Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Effect of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Bill on Alimony


In December of 2017, Congress passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and the bill was signed into law by President Donald Trump.  Many people have heard about this new law as it received an abundance of media attention.  However, many people are not aware how it will affect them, and even more are unaware that it may have a significant impact on their pending divorce. 


A provision of the new law that has been overlooked by many is its effect on alimony payments.  Under current law, a person paying alimony is able to deduct that payment on their Federal Income Taxes each year.  At the same time, a person receiving alimony payments is required to claim the payments as income.  For example, if A were ordered to pay B $1,000.00 a month in alimony, A’s income would be reduced by $12,000.00 a year and B’s income would be increased by $12,000.00 a year.

The new law changes this rule.  Under the new law, alimony payments are no longer deductible to the payor and the payee is no longer required to claim these payments as support.  Therefore, in the example above, A’s income would no longer be reduced and B’s income would no longer increase.

The change does not take effect until December 31, 2018, so if your Final Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage was (or is) entered before that date, the former rules will still apply to you.  One exception to this is if your alimony payment is subsequently modified.  If the modification expressly provides that the amendments made by the new law apply to the modification.

Those who have been through a divorce are likely aware that it can take weeks, or even months to finally get a signed Order dissolving the marriage after the parties have agreed to a settlement.  The new law is not entirely clear on what will happen if a persons Divorce case is settled prior to December 31, 2018, but a Final Judgment is not actually signed until after December 31, 2018.  The new law states that the it is determined by when the “divorce or separation instrument” is executed.  However, “divorce or separation instrument” is defined as both a “written decree” or “a written instrument incident to such a decree” or “a separation agreement.”  Therefore, if you are going through a divorce, especially as the end of the year approaches, it is important to speak to your attorney about how the date you sign your settlement agreement and the date your Final Judgment is finally entered may affect you. 

The attorneys at The Law Office of Pamela J. Helton, PA will be happy to assist you and answer any questions you may have regarding divorce and alimony. Please call us at 352-233-9991.


Monday, January 15, 2018

A Fresh Start After Bankruptcy



Got debt? Dreaming of a financial restart button? No matter how responsible you are with your finances, unexpected things can happen causing your finances to spiral out of control quickly. Critical illness, job loss, divorce, loss of a loved one and business failures are just a few common reasons for financial decline that we see every day. Out of desperation, people turn to credit cards hoping their situation will be temporary, but relief doesn’t always come quick enough. Mounting debt, late payments and harassing debt collectors can cause an enormous amount of stress and embarrassment.  If this sounds familiar, it may be time to consult with a Bankruptcy attorney and learn about your options to gain control of your finances once again.

Worried about what a Bankruptcy will do to your credit? It is a common misconception that Bankruptcy, while clearing debt, causes complete financial ruin for 10 years after filing. People often think it is next to impossible to financially recover after bankruptcy, but that is not true. It will take time, patience, and willpower, but you CAN recover. You may even be surprised at how quickly you will begin to see some improvement in your credit score.

 Let's take a look at the big picture:

  • If you are considering bankruptcy, it's likely that your current credit is poor. Your credit rating drops rapidly once you reach the limits on credit cards and acquire missed or late payments. Once you miss a payment, each passing month makes it more difficult to become current and credit rating will continue to spiral downward. There are things you can do to improve your credit score with a Bankruptcy.
  • Filing for bankruptcy is a big decision. There are pros and cons depending on your situation, which is why you should consult with an attorney before making any decisions.
  • Many people feel a huge sense of relief after filing for bankruptcy. Creditors are no longer allowed to contact you, so the incessant phone calls will cease. The trip to the mailbox will no longer result in a pile of collection letters. 
  • Bankruptcies can remain on your credit report for 7 or 10 years, depending upon whether you file for a Chapter 13 or a Chapter 7. It's important to understand that it will NOT take that long before you can get credit cards or loans.
  • Most car dealerships will offer loans one year after bankruptcy is filed. Be aware, interest rates will likely be high.
  • You do not have to give up your primary residence when you file bankruptcy. Your attorney can help you decide if you should keep the house or let it go. If you let it go, you may face extra scrutiny by landlords, but most will rent if your financials indicate you will be able to make the monthly rent payment. You may even qualify for a mortgage a few years after the bankruptcy.
Growing debt can mean a growing sense of anxiety and stress. Don't let social stigma stand in the way of a reasonable solution. Bankruptcy laws were created to help people and to offer them a fresh financial start. Speak with one of the attorneys at The Law Office of Pamela J. Helton today at (352) 243-9991 to determine if filing for bankruptcy is the best solution for you. We understand the pressure you feel and will help guide you through the process with dignity. We look forward to hearing from you soon.


