How to File Your Taxes During or After a Divorce

Sophya Qureshi Raza

By Sophya Qureshi Raza

It can be difficult to determine how to file your taxes during and after a divorce.  Depending on your filing status, there are differences that can significantly impact the amount of tax you owe or the amount you are refunded.

The following is a list of issues to be aware of when filing your taxes:

  1. What is my filing status?  If you are still legally married as of December 31, you have to file your taxes either “married filing jointly” or “married filing separately.”  Discuss with your CPA the benefits/disadvantages of both as “married filing separately” can reduce tax benefits.
  2. Who will claim your children as dependents?  Divorced couples can chose to divide the dependent exemptions for their children.  There may be other allowable deductions for expenses you pay for your children, such as medical expenses or childcare. Continue reading »

Getting Divorced? Don’t Forget These Assets

Sophya Qureshi Raza

By Sophya Qureshi Raza

This article in Forbes is very good advice, not only for women, but also for men getting divorced.  Many of these assets are often overlooked.

Divorcing Women: Don’t Forget These Marital Assets –

How Do You Want to Get Divorced? An Overview of Your Process Options

Sophya Qureshi Raza

By Sophya Qureshi Raza

When you have made the decision to divorce, it’s important to realize that you have several options in moving forward.  Be wary of an attorney who has a “one size fits all” attitude – your case is unique and may be suited for an option other than the typical one of going straight to court. Here is a brief overview of the different processes to consider:

  1. The Kitchen Table. You and your spouse negotiate all of the issues with each other, before either of you files with the court.  Often, when all of the agreements have been reached, one of you hires an attorney that represents only that person to prepare the required documentation for filing with the court. It is possible however, to file the divorce yourself without an attorney. While I do not recommend that you file yourself, many courts, including St. Louis County in Missouri, have forms available online to obtain a divorce. This option is most suited for couples who do not have a high level of conflict, and where both spouses fully understand the finances and property and have a high level of trust between them.

    Advantages: Quick and inexpensive

    Disadvantages: No professional advice from an attorney (or only one spouse obtains professional advice) of legal rights and options; no formal method of information gathering (“discovery”) to ensure your spouse is being honest with financial information

  2. Mediation. You and your spouse have a series of meetings with a trained mediator (who is also a family law attorney), who does not represent either of you, to negotiate and reach agreements in your case. The mediator’s role is to advise you of the law facilitate negotiations, help generate options, draft the final Separation Agreement, and, if you have children, draft the Parenting Plan. Both spouses are advised to consult with their own respective attorneys during the process but are not required to do so. This option is best suited for couples who do have disagreements but are committed to resolving them outside of court and need the assistance of an unbiased neutral to help reach agreements.

    Advantages: No court involvement; structured negotiation process; couple has control over all decisions

    Disadvantages: Could become costly if you pay a mediator and two attorneys; a spouse that is controlling and/or abusive may take advantage of the other spouse during the process (i.e., there is an imbalance of power); no formal method of discovery Continue reading »

When You Cross a Line: Spying and Stalking

Sophya Qureshi Raza

By Sophya Qureshi Raza

Recently I was interviewed by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on the topic of stalking or tracking a spouse using technology. In the article “Stalkers find friend in GPS technology,” I share what I have been seeing related to the use of technology to spy or track spousal activities or whereabouts:

Sophya Qureshi Raza, a private attorney who practices family law in the St. Louis region, said she has seen an increasing number of instances over the past year, including three she handled.

The worst of them, she said, involved a husband in St. Louis County who downloaded software into his wife’s phone to show her location and record her conversations. The wife found out, Raza said, by finding a purchase receipt under couch cushions.

Raza, a partner at Danna McKitrick, successfully argued that the husband’s actions constituted stalking under Missouri’s adult abuse law and required a protective order, the same result as in her other two cases.

But most often, she said, judges allow such tracking in divorce cases, unless there is a clear threat or harassment.

