Prenuptial Agreements in a Divorce in Wisconsin

Ein Ehevertrag mit zwei goldenen Eheringen

Prenuptial, or Premarital, Agreements are legally binding contracts entered into by couples before they get married to each other. They are also called Marital Reclassification Agreements. The purpose of a Prenuptial Agreement is to opt out of marital property laws in whole or in part. Most prenuptial agreements establish the financial rights of each spouse in the event of a death or divorce. It is important to note, however, that unless a Prenuptial Agreement specifically discusses what happens in the event of a divorce, it does not necessary apply in a divorce.  If all requirements are met, however, prenuptial agreements are generally found to be valid in Wisconsin.

Some common circumstances where prenuptial agreements are entered into are when one spouse is significantly wealthier than the other spouse, when a spouse has children from a different marriage or relationship, when one spouse has a family business he/she wishes to protect from the other spouse in the event of divorce, or when one spouse has significant debt that the other spouse does not want to be responsible for in the event of divorce.

Pursuant to statute, Wisconsin law presumes that all assets shall be divided equally in the event of a divorce. However, a Prenuptial Agreement could overcome that presumption if it specifically addresses what happens in the event of a divorce and if the court determines that it is a valid Prenuptial Agreement that will be upheld in a divorce. Additionally, it is important to know that parts of a Prenuptial Agreement may be upheld by the court, while other parts may not be. The court has the discretion to uphold all, none or only parts of the Prenuptial Agreement.

When deciding whether to uphold a Prenuptial Agreement, the court must insure that certain requirements and standards are met in order for all or part of a Prenuptial Agreement to be enforced and upheld at the time of the divorce. Some of the factors that the court looks at to determine whether a Prenuptial Agreement should apply in a divorce are whether or not the agreements were fair at the time of the signing of the Agreement (i.e. did the parties knowingly and voluntarily enter into the agreement?), whether there was a complete financial disclosure by both parties, whether both parties had adequate legal representation and whether or not a Prenuptial Agreement is fair at the time of the divorce (i.e. has their been a substantial and unforeseeable change in circumstances?).

An example of a situation that may be scrutinized for lack of fairness at the time of entering the agreement is the following: When the husband-to-be is insisting on a Prenuptial Agreement and only presents it to the bride-to-be on the eve of the wedding day (guests have already come to town, non-refundable deposits have been paid). In that circumstance, the bride-to-be may sign the Agreement without sufficiently reviewing the Agreement, without fully understanding the Agreement and her rights under the Agreement and without fully grasping what she is giving up in the future. In the case, the court may decide not to apply a Prenuptial Agreement in a divorce.

If you have questions about a Prenuptial Agreement in a divorce, please call our office at 414-258-1644 to schedule a free half-hour consultation with an attorney.

Tax Considerations in a Divorce

Tax on dollar currency

Filing one’s taxes during or immediately after a divorce can be especially challenging. Before your divorce is finalized, there are a few tax considerations that should be addressed.  Addressing these issues prior to finalizing your divorce will help ease the transition during tax season post-divorce, and may help you avoid any negative tax consequences or an IRS audit. The following points should be considered during the divorce proceeding, and are important to discuss with an attorney or your tax preparer to determine the tax consequences of your divorce agreements:

  • When can you file as single, married filing jointly, married filing separately, or head of household, and which options offer the best possible benefits? Once your divorce is finalized, you are considered unmarried for the entire year of your divorce, this includes if you get divorced on December 31st. If your divorce is not finalized by December 31st, you will have to file your taxes as married filing jointly or married filing separately. There are rare occasions when you can even file head of household even though you are married.  Determining your tax filing status, should be done with the assistance of an experienced tax preparer with the goal of maximizing the best financial result to you and your spouse.  This may require you to work cooperatively with your soon-to-be-ex to determine the best means to file your taxes and to take advantage of the benefits offered by doing so.
  • Which parent can claim the child or children for the dependency exemption and take the applicable tax credits offered to parents? Generally, the parent with primary placement of the child(ren) may claim the child(ren) on their tax return. However, parties can negotiate who can claim the exemption in divorce cases or the court can order the same. It is imperative to include in the Marital Settlement Agreement an award of how each party shall claim the child(ren) on their respective tax returns.
  • What do parents need to claim the child(ren) as a dependent? Parents must complete an IRS Form 8332 “Release/Revocation of Release of Claim to Exemption for Child by Custodial Parent,” to allow the other parent to attach it to his or her tax return if they are claiming the child(ren) Form 8332 is the document that allows a parent to claim a child on his or her taxes even though he or she may not fit the requirements under IRS rules to do so.
  • Do I have to report child support as income? Child support payments are not deductible by the paying parent or taxable to the parent receiving the child support.
  • Can I deduct maintenance payments? Maintenance payments (or alimony) are generally tax deductible by the party making the payment, and must be claimed as income by the recipient. It may be helpful to include a reference to the federal tax code IRC 71 in your divorce decree can ensure that the parties are aware of their responsibilities regarding maintenance payments.
  • Do I have to pay taxes on assets awarded to me in my divorce? A property transfer between divorcing spouses does not create any additional tax liabilities, if it is ordered in the divorce decree.
  • Do I have to pay taxes on retirement assets awarded to me in my divorce? In order to avoid tax consequences when dividing a retirement account incident to a divorce, a Qualified Domestic Relations Order or QDRO, may need to be drafted after the date of divorce to instruct the retirement plan administrator to divide the benefits as ordered by the divorce decree. If the recipient spouse does not liquidate such funds and follows the IRS rules to invest such funds into a qualified plan, there are no tax consequences to such a transfer.
  • Will I be audited post-divorce? You risk being audited if you do one or both of the following: 1. both parents claim the same child on their taxes, 2. The amount of maintenance the recipient lists on line 11 of his or her 1040 does not match the number that the payor lists on line 31a. It is always good practice to speak to your ex-spouse before filing your taxes to make sure that you are claiming the correct child(ren) and that the amount of maintenance listed as received on your tax form matches the amount of maintenance paid.

There are several considerations in determining what options are best for you to maximize your tax benefits and to avoid any additional tax burdens after a divorce. Because each divorce is unique, it may be important to speak with an attorney or a tax professional to best address the tax consequences of your proposed divorce agreement before finalizing your divorce. If you are getting a divorce and have questions regarding the tax consequences of the issues outlined above, call us at (414) 258-1644 to schedule a free initial consultation to discuss your case.

How Does Bankruptcy Affect an Ex-Spouse After Divorce?

Finance series

Once your divorce is complete you expect that any financial ties you and your ex-spouse once shared are severed forever.  However, what happens when your ex-spouse defaults on a debt or files for bankruptcy and seeks to discharge debts that belonged to both of you during the marriage?  In marital property states such as Wisconsin, when a debt is incurred during the marriage, it does not matter if the debt is in one spouses name or the other.  Any debt incurred during the marriage is deemed to be a joint debt under marital property laws.   A judgment of divorce separates the debts as to the spouses, but not  as to the creditors.  If a spouse who was assigned a debt under the judgment of divorce defaults on said debt or files for bankruptcy, it is possible that the creditor will seek payment from the other spouse.   Creditors are not part of the divorce process and are not required to follow the terms laid out in the agreement.   So what do you do when a creditor comes after you for a debt that was assigned to your ex-spouse?

If you hired a proactive divorce lawyer, the answer to the problem is clearly laid out in your Judgment of Divorce.  A well thought out Marital Settlement Agreement will have language dealing with this type of situation.   Should a spouse default on a debt, then the Judgment of Divorce should have language which will allow you to seek remedies from your ex-spouse in family court.   Understand, this does not sever the responsibility you have to the creditor, but it will require your ex-spouse to pay you so you can pay the creditor.   Therefore, if a debt is discharged in bankruptcy and the creditor starts collection efforts against the non-bankrupt spouse, the non-bankrupt spouse can go back to family court to obtain an order for the bankrupt spouse to pay the discharged debt.   In Wisconsin, the court will often order maintenance or “spousal support” to assist you in re-paying the debt which was the responsibility of your ex-spouse.  If your divorce decree is silent with regard to this situation, you can file a contempt action against your ex-spouse in hopes of recovering the money you have to pay the creditor.