Saturday, December 9, 2017

Divorce and Happy Holidays



The holidays are intended to be a season of joy, love, and fun. It’s what we strive for, but often the reality is the holidays are a time of stress, worry, and exhaustion. We have so much to fit into our already hectic days and tight budgets. Office parties, family parties, school functions. Shopping, wrapping, cooking, baking, cleaning.

It takes a lot of work and organization to create happy holidays. Add divorce to the mix and it can feel impossible, but there are steps you can take to help things go as smoothly as possible.

Scheduling and communication are key:
  • Children tend to have many school functions this time of year and will often feel anxious about their parents being together in front of their peers. Children should be assured that both parents love them and will help make the event a happy one for all. It is important the children understand they do not have to pick one parent over the other. Whenever possible, make decisions beforehand to avoid putting the children on the spot or having an awkward moment. For example, which parent the children will sit with during the event and which parent will take the children for a special treat afterwards. 
  • Most times, a Parenting Plan will be written which spells out where the children will spend holidays. Scheduling is a matter for the adults and care should be taken to focus on the children’s best interests. To avoid unnecessary drama, stick to the Parenting Plan. One parent may need to celebrate the holiday early or late; this is a great opportunity to create new traditions and extra special memories. 
  • Presents are not a contest and there is no need for parents to compete. Presents are meant to be chosen with love and care so give you are happy to give. If double gifts happen, don’t sweat it. The children will be able to enjoy the gifts at each of their parent’s homes.
  • Communication can be difficult during and after a divorce. It’s often best for parents to communicate only when absolutely necessary. Now is the time for the adults to focus on rebuilding their lives and create a new family.

Create special memories:
  • You may need to create new traditions than the ones you enjoyed in the past. Let your children help plan new holiday experiences such as building a new playlist of holiday music, baking special treats, holiday movie night, or a family sleepover. New traditions can help diminish the sense of loss of old traditions. 
  •  New traditions don’t have to be limited to family time. Create a new holiday tradition just for you! Take yourself to lunch, get a massage, or just arrange for one day to sleep in.

Acknowledge feelings:
  • Some sad, or angry, moments might seep into the holiday cheer. It’s important that you and the children are allowed to experience the feelings. Be open and talk about the feelings. It will help you all move forward and get back to enjoying the holidays.

There is no right way to do the holidays. Stay focused on being positive and creating happy experiences for the children.

If you have legal questions, please call The Law Office of Pamela J. Helton at 352-243-9991. Happy Holidays!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Bankruptcy and Credit Scores


