Physician Divorce: How to Survive and Thrive – Podcast #210

The doctor divorce rate is 25%. We get questions on the podcast and blog from doctors going through divorce frequently but we have little experience with it. People want answers from those who have lived through it. Our guest in this episode, Dr. George Hwang, presented at the WCI Conference 2021 about how you can survive and thrive as a divorced doctor. We get into the nitty-gritty details of financial planning and divorce in this interview. It can be complex, and divorce is not something people like to talk about. It is expensive and will greatly affect your financial planning. We don’t go into marriage planning for divorce, but it happens. If you are in that 25% of physicians, this episode will answer many of your questions from attorney costs, mediation, child support, and alimony, to valuing your assets, dividing them up equitably, and reevaluating your financial plan for the future.

Back in the day, people thought physicians were more likely to get divorced, but that statistic is about 24-25% of doctors are divorced. So, a lot less than what people thought, but still a pretty significant number. However, it is half the rate of everyone else, and dual physician divorce rates are even lower, 10-12%. We may have this terrible reputation but we are doing better than other fields of high-income professionals, like lawyers.

Women who work more have higher divorce rates, but men who work more have lower divorce rates. We discussed why that statistic is true. Our guest, Dr. Hwang, who lived through his divorce several years ago, thinks the answer is burnout.

We find it fascinating that some states have a reputation for being better to women in divorce or being better to men in divorce. Here in Utah, the reputation is that we are much, much better to women than we are to men in divorce. Dr. Hwang has not seen states being friendlier to one gender than the other, but some states have a shorter time period that you can divorce. In Virginia you need to be separated for an entire year before you can officially divorce. In Alaska, you could do it in under 30 days. You can make it official after separation.

If you live in a high cost of living area, that can affect your child support and alimony.

It is interesting when they calculate that, they tend to try to maintain the lifestyle after divorce that the spouse or the child had before, which seems crazy. Now you’re going from one household to two households. There is no way to preserve that lifestyle. You’re lucky if you’re not halfing your lifestyle. Do they ever make an allowance for that or is the assumption that the higher earner is just going to somehow support that lower earner, at the same lifestyle?

That has some pretty serious financial implications on how that higher earner is going to be living afterward. You just basically lost all those economies of scale you had with two people living together in the family. Yet you’re still responsible for essentially maintaining that cost in addition to your new living costs; that can be pretty tough.

To recover financially from a divorce, you may need to return to the “Live like a resident” phase of your life, for another two to five years, to make up for this hit.

If you’re fresh out of residency or med school, it’s more than likely not very complicated. If you have multiple properties, you own a practice, and have kids, it will get more complicated. But Dr. Hwang points out that your attorney is not your best friend.

It is pretty expensive therapy to talk to your $900 an hour attorney. Mediation is a great tool. You can go through your lawyer to find a mediator.

But he would really caution against not using a lawyer at all. At least have them look over your plan.

Each of your assets is considered either non-marital or marital. Anything acquired or improved upon during the marriage are marital assets. Properties that each spouse acquired from a third person as a gift or inheritance, those are considered non-marital, even if acquired during the marriage. The laws will be different from state to state on that.

The court will divide property between spouses in a way that they consider fair or equitable. A lot of times it will be 50-50, but that’s what equal is. Equal is saying, no matter what, it’s 50-50, no questions asked. With equitable, you are taking into account other things like the financial condition or the earning power of each spouse, what properties each spouse has or whatever business each one has. That is more equitable when you consider those things.

Never move out of the marital home when you’re considering divorce. If you decide to move out, the spouse can file a motion for exclusive possession of the home. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the home is theirs and that they have all the value of it. It just means that during that time period, through the divorce proceedings, you cannot enter your home. If you want to take your stuff out, your possessions, you can’t do it legally.

If one of you is going to stay in the house, you’ll want to get off the mortgage for liability purposes. To do this you will have to refinance. Just like you did originally when you took out the mortgage, you’ll have to pass the lender’s eligibility requirements to refinance the loan. You have to show that you’ll be able to make the payments and live up to your end of the deal on your own situation and not the combined situation. Once that is successful, you can do a quick claim deed.

We worry about the scenario where you’re trying to get your name off the mortgage, and they can’t qualify to refinance. They will have to sell the home.

Valuing some assets is easy like your brokerage portfolio. Just pick a date to do it on. But there are other assets that aren’t so easy to value: the house, maybe investment properties, maybe a small business, or your practice. What are the procedures there?

For the house, you need to reevaluate the value of the home. You can get an appraisal or just look on Zillow or Redfin and see what their estimate is. Dr. Hwang said it just comes down to what you two can agree on. If you can agree on a price, no big deal. Otherwise, you’re spending $600 on an appraisal.