“I think it’s a case where the statute hasn’t caught up with technology,” the lawyer said.

Read the full article here.

Holiday Tips for Divorced Parents

Sophya Qureshi Raza

By Sophya Qureshi Raza

Unfortunately, for many divorced families, the holidays can be a stressful and emotional time. The joyfulness of the holidays can be replaced with feelings of anxiety, depression and loneliness…not only for parents, but for their children as well.

The holidays are a busy time for family law attorneys, with parents often butting heads over holiday plans, visitation schedules, winter vacations, out-of-town travel, family events…the list goes on and on.

Keep these tips in mind to decrease not only the anxiety surrounding the holidays, but hopefully your lawyer bills as well:

  1. Plan Ahead.If you haven’t looked at that Parenting Plan in a while, now may be a good time. Make sure you understand what the plan provides in terms of the holidays and winter vacations. If you and your ex-spouse are on good terms, do you need to have any discussions about times/days of visitation and make any adjustments? More stress is added when these things are addressed at the last minute. If you’re not on good terms, send a confirmation email to your ex-spouse confirming your understanding of the Parenting Plan. If there is going to be a problem, better to find this out early. Continue reading »

Guardianship vs. Third-party Custody: What’s the Difference?

Sophya Qureshi Raza

By Sophya Qureshi Raza

Co-authored by Sophya Qureshi Raza and Misty A. Watson

Often, a situation arises where neither of a child’s biological parents is able to care for the child. It then becomes necessary for a non-parent to take legal steps to be appointed guardian or custodian of the child.

The terms “guardianship” and “third-party custody” are often used interchangeably. However, although the concepts are similar, it is important to be aware of the differences between guardianship and third-party custody to know which option fits your needs if you find yourself in this situation.

The major differences between guardianships and third-party custody are as follows:

  • Guardianships
  • Guardianships are filed in Probate Court.
  • The potential guardian must prove that the parent(s) is/are unfit, unwilling or unable to care for the child.
  • A guardianship requires an annual reporting to the Probate Court as to the well-being of the child. Continue reading »

Divorce and Social Security Benefits

Sophya Qureshi Raza

By Sophya Qureshi Raza

Divorced individuals filing for Social Security benefits are often unaware they may qualify for benefits based on marriage to an ex-spouse, even after divorce.

Because the strict guidelines and rules for eligibility may be overlooked by divorce attorneys, divorced individuals need to understand what benefits they are eligible for when they file for Social Security.

If you want to obtain information regarding your benefits, it is now available on the Social Security Administration’s website. The SSA no longer mails annual statements unless you are a worker age 60 or older. Once you have registered for an account, you may verify your earnings and see your estimated benefits based on when you would retire. Continue reading »

Tips on Summer Vacations in Families of Divorce

Sophya Qureshi Raza

By Sophya Qureshi Raza

I recently had the opportunity to post “Divorce, Summer, Kids, and Vacations,” an article about dealing with children and summer vacations in families of divorce, on is an online community published by moms “dedicated to delivering the scoop on all the family-friendly events and activities happening in their communities each week.”

Summer vacations is families of divorce is a stressful time for parents and for children. Here are just some of the tips from the article:

  • Adhere to the dates in your custody schedule regarding when you have to give notice to the other parent about vacation dates.
  • Plan your vacation well ahead of time, keeping in mind that you cannot schedule your vacation around other special days where the other parent has custody, i.e. Mother’s/Father’s Day, the other parent’s birthday, etc. Continue reading »

10 Steps to Take Before You File for Divorce

Sophya Qureshi Raza

By Sophya Qureshi Raza

If you are contemplating divorce, financial advisor Lisa M. Gabriel of Axius Financial believes that there are concrete steps you can take before initiating a divorce to help lessen the turmoil of the divorce process.