Filing for bankruptcy is always a big decision, with many factors to weigh.  One of those is the effect that a bankruptcy can have on your future credit possibilities. In the short term, bankruptcy will significantly lower your credit score - and this can create extra costs for you when you work to rebuild your credit, or try to purchase a car or a home.  However, if your credit score has already taken a big hit such as a foreclosure filing, the impact of a bankruptcy filing may not be as significant.
Even with this credit impact, bankruptcy may still be the right decision for you. It is possible to rebuild your credit score over time, after bankruptcy. But if you choose to file bankruptcy, you need to consider the short-term credit hit along with all the other factors. Understanding Your Credit Score Credit scores, also called FICO scores, are issued by the three major credit bureaus - TransUnion, Equifax and Experian. These scores - named after the software used to calculate credit information - range from 300 to 8501 points and are used by financial institutions to determine how risky it would be to extend a line of credit to consumers.  According to Equifax, the majority of credit scores fall within the 600s to 700s. FICO scores are used in about 90% of decisions to extend credit. 
In order to calculate this snapshot of your credit history, credit bureaus use six months’ worth of data about your spending habits. The factors that are considered when calculating a credit score include your payment history and whether you have consistently paid your bills on time; your outstanding debt; the percentage of available credit that you have on each of your credit cards; the types of credit that you use; length of credit history, new credit, and whether you are currently employed. The credit bureaus also consider how many inquiries have been made about your credit, which can indicate that you have applied for several lines of credit because you are struggling financially.
Other important factors that can negatively affect your credit score include filing for bankruptcy, home foreclosure and liens issued against you. The Importance of Your Credit Score The higher your credit score is, the more confident that lenders will be that you can pay back a loan or other lines of credit. Typically, lenders look favorably upon consumers that have a credit score that is 700 or higher.
If your credit score is 600, or lower, however, lenders will be more cautious about extending credit to you. And even if your bad credit score does not preclude you from
1 According to Experian.com
receiving credit, you can expect to pay higher interest rates on your credit cards or larger down payments when you purchase a home or car. A low credit score can also affect other areas of your life that may surprise you. For example, in some cases employers look at the credit history of job candidates during their hiring processes, particularly for jobs that involved handling money. Conclusion There are also ways to improve your credit score.  Talk with an attorney at our firm to discuss your options. We can answer any questions you may have about the impact of bankruptcy on credit score.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

DOES THE COURT  SYSTEM CONSIDER A CHILD'S PREFERENCES IN DETERMINING CUSTODY ARRANGEMENTS?



People often ask if it's possible for their child to pick who he/she wants to live with and/or at what age their child can pick which parent to live with? It seems natural to many that a child (especially an older child) should be able to express their preference and that their preference should be followed.  However, in Florida, that is rarely the case.


To begin, Florida Courts are reluctant to let minor children testify in Family Law disputes.  Unless the Court finds that the child’s testimony is necessary, it is unlikely the child will be allowed to testify.  If the Court does feel the child’s testimony is necessary, it must be verified that the child is competent and capable of observing, recollecting, narrating facts, and has a moral sense of the duty to tell the truth.  While it is true that an older child would be more likely to be permitted to testify than a younger child, age is not the determining factor. A younger child, who is more mature may be permitted to testify while an older, less mature counterpart is not.

Next, all time-sharing orders (What days/times each parent is responsible for the children) in Florida are determined based on what the Court finds is in the best interest of the minor child(ren).  The Florida statutes provide a long list of criteria that judges use when determining what time-sharing arrangement is in a child’s best interest.  While the preference of the child is one of the criteria that judges are to take into consideration, that factor alone is not enough to determine what is in the child’s best interest.  For example, if a child is permitted to testify and unequivocally states that he or she wants to live with Parent A, but the Court finds that Parent B provides a more stable environment and has more time to spend with the child, the Court will almost certainly favor more time with Parent B.  A primary reason for this is that children are often unaware of what is in their best interest.  They may choose one parent over the other based on which parent allows them to stay up later or go out longer, rather than which parent is providing the more nurturing and stable environment. 

So when will a child's preferences be strongly considered?  The Courts are more likely to consider a child's preferences when one parent can prove that the child is experiencing some sort of emotional trauma or instability while with the other parent. Likewise, if the child’s preference is based on accusations of abuse or neglect by one of the parents, the court would certainly take that into account.  
In conclusion, there is no set age when a child can determine which parent they will live with, at least not until they turn eighteen.  Courts are unlikely to let a minor child testify, except in rare cases and even then, their preference will likely be given little weight unless supported by other factors.  If you are going through a dissolution of marriage or paternity case and your child is expressing a desire to live more often with you or the other parent, it is a good idea to ask your attorney about the possibility of having a Guardian Ad Litem appointed.  The Guardian Ad Litem may be able to meet with the children and the parent’s and make a 3rd party recommendation to the Court based on what they determine to be in the child’s best interest. For more information, please contact the Law Office of Pamela J Helton at (352) 243-9991 or check out our website at www.AttorneyHelton.com.



