Investing in You: Financial help for the no-longer-married

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"There should be planning in divorce, so make sure you consult with your accountant or financial planner ahead of time," says Mount Laurel's Lisa Bien, author of "Divorce Happens: Bounce Back."

Lisa Bien is twice-divorced.

"The first was nasty, the second was nice," recalls the Mount Laurel resident. "Neither was easy financially."

Divorce agreements often don't spell out expenses beyond alimony or child support - typically nothing about summer camps, or books for school, or braces.

"There should be planning in divorce, so make sure you consult with your accountant or financial planner ahead of time," says Bien, author of Divorce Happens: Bounce Back (Tasfil, 2015).

Day to day, Bien says, she keeps a spreadsheet of expenses and her receipts, which she and her (second) ex compare and split at month's end.

But with no-longer-married couples, larger assets can be at stake as well, such as 529 college-savings plans, insurance policies, retirement accounts, trusts, and real estate.

In addition to being painful emotionally, divorce can be grotesquely expensive. Technology start-ups are riding to the financial rescue.

SupportPay, a Silicon Valley start-up, was created by Sherri Atwood, who was frustrated by keeping track of post-split expenses between her and her ex-husband. Now, they share child-rearing expenses via her software (information at supportpay.com) and agree it's the best way to support their daughter financially without animosity.

In the United States, 55 million parents live apart. Of those, 39 million exchange $200 billion every year in child support and expenses, Atwood says.

"It's a hugely underserved market. After the divorce, I was a traveling executive trying to be a single parent. The divorce wasn't the problem, the finances afterwards were.

"When the lawyers step out of the picture, it's up to the parents to execute the court order or agreement," she says.

SupportPay.com helps, and its subscription service currently has 15,000 users and growing.

SnapDivorce.com of Doylestown recently started to serve estranged couples in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. It charges a flat fee of about $11,000.

"That's actually not a high price," says Sherri Violetti of Cherry Hill, divorced three years ago.

"My ex wasn't complying with the court order. He refused to pay my daughter's college tuition and had lied about his income. It took three hearings and another $8,000 in legal fees" after the divorce, Violetti says. She lost her house and her perfect credit score. She and her ex ultimately filed for personal bankruptcy.

No one person in a couple should be in charge of all the money, say financial planners such as Richard Massaux with Wells Fargo.

"My father left my mother with nothing, and she had to go back to work full time. My wife and I share all financial information. We have an estate plan if anything happens to me. A trust keeps assets for my kids."

Coaching and more

Divorce lenders and coaches are also cashing in on splitting up.

BBL Churchill serves high-end clients in Pennsylvania, couples with $1 million or more in assets. It lends to future ex-husbands or wives who have been cut off financially by their significant others, charging interest on the portion of the loan spent, rather than a portion of the settlement. (Say, for example, you borrow $100,000 but use only $50,000; you pay interest on the latter amount).

The Women's Resource Center in Wayne will host a divorce resource event in the fall (check womensresourcecenter.net for details). It will include divorce coaches and discussion of finances and co-parenting.

Other money matters

After divorce, don't forget about retirement and Social Security benefits.

If you are at least 62, unmarried and divorced from someone entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits, you may be eligible to receive benefits based on his or her earnings record, according to Doug Walker, a spokesman at the Social Security Adminstration.

The rules: You must have been married to your ex-spouse for 10 years or more. If you've remarried, you can't collect benefits on your former spouse's record unless your later marriage ended by annulment, divorce, or death.

Also, if you're entitled to benefits on your own earnings record, your benefit amount must be less than you would receive based on your ex-spouse's work. In other words, Social Security will pay the higher of the two benefits for which you're eligible, but not both.

If your ex-spouse died after you divorced, you can still qualify for widow's or widower's benefits.

Social Security's Benefits Planner (www.socialsecurity.gov/planners) offers tools for estimating benefits. Visit a special page, www.socialsecurity.gov/planners/retire/divspouse.html, for information and the eligibility requirements you must meet to apply as a divorced spouse.


earvedlund@phillynews.com

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@erinarvedlund