To further protect ex-spouses, the Bankruptcy Code was modified in 2005 which changed the type of debt that can be discharged.  Under the new law, if your ex-spouse filed a Chapter 7, a debt owed to a spouse that resulted from a Judgment of Divorce or any subsequent court order may not be discharged (i.e. property division, spousal support, child support arrears, payment towards children’s medical bills).

If a Chapter 13 is filed and completed, the rules are different and you must consult with a bankruptcy attorney to determine how your debt is affected.    If you find yourself in this situation where your ex-spouse files for bankruptcy, you may want to consult with a bankruptcy lawyer to confirm the whether your particular debt is dischargeable.

There are also times where as a result of a post-judgment motion the court orders your ex-spouse to pay you an amount of money as a result of a motion for clarification, contempt or reconsideration of the orders.  For instance, a court may order your ex-spouse to reimburse you for expenses related to the sale of a home or other asset, reimbursement for variable costs or even attorney fees.  Your ex-spouse will not be able to discharge these debts in Chapter 7 bankruptcy (the rules may be different for Chapter 13) and he or she will still owe you the debt after the bankruptcy.  It may be necessary to file a motion in family court to ensure your ex-spouse is specifically aware that his or her responsibility still exists.

Should you find yourself in a situation where a creditor is attempting collections from you and the debt is your ex-spouses responsibility under the Judgment of Divorce, contact Nelson, Krueger & Millenbach at 414-258-1644 to schedule a free initial office consultation to discuss your situation and options.

How To Divide Retirement Accounts in a Divorce

When divorcing, retirement accounts are often divided between the parties. In all cases where a retirement account needs to be divided, some type of affirmative action after the divorce is required to do so. Unless there are unusual circumstances or the parties agree otherwise, the account holder should NOT be required to cash out or liquidate his or her retirement account, either in whole or in part, to pay the other party what they are entitled to.

Many people make the mistake of assuming that this division will happen automatically, especially if they do not have an attorney. This is absolutely not the case. There are situations where, years later, the account holder retires and the other party wonders why they have not begun receiving payments. In fact, there was a recent case in Minnesota where the Wife lost her rights to the Husband’s pension because she failed to take any action to divide the account after the divorce. (For more information, see article here.)

There are several different types of retirement accounts which are divided in different ways. The most common type of retirement account is a “qualified plan.” The definition of qualified is set forth in federal law. However, these are most commonly the types plans such as 401(k)’s, 403(b)’s, deferred compensation or pensions. In order to divide one of these accounts, there needs to be a special order prepared called a Qualified Domestic Relations Order which is commonly referred to as a “QDRO.”

The processing of a QDRO can be complicated and lengthy. Essentially, a QDRO is prepared by an attorney or an outside firm who is hired for same. In Wisconsin, attorneys rarely prepare QDRO’s and usually hire an outside financial firm to do so. The QDRO is often sent to the plan first for pre-approval. Eventually, either before or after this pre-approval process, the QDRO is sent to the court for signature. Once the court signs the QDRO, a certified copy of this QDRO is required and then sent to the Plan for processing. The cost of the preparation of the QDRO is usually shared equally, at least in Wisconsin.

There are other plans which are non-qualified but which can also be or must also be divided by QDRO or by a different type of Order prepared separately from your judgment of divorce. Most often, for example, this applies to a TSP, FERS or other government retirement account.

Retirement accounts such as IRA’s, Roth IRA’s or annuities can often be divided without a QDRO. Typically, just the judgment of divorce and an internal form signed by the account holder is all that is necessary. The account holder should contact his or her Plan to determine what is required in these cases.

When a retirement plan is divided properly, there are no tax consequences or penalties to either party. Further, the receiving party is not dependent on the plan holder to pay him or her any monies that they are entitled to receive.