Written by: Attorney Barry Newton

Friday, June 23, 2017

Bankruptcy and Credit Scores


How Long Does Bankruptcy Affect My Credit Score?

Posted By The Law Office of Pamela J. Helton, P.A.



According to Debt.org, Americans owe a total of $11.4 trillion in debt for credit cards, mortgages, student loans, and other expenses.  The housing market crash caused many Florida homeowners to lose half the market value of their homes and Florida is considered one of the hardest hit markets in the recession.  With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that many Americans chose to file bankruptcy to help relieve their debt burden during the recession. 



Although bankruptcy is an effective way to get relief from overwhelming debt, it is not without consequences. Specifically, bankruptcy will impact your ability to open new credit lines for some time after the process is complete. There are ways to improve your credit in the meantime, but it can take as long as a decade before the bankruptcy is off your record.



Chapter 7 vs. Chapter 13

The two main types of bankruptcy for consumers are Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. Chapter 7 is what comes to mind when most people think of bankruptcy, as it completely clears many, if not all, of your unsecured debts.  Chapter 13, on the other hand, is more of a reorganization of debt. You will still owe the money (or at least a chunk of it), but it is organized into an affordable payment plan to help you regain control over the situation. Bankruptcy reporting can stay on your record for as long as 10 years.  



Can I Improve My Credit Score Before Bankruptcy Disappears?

It’s certainly not impossible to obtain a home loan, auto loan, or open a credit card after bankruptcy, but it can be more difficult. If your credit was particularly bad before the bankruptcy, you will likely have trouble qualifying for any large or premium credit lines.  However, there are many steps you can take to begin rebuilding your score. Perhaps the most important thing to do after bankruptcy is paying your bills on time.



Considering Bankruptcy? Call Our Firm Today.

For those who are feeling overwhelmed by tax debt, the benefits of bankruptcy can far outweigh the consequences. If this sounds like you, call The Law Offices of Pamela J. Helton, P.A. today.


Friday, September 9, 2016

Is my salary or hourly rate of pay about to change?


SIGNIFICANT UPDATES TO OVERTIME PAY AND EXEMPTIONS

UNDER THE FAIR LABOR STANDARDS ACT

Written by: Attorney Dylan Hall 

The main purpose behind the Fair Labor Standards Act is to ensure that certain employees receive sufficient compensation for the work they perform. One mechanism used to achieve this is guaranteed time-and-a-half overtime pay for certain non-salaried employees. However, major changes to the rules and requirements for overtime pay are set take place December 1 of this year, and it is essential that everyone affected understand how they will be impacted.

Currently, all non-exempt employees earning less than $23,660 each year are entitled to time-and-a-half pay for all hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week. However, by the end of this year the requirement for time-and-a-half overtime pay shall apply to all non-exempt employees earning less than $47,476.00 each year. This is a huge change from the current law and is anticipated to provide overtime pay protections to an additional 4.2 million employees, of which at least 330,000 reside in Florida.

Employers will have to choose from several options in order to comply with this updated threshold for each affected non-exempt employee. Some of these options include (1) raising the annual salary to at least $47,476.00; (2) pay an hourly wage with time-and-a-half pay for each hour worked in excess of 40 hours per week; and (3) keep the current sub-$47,476.00 per year salary and also pay overtime for each hour worked in excess of 40 hours per week. Of course, employers are likely to incur additional payroll expenses as a result of these options, and so an expected fourth option taken by employers is to reduce the number of hours permitted to be worked each week primarily by hiring additional part-time workers for the same position.

Another significant change to the Fair Labor Standards Act that will take place on December 1 of this year concerns certain job types that have historically been exempt from the time-and-a-half pay requirement for work in excess of 40 hours per week. The major category of previously-exempt job types that will now also be protected by the overtime pay requirements are white collar positions that include executive, administrative, professional, and computer-professional jobs. The classifications and underlying qualifications for which employees constitute such non-exempt white collar positions are complex and apply on a case-by-case basis, but it is understood that the inclusion of this class of employee will be a significant contributor toward the anticipated expansion of overtime protection for 4.2 million more employees.