The following advice is contained in her guide for clients going through a divorce:

Continue reading »

5 Tips to Reduce the Cost of Your Family Law Case

Sophya Qureshi Raza

By Sophya Qureshi Raza

How much a family law case will cost is the number one fear of clients. When asked how much something will cost, family law attorneys have a tendency to reply with: “I’m not sure, it depends on… (fill in the blank).” This leaves clients with no way to gauge how much they are looking at paying with very little control over their case and their bill. Many clients also become afraid to call or email their attorney thinking they cannot possibly afford every phone call and email.

However, there are ways that clients can help to control the costs of their case:

Tip #1: Keep your communications short and sweet.

  • Prior to any communication with your attorney, whether via email, telephone or in person,  prioritize your list of questions – and group by topic. This will eliminate the need for your attorney to decipher your questions and then respond, which cuts down on your costs and allows for a quicker response.
  • Resist the urge to email or call your attorney daily – or repeatedly throughout the day. As you would imagine, this constant communication will cost you.
    • Be sure you understand how your attorney will charge you for emails and phone calls.
    • Short, organized communications received as digests on a weekly basis will reduce your costs. Obviously, this does not apply in an emergency situation.
    • Utilize your attorney’s secretary for as many non-legal questions as possible, such as court dates, directions to the courthouse, drop offs, misspellings, etc. Their time is non-billable.

Tip #2: Organize your documents.

  • Hand your documents over to your attorney in an organized manner – chronologically and by account, property type or subject, where applicable. You will save hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in paralegal and attorney time.
  • Respond promptly when your attorney requests documents from you. When a paralegal or attorney must follow up with a request for information from you, that will cost you.
  • The more work you can do, the less your lawyer will charge you.

Tip #3: Before requesting your attorney to handle something for you, determine if it is something you could do for yourself.

  • Example: Your spouse says that they have paid the household bills but you do not believe him/her.
  • You have two options:
    • Option #1: Call your attorney to explain the situation (you are charged for this). Then your attorney has to call the other attorney to bring up the issue (you are charged for this). Your spouse’s attorney has to call his client to discuss the problem (if you end up paying for some of your spouse’s fees, consider yourself charged for this as well).
    • Option #2: You call the mortgage company, the utility companies, etc.
  • Which is the better option? You have to decide. Option #2 may end up taking an hour of your time, but it was free.

Tip #4: Don’t use your attorney as a therapist.

  • If you are having a hard time with your emotions, find a therapist. Attorneys went to law school. They are not trained to be psychologists, nor should they be attempting to act as one.
  • Mental health professionals are trained in the area of counseling people going through family crises and are usually a fraction of the cost of an attorney.
  • If you do not know where to look, a good place to start is to request a referral from your attorney. Also, your company may offer an employee assistance program (EAP) to get you started with a few free sessions of counseling. Other options include asking your physician, checking with your local churches, or calling your local United Way resource help line.

Tip #5: Be open to compromise – and the goal of getting to the end.

  • I am often asked after a trial, “Did you win?” In family law, there are no winners and no losers. Neither party will get 100% of what they are seeking. Most clients have a difficult time with the results of their case, believing that they will find justice at the courthouse. The reality is that if both parties walk away from a case feeling as though they did not get everything they asked for, that means the conclusion is most likely fair. It is all about how you get to the end.
  • Decide on what you are and are not willing to compromise and communicate this to your attorney. Identifying these issues will help to keep your fees down. You can spend a lot of money paying your attorney to fight every step of the way. Or you can realize that at the end of the case, no matter how long and hard you fight, you will not get everything you want.

Family law is never a win-win situation, and it costs both sides in the end. However, costs can be kept down if you keep these tips in mind.

Posted by Attorney Sophya Qureshi Raza. Raza practices family law where she effectively guides clients through dissolution of marriage, modifications of prior judgments, and resolving child custody and paternity disputes. She also helps families with legal guardianships and conservatorships for the elderly and disabled.