If you are divorcing or have divorced, it is imperative that you take all necessary steps to divide any retirement accounts awarded to you. If you don’t have an attorney and don’t know how to do this, it is well worth your time and money to hire an experienced divorce attorney to assist you with the division. If you do have an attorney, make sure that the division is done after the divorce. If not, you need to follow up with your attorney or hire another attorney to do so. Ultimately, it is your responsibility to make sure you that you receive what you are entitled to pursuant to the judgment of divorce.

If you are already divorced, it still may not be too late to divide a retirement account if this has not already been done.  However, the longer you wait, the more likely it is that there will be problems or that you could lose your rights altogether.  Contact an attorney immediately if you find yourself in this situation.

If you have any questions or concerns or need assistance in dividing a retirement account, please contact Nelson, Krueger & Millenbach, LLC (formerly Nelson & Davis, LLC) at 414-258-1644 to schedule a free initial consultation

I Moved Out Due to Divorce in Wisconsin. Why Can’t I Go Back To the House?

When one party moves out of the marital residence at the onset of a divorce case, there is often a lot of concern about why the other spouse ‘gets’ the house or why they can’t return to the house after they have moved out. Legally, just because one party moves out, does not mean that he or she is giving up any interest in the house. It just means that he may have given up his right to live there on a temporary basis.

If the Court has made a Temporary Order granting one party (ie husband) the temporary use of the house, the other party (wife) may not enter the house without the permission of the residing spouse. In this scenario, if the wife tries to enter the house without the husband’s permission  the wife could be held in contempt of court and face monetary penalties and even imprisonment.  It’s best to make sure that you have something in writing from your spouse or counsel, if you are entering the marital residence for any reason if your spouse was granted temporary use by the Court.

There are many instances when one party moves out before there is a court order, and then wants to return to the house later. Legally, if there is no court order barring you from returning to the house, you can return. However, you need to carefully decide what the consequences of returning to the house might bring.

For example, if your return to the house results in an argument, your spouse may call the police and you could be charged with disorderly conduct and potentially face being served with a domestic abuse restraining order if your spouse alleges domestic abuse or threats of it.

The court also will consider your actions at a hearing for Temporary Orders or other matters in the case. If you are returning regularly without notice to your spouse, if you are removing furnishings without agreement or if you are causing disturbances at the house, your behavior may be negatively inferred against you in issues involving custody, placement or property division. If you break a window or lock to enter the home, the Court could also hold you responsible for those costs and your spouse may seek a restraining order against you.

If you have moved out of your house and you want access to the house to retrieve personal property or any other reason, your best bet is to work with your attorney to schedule a date and time for you to enter the home and an agreement as to what you can remove. This will minimize conflict between you and your spouse and avoid police involvement and/or domestic abuse allegations against you in your divorce case.

Do remember though, that the restrictions go both ways. Just as you may not go into the marital property if you are restricted from it, your spouse cannot come to your apartment or new place of residence and demand access either. You both have the right to expect privacy and it is common courtesy to refrain from entering your spouse’s residence without permission, whether you own that property or not.  It helps to look at it this way: landlords cannot enter a tenant’s property without notice except in extreme circumstances and, once you move out, you essentially become the equivalent of a landlord to your spouse.

Dividing Personal Property in Divorce

“What? She gets the cabin AND the big screen TV?!”

 We’ve all heard the stories about nightmarish payouts during celebrity divorces (and Tiger thought that 9 iron to the temple hurt) as well as bitter fights over something as small as silverware. Personal property disputes during a divorce are common. Personal property generally refers to items such as furniture, tools, electronics and other items of value in your home.  Often, people attach much personal sentiment on these types of items of property.   Therefore, it becomes difficult to come to an agreement as to how to divide this property. As you can imagine, the longer the marriage, the more the memories, the tougher this task becomes. So how does it work?  How do you put value on property when the owner’s interpretation is clouded with personal attachment?

 Sometimes divorcing couples can come to an agreement regarding the division of personal property on their own or with some assistance from their respective legal counsel. Oftentimes, however, it becomes necessary to bring in a non-partisan expert who can accurately assess and appraise personal property at the forefront of the dispute. This can be an expensive endeavor (in Wisconsin, most personal property appraisals cost between $500 and $1,500) which yields disappointing results.  The expert who comes in to appraise your personal belongings does not care that the vase on the coffee table is great-grandma’s, nor does the expert care that you spent $8,000 on your home theater system five years ago.  The expert gives a subjective opinion as to the “rummage sale” value to your belongings. Therefore, great-grandma’s vase may only be valued at $20 and your home theatre system may not exceed $250.  Almost always there are values attached to items in a personal property appraisal that you will not agree with. 