           There are a few other aspects of the new law that affected employers and employees must be aware of. For one, any overtime pay earned for hours worked in excess of 40 per week must be calculated on week-by-week basis. In other words, overtime pay cannot be based on the average number of hours worked in a month or year, but must be strictly paid out pursuant to each week’s actual hours worked. Second, meeting and training time generally constitutes work that employees must be compensated for, as is work-related travel other than the ordinary commute to and from work. Lastly, the salary threshold for when overtime pay is required that is currently set at $47,476.00 beginning in December 1 of this year will be consistently updated every three years going forward based on calculations involving the standard salary level at the time of each revision.  

This broad overview of the major changes being implemented under the Fair Labor Standards Act makes clear the importance for affected employers and employees to understand how this will impact their business and compensation so that compliance can be assured when the new law goes into effect on December 1 of this year. Should you have any questions regarding the Fair Labor Standards Act or any other legal questions whatsoever, please don’t hesitate to call the Law Office of Pamela J. Helton, P.A. at 352-243-9991 to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys.



Citations:

-       The Florida Bar News, Volume 43, Number 15

-       www.dol.gov

Friday, June 24, 2016

Can I keep my driver's license if I fall behind in child support payments?


In Florida, child support is ordered in nearly every paternity or dissolution of marriage action involving minor children.  The State of Florida takes this obligation very seriously and provides a wide variety of means by which to enforce a person’s child support obligation. The most common form of enforcement is to suspend the non-paying party’s driver’s license.  Florida law allows for a notice to be sent to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles informing them of the intent to suspend a non-paying party’s driver’s license just fifteen days after the party has become delinquent in their payments.  The party will then typically have just twenty days to either pay the amount in full or enter into a written repayment agreement.

However, often times a party may get behind due to no fault of their own.  The law does recognize that it would be improper to suspend a person’s driver’s license when they desire to, but are simply unable to, comply with their child support obligation.  For that reason, the law does provide certain instances where a person’s driver’s license will not be suspended even though they have become delinquent in their obligation.  These exceptions include:  when the delinquent party demonstrates that he or she receives reemployment assistance or unemployment compensation; demonstrates that he or she is disabled and incapable of self-support or that he or she receives benefits under the federal Supplemental Security Income program or Social Security Disability Insurance program; demonstrates that he or she receives temporary cash assistance; or demonstrates that he or she is making payments in accordance with a confirmed bankruptcy plan. 

If a person falls into one of the above exceptions, it is important that they immediately notify the proper personnel upon receiving a notice of intent to suspend their driver’s license.  Otherwise, the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles will proceed to suspend the person’s driver’s license. 



Written by: Attorney Barry Newton

Friday, April 1, 2016

BIG CHANGES!


HAVE YOU HEARD ABOUT THE PROPOSED CHANGES TO THE LAWS ON ALIMONY AND TIMESHARING WITH MINOR CHILDREN?
Written by: Attorney Dylan Hall

In a divorce proceeding, two of the most commonly fought-over issues are alimony payments and each parent’s timesharing with their children. While it is no surprise that such important issues are often highly contested, a major reason for the difficulty in resolving them is that many attorneys view the current Florida laws regarding alimony and timesharing as outdated and difficult to work with.

Alimony may be ordered by a Judge and requires the higher-earning spouse to contribute toward the difference in the couples’ incomes by giving the lower-earning spouse monthly payments after they are divorced. The duration of these alimony payments is usually determined by how long the couple was married. Current Florida law generally provides that when alimony is appropriate, the payments shouldn’t last longer than the total length of the marriage itself. However, if a couple is married for longer than 17 years, the higher-earning spouse may be ordered to make monthly alimony payments to the lower-earning spouse forever. On top of that, a Judge has the authority to order permanent alimony even for marriages that last significantly less than 17 years. The only way the permanent alimony payments can ever be stopped, is if the lower-earning spouse remarries or enters into a relationship with someone where they are financially supported the same as if they were married.

