Boiled down to its basic elements, divorce simply means dividing up your stuff, dividing up parenting your kids, and providing for child support or spousal support, including health insurance. How you do these things is where the process gets complicated.
How you divide and distribute marital property depends on a number of legal and practical factors, the personal desires of the divorcing spouses, and often the preferences of a judge. Attorney Clark’s background in finance and accounting gives him an unusual perspective on property issues. His driving principle, however, is to make the most of the assets a marriage has accumulated and to ensure that neither side leaves any money on the table. In those cases where the nature of marital property is distorted by things like derivative equity interests, assets that have been “hidden” by one spouse, or income or assets whose value may be confused due to a party’s self-employment or interest in a closely held business entity, Attorney Clark enjoys cutting through the clutter and establishing actual facts.
Child support and spousal support (or alimony) are commonly lumped together, but in fact they are subject to substantially different rules. Child support, which is intended to provide for the needs of dependent children, is determined by way of a formula which takes both parents’ incomes and certain expenses into account.
Alimony is intended to maintain the living standards of a dependent spouse following separation. Even after the enactment of Alimony Reform, the determination of alimony can be highly subjective and, where alimony is contested, success or failure can depend heavily on the clarity of the economic argument made for or against.
Further confusing matters is something called an order for “unallocated family support,” which blends support for the children with spousal support in order to take advantage of a difference in the spouses’ respective income tax rates. By carefully planning the tax consequences of child support and alimony, it is possible to increase the amount of support received while reducing the tax-effected amount paid. Once again, Attorney Clark’s familiarity with tax planning serves his clients well in this regard.
In an uncontested divorce, the parties work out an agreement between themselves, and they petition the court for a divorce only after they have worked out all the details. In practice, this process saves a great deal of time and money that might be spent going to court, and the process of working out an agreement can provide training for them to resolve potential conflicts in the future.
By paying a single mediator to assist them, a couple can save themselves a great deal of time, money, and anxiety. In cases involving children, the process of working through issues rather than fighting over them helps to train parents with skills that will be useful in resolving child-related issues that will inevitably arise.
Because the vast majority of divorce cases ultimately are resolved by agreement rather than trial, mediation, either individually or with the assistance of counsel, can be of great value to both parties. Attorney Clark enjoys few things more than helping bring a couple through their differences to a position of “yes.” In fact, he has seen couples who are able to communicate with each other effectively enough to work out a settlement sometimes realize that they prefer to work on their marriage rather than dissolve it.
A number of issues can bring parties back into court after a divorce has become final. In general, a “material and substantial change in circumstances” can justify modification of a judgment, such as where a change in income might necessitate a change to child support or alimony.
If a party fails or refuses to obey the terms of a judgment, the remedy can be a complaint for contempt. If found in contempt, the court can sanction the offending party by ordering him or her to pay the other’s attorney fees or other monetary sanctions, or even incarceration.