. Because this analysis depends a lot on the individual parties and their financial circumstances, there is a wide variety of outcomes that can occur, which does not give parties a lot of direction in determining if alimony will be ordered, and if so, how much will be ordered and for how long will the paying spouse be required to pay the alimony.
Because of the difficulty in predicting outcomes, parties are oftentimes unwilling to reach agreement if they and their attorneys cannot agree on a likely outcome should they go to court on the issue of alimony. To help this uncertainty, there is currently a bill pending in the New Hampshire legislature that would change the alimony statute and would, hopefully, provide more guidance to individuals and attorneys on what a likely outcome would be. The proposed bill introduces a formula which essentially provides that the amount of alimony shall be the lesser of the individual’s needs, or 30% of the difference between the parties’ incomes. The bill also provides clarification that the maximum duration of the alimony award shall be ½ of the duration of the marriage. This bill, if it is passed, is likely to provide additional guidance to practitioners and parties when trying to determine an appropriate alimony award.
Facing a divorce or parenting issue can feel daunting, especially if you feel unable to afford an attorney to help you through the process. In New Hampshire, there are some options that can help you afford an attorney.
One option that the law in New Hampshire allows is for you to use an attorney in a limited-representation capacity. This is a process where you hire an attorney to help with the parts of the legal process with which you are less comfortable handling on your own. The attorneys at Shanelaris & Schirch can assist with such aspects of your divorce, parenting issue, or other family law matter by preparing documents, clarifying the law, helping you make a strategy, as well as other legal services. You handle what you want to handle and then hire one of the Shanelaris & Schirch attorneys for the rest.
In New Hampshire, another option may be available to you if your income and assets are limited. The program that can help is the NH Bar Association Modest Means program and you may qualify for reduced rates from attorneys who participate in the Modest Means program. If you think you may qualify for reduced rates for legal help, your first step is to complete this online pre-qualification form, or you can call the Lawyer Referral Service at 603.229.0002.
If you qualify, you will be referred to an attorney who accepts clients through this program. If you hire that attorney, the attorney will provide you with legal expertise and charge you the hourly rate calculated by the program intake specialists.
The attorneys at Shanelaris & Schirch can help you with your family law issues, and we can help keep those costs affordable for you by working for you on a limited basis or by helping you through the Modest Means program if you qualify.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (the new tax law) was signed into law by President Trump on December 22, 2017. Some of the changes from the law go into effect on January 1, 2018 and will affect the tax filings for the 2018 taxable year. Notable changes that will affect divorcing spouses and parents are as follows:
No more claiming your kids as tax deductions. Effective for the 2018 tax year, parents can no long claim their children as dependents for the purpose of deducting them on their taxes. This change will certainly modify divorce orders and agreements as parents no longer will need to agree about who will claim the children on their taxes each year. However, while Congress has taken away the ability for parents to claim your children on their taxes, it did double the child tax credit from $1000 per child to $2000 and allow parents to alternate this deduction for children each year. All divorce agreements and orders after January 1, 2018 should contain language for how parents will claim the child tax credit. Congress also allows all taxpayers earning up to $400,000 to claim the child tax credit, an increase from the prior cutoff income level of $110,000.
Alimony payments are no longer deductible by the payor. Beginning with the 2019 tax year, for all divorce agreements signed after December 31, 2018 and later, those who pay alimony can no longer deduct alimony as an itemized deduction. Those receiving alimony no longer have to claim alimony as income and will not be taxed on the payment of alimony to them. This is a significant change. According to the United States Census Bureau, 243,000 people received alimony in 2017. This law change will speculatively could impact divorce negotiations with couples arguing about whether alimony should be paid when there is no longer a tax benefit to the payor. It appears that the IRS will allow all ex-spouses who modify their alimony to follow the 2017 tax law in claiming alimony as a deduction for those that pay it and having those that receive alimony claim it as income so long as their agreements or orders specifically state that they wish to follow the old tax law and the decree or agreement was made before December 31, 2018.
The new tax law eliminates many itemized deductions. Starting with the 2018 tax year, the new law maintains deductions for charitable contributions, retirement and student loan interest but eliminates other deductions. The law limits how much a taxpayer can deduct from property taxes as well. However, Congress has doubled the standard deduction for individuals from $6,350 to $12,000 and for married couples from $12,700 to $24,000.
Parents can use 529 education plans in creative ways. The new law allows parents to use up to $10,000 per year per child in funds in a 529 educational accounts for tuition at private and religious schools from kindergarten through 12th grade.
Overall, the new tax law promises to increase wages by lowering tax rates. Congress represents that you should see an increase in your paycheck by February 2018 because of the lower tax rates. This blog is for information purposes only and does not take the place of obtaining financial advice from a qualified CPA or financial planner. For more information please see the following articles: https://www.thebalance.com/trump-s-tax-plan-how-it-affects-you-4113968 and https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/16/your-money/tax-plan-changes.html.
In New Hampshire, a court will make decisions about how assets will be divided, or whether alimony will be awarded by looking at a number of factors that is set forth in the statute. Generally, the Court will equitably divide the couple’s marital assets, but how to determine what is equitable depends upon the statutory factors. One of those factors is whether or not the marriage is a long term marriage or a short term marriage. Often in a “short term” marriage the Court will try to return the parties to their economic positions prior to the marriage. Until recently, the Court did not specifically indicate whether it was appropriate to consider a period of cohabitation when determining how to equitably divide assets. In August, 2016 the New Hampshire Supreme Court issued a decision, In the matter of Deborah Munson and Coralee Beal that makes clear that the Court does have the authority to consider a period of cohabitation prior to the marriage when determining how to divide assets. The Court did clarify that “duration of marriage” only refers to the period of time of an actual marriage and does not include any periods of cohabitation. However, the Court can consider a period of premarital cohabitation when making an equitable distribution of marital assets. For instance the Court recognized that when a divorcing couple’s relationship has included “years of economically interdependent cohabitation followed by a ‘short’ marriage, the notion of returning the parties to their original pre-marital position is unrealistic.” For those individuals involved in relationships that included lengthy periods of cohabitation, this decision is good news that the Court will in fact consider those years when making its division of property.
Congratulations to Attorney Catherine Shanelaris, the 2016 winner of the Bruce Friedman Pro Bono Award