Many feel that permanent alimony, as currently allowed under Florida law, is too generalized and doesn’t take into account important factors particular to each marriage. Because of this, the Florida Senate just passed a bill (SB 668) that would do away with the current Florida law on alimony. Instead, this bill would require a Judge to use a standard formula based on length of marriage and the higher earning spouses’ incomes to determine an amount and duration of alimony payments. This scheme would largely end permanent alimony in the state of Florida and provide a much-needed predictable and reliable method for anticipating and determining likely alimony awards. If signed into law, this bill will take effect on October 1, 2016.

In addition, this proposed bill would also make a substantial change to Florida law regarding timesharing with minor children. As the law currently stands, there are no standard timesharing arrangements when a couple initially files for divorce or files a case to determine the paternity of a minor child. This can cause significant conflict regarding which parent gets to have and care for the child, both temporarily and permanently, which is of course very difficult on the parents and, most importantly, the children. To address this shortcoming, the proposed bill would make it standard practice for both parents to have equal timesharing in the best interest of the children, and therefore the parents will automatically be required to split their time with the children 50/50 unless and until an actual timesharing schedule can be agreed upon or established by a Judge. Furthermore, if one parent feels that the other parent should not have equal timesharing, that parent will need to convince the Judge as to why they should receive the majority of timesharing at the other parent’s expense.

As you can see, this proposed bill will create significant changes to the law regarding two major areas of contention in divorce and paternity cases, alimony and timesharing. Because of this, it is more important than ever to be represented by legal counsel that stays up to date on the newest laws and fully understands the repercussions of these changes. Should you have any questions regarding this proposed bill or any other legal questions whatsoever, please don’t hesitate to call our office and schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys.

Citations:



https://www.myfloridalaw.com/alimony/florida-alimony-reform/

Monday, October 5, 2015

Avoid Probate and protect your family with a Will


The passing of a family member is one of the most difficult times in anyone’s life. The grieving process can become considerably more trying when the distribution of the deceased’s assets is unclear or in dispute. This is why it is essential that you have an estate plan in place that provides a clear procedure for the distribution of your assets. It is also important to have a general understanding of the probate process that may be necessary to distribute your estate and the methods for avoiding unnecessary costs.

Whether or not you have a Will, there are a few ways to ensure that certain assets will be automatically distributed. For one, any real or personal property that is jointly held by yourself and another person with a right of survivorship or by the entireties goes straight to that surviving person. Examples include a homestead owned by a married couple, a joint checking account, and a vehicle titled as “John Doe or Jane Doe”. Next, any asset that has a designated beneficiary upon the holder’s passing - which includes life insurance proceeds and payable-on-death accounts - automatically go to that named beneficiary. Similarly, any asset placed in a living trust usually goes straight to the designated beneficiary upon your passing. The proper titling of assets can go a long way toward avoiding the emotional toll and considerable effort required to distribute assets that would otherwise be in dispute.

Having a well-drafted Will may be sufficient to avoid the probate process, however it is a common misconception that having a Will automatically eliminates the need for probate. For that reason, it is always recommended that when creating your Will you use an attorney whom you trust and that you provide full disclosure of your assets and desires, as this will allow your attorney to draft your Will with the maximum protections in place. Also, it should be noted that in Florida it is required that your Will be filed with the Clerk of Court within ten days of your passing in all situations.

The general idea behind probate is that your Personal Representative identifies the assets in your estate, uses these assets to pay off any creditor claims or taxes that are owed by the estate, and then distributes the remaining assets according to the terms of your Will or the Florida Statutes should you not have a Will. The probate process can be very complicated and is highly specific to each particular estate and the family members involved.

Probate can be an extremely emotional and trying time for your family members who are in the process of grieving their recent loss. One of the greatest gifts you can give your family is to minimize the financial impact of your passing by jointly titling your assets and designating beneficiaries wherever possible, and working closely and openly with a trusted attorney in drafting your Will.

Written by: Attorney Dylan Hall