November 2008 Archives

November 17, 2008

More Virtual Divorce: Second Life Leads to First Divorce

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This is a followup on a recent post about divorce in the virtual world. This time, a UK woman is divorcing her husband after she caught him canoodling with another woman in the virtual world called "Second Life." Let's be clear here -- the other woman was not real in the sense of having a physical existence, but was a character in an online game in which players create a parallel universe for themselves, complete with jobs, homes, and activities. Apparently, those activities can include romance -- in fact, the couple involved in this case first met and married in Second Life, according to the UK paper The Telegraph. (And I'm still curious about why so many of these stories come out of the UK...) However, they also married legally in the physical universe, and now they're divorcing, with the husband planning to move on and marry his new sweetheart -- also in the real world -- despite the fact he hasn't yet met her.

And they say gays are making a mockery of marriage.

But seriously, online infidelity is a real risk for married couples, says the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. I'm no marriage counselor, but it seems to me that one solution for that might be clear communiation up front with your spouse about what online behavior is acceptable and what you consider "cheating." Another could be to turn the computer off and have some real-life quality time with the person you've pledged your life to. Just a thought.

November 12, 2008

Religion and Custody Dispute Goes Hollywood: Madonna as the Grinch Who Stole Christmas

The issue of child custody and religion has come up in one of this year's most high-profile divorces, between pop icon Madonna and her film director husband Guy Ritchie.

Madonna is a follower of the Jewish mystical religion called Kabbalah, and her belief system doesn't include a Christmas celebration. In years past, the family has skipped Christmas altogether, apparently with Ritchie's consent. But this year, he wants to treat the couple's two children to "a traditional English Christmas," according to the British paper The Mirror, while Madonna wants the kids to be with her on Christmas Day.

What have we learned about custody and religion so far? First, that religious issues are coming up more and more often in custody cases. And, that custodial parents have the right to make religious decisions for their kids -- but that kids who are old enough can have their own opinions on these matters factored in by the courts. In Madonna's case, the divorce is not yet completed, so there's no permanent custody order and it's not completely clear which party has the type of custodial rights that would allow them to make religious decisions for the children. And both of her children with Ritchie (she also has a daughter from a previous relationship) are too young to have their two cents considered.

As always, we hope the parents can work things out and maintain amicable joint custody of their children.

November 3, 2008

Dependent Exemption May Be Claimed By Both Divorced Parents

Until now, divorced parents had to negotiate about who got to take the I.R.S. dependent exemption for each of their children. In general, the primary custodial parent has been entitled to the dependent exemption because the child usually lives with that parent more than 50% of the time. But often the non-custodial parent is the higher wage-earner and would benefit more from the exemption, so the I.R.S. would allow the custodial parent to sign a waiver allowing the non-custodial parent to take the exemption instead.

This is still the general rule for dependent exemption purposes, but it's no longer an either/or proposition for all purposes under a recently issued IRS Revenue Procedure. (There's also a very clear explanation of the new guidance on the McGuire Woods website.) Now, the IRS will treat a child as a dependent of both parents for purposes of tax treatment of Medical Savings Accounts (MSA) and Health Savings Accounts (HSA), as well as certain other fringe benefits of employment. For federal income tax purposes, both parents can now treat their children as dependents even if no waiver has been signed by the custodial parent, meaning that both can exclude from their gross income any money taken from an MSA or HSA and used for qualifying medical expenses.

This may seem quite technical, but for parents who use MSAs and HSAs, it's good news. Both parents can benefit from treating the child as a dependent, and they no longer need to negotiate (or argue) about who gets that tax benefit.