 Also, the appraiser will not value every single item in your home.  They do not go through cupboards, drawers or boxes.  They usually will not climb up in your attic or climb over items stuffed into a garage.  They will only appraise visible items of value.  So, to some extent, it is up to you to catch missed items or point out items that you specifically want appraised ahead of time.

 Once the appraiser assigns values to these items, the party who has property of higher value must pay the other one-half of the difference.  However, the court or the other party cannot force you to accept items that you don’t want.  If there are items that neither party wants, the court will simply order that they be sold and the proceeds be divided.  Of course, there are then often issues with who will sell the items, at what price, etc.

 As a result of the above, when it comes to the division of personal property, it is best if the parties can agree how to divide everything.  Only you and your spouse are aware of the sentimental value that is attached to your personal belongings.   Only you and your spouse can reach an agreement that takes everything into consideration and is fair to both of you without going through the hassle, time and expense of an appraisal.

 To speak with an attorney understands all aspects of how personal property is valued or divided, contact us at 414-258-1644 to schedule a free initial office consultation or visit our website for more information.

 

What If My Ex-Spouse Doesn’t Pay Debts or Files Bankruptcy?

What if your ex-spouse doesn’t pay the debts he or she was ordered to pay in a divorce?  Or, what happens if he or she files bankruptcy?  Do you have to pay those debts?

Chances are you had some debt when you were divorce such as credit cards, mortgage, etc.  And, some of these debts were likely to have been joint debts.  Your divorce judgment should have allocated these debts and ordered one spouse or the other to pay them.  However, the thing you need to keep in mind is that your divorce judgment is only binding on the two of you – not your creditors.  Your creditors were not a party in your divorce.  Therefore, they don’t have to follow the court’s orders in your divorce judgment.

If your ex-spouse fails to pay debts he or she were ordered to pay, the creditor can still come after you for repayment.  Or, if your spouse files bankruptcy, you are still responsible for these debts as long as your name is still on them.  If you live in a marital property state, such as Wisconsin, you could even be responsible if your name is not on the debt although that doesn’t often happen.  You do have some options, however, to force your spouse to pay these debts.

While you should seek the advice of an attorney to make sure you are as protected as you can be, it is important that your divorce judgment should at least have language included which sets forth your spouse’s obligation to pay or refinance any debt which has your name on it and to not incur additional debt in your name.  It should state that you are “held harmless” from any of these debts.  And, there should be language that states that if you are held liable for any of his or her debts, that you have the right to come back to divorce court to seek reimbursement.  There are also additional provisions which can be included to even further protect you.  Many of the standard forms for final Agreements that are available to people who do not have lawyers do not have this extra language contained in them.

Even in the event of a bankruptcy, this additional language can protect you.  A bankruptcy action discharges the debt and responsibility between your spouse and the creditor.  However, your spouse still has a responsibility to you to pay the debts he or she was ordered to pay in your divorce.  Therefore, the divorce court retains jurisdiction to enforce that obligation if your judgment of divorce grants that authority to the court.

The court has several options available to it providing that the proper language exists in the judgment.  Primarily, the court can order repayment through garnishment or can even order maintenance or alimony to compensate you for any debt you may end up getting stuck with if your ex- fails to pay.  Sometimes the court will even order a lien or the sale of an asset to pay the debt.

If you are concerned about the payment of debts, you should definitely consult with an attorney to make sure the proper language is contained in your divorce judgment to protect you in the event your spouse fails to pay or files bankruptcy.  Even if you feel you cannot afford an attorney, the long term cost to you could be much greater if you get stuck paying debts that your spouse is ordered to pay.

To discuss your concerns about debt in your divorce in Wisconsin, contact our office at 414-258-1644 to scheduled your free initial office consultation or visit our website for more information.