For your business you will need to hire someone to appraise it for you. It takes into account the physical equipment that you have there, and what your business is worth. It’s hard to just put it in a calculator in a spreadsheet.

It is going to affect your partners in that practice a lot of the time, too.

Are divorce courts and divorcees smart enough to recognize the difference between a Roth account and a tax-deferred account? Is there an adjustment made when assets are split up for those two things?

To divide up the Roth IRA, you’re going to do something called a transfer incident to divorce. No tax will be assessed on separation. The tax-deferred accounts are under a qualified domestic relations order, you will pay no taxes, you’ll pay no penalty. But Dr. Hwang said,

Even if they do know, there’s going to be more overall wealth if the lower earner gets the tax-deferred account and the higher earner gets the tax-free account. Even if you make an adjustment for the fact that they have to pay taxes on that, that’s still the way you’d want to set it up for the most total wealth between the two of you. Curious if divorce courts ever address those issues or just don’t think about them.

For Dr. Hwang, they did not.

She got tax-deferred money and he got to keep all of his Roth IRA. That’s kind of the sense we’ve always had. That the court is not smart enough to think about that issue, but it really is a big difference in money, especially if people are splitting up late in life and this is most of their assets.

After divorce, it is important to reevaluate your financial plan. Look at your insurance plan, your trust, and your beneficiaries.

You will need to look at your long-term disability plan unless you know you are financially independent or you are going to retire soon. For Dr. Hwang, his physician spouse was accounted for in his plan should he become disabled and he needed to reevaluate that now that he is divorced. What insurance he did have in place was going to bring a dramatic decrease in lifestyle. Look at your budget and make sure your disability insurance payment will cover your costs, including any child support or alimony you owe.

Same with life insurance. Assuming you have term life insurance, look at who the beneficiary is now. You don’t necessarily want it to go to your ex-spouse. He points out that a lot of states won’t allow that to happen, but make it simple and reevaluate your beneficiaries. You may or may not need to adjust the premium. You may need more disability insurance and less life insurance.

How are student loans viewed by divorce courts and what strategies are available because of that?

So, it could be on a case-by-case basis. But most likely the burden will go to the one who took out the loan. And if you had it before the marriage, it’s definitely going to be your burden. It makes for a tricky scenario. If your marriage is on the rocks, pay on your student loans, not your spouse’s. These types of planning strategies sound terrible. But this is basically what it is. Paying on yours is better than investing and investing is better than paying on their loans. Ethical dilemmas abound, obviously, in any sort of a planning situation like that, because what you’re gaining on one side, someone else is losing on the other side.

Alimony is determined on the lower earners’ needs and the higher earners’ ability to pay. Alimony trends are moving towards smaller payments for shorter periods of time possibly due to a new law passed by Congress. That new rule, which was on January 1st, 2019, was part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

He suspects they did it so the government ends up with more money. They actually said they expect that to generate about $7 billion in additional tax revenue over the next 10 years because the high earner no longer gets the deduction, the lower earner does, essentially.

Although it’s like they didn’t think it through. Because if everyone really just adjusts to that, the alimony payments are just lower. So, it’s the same amount of tax revenue in the end. If they really thought it through, it’s just kind of a goofy policy. It just doesn’t seem right, though. It seems right that the person who’s actually getting the income ought to be paying taxes on it. Dr. Hwang suspects another reason that they may have done this is that enforcing these rules was a little bit hard, too much time and effort spent to really chase these people.

Who claims the children on taxes after divorce? Maybe the higher earner can’t even get a benefit from it.

Dr. Hwang does point out that the tax credit at our physician level is only going to be around $600. Not a whole lot. More bang for your buck is going to be if your employer offers a dependent care FSA.

I consulted my CPA. The new rule in 2021 starts in March, it’s kind of breaking news. So, there’s the American Relief Act and actually, it raised the limit of your dependent care FSA from $5,000 to $10,500 for just the year 2020. So, if you take advantage of that, and if you’re in the 35th percentile, you’ll get $3,675 tax savings for 2021. And you can imagine if you have a nanny, that’s dependent care, any of those situations, you’ll hit that pretty easily. So, if there are any listeners out there that are considering that, that’s pretty big. It’s more important than the dependent credit that you’re talking about.”

Remember the FSA is use it or lose it. If you don’t spend that money by the end of the year, you just lose it. So, don’t forget that when you put extra money in an FSA.

For health insurance, if you have an HSA that is another reason to be able to claim one kid on your taxes, because then you can make the family HSA contribution of $7,200 rather than the single HSA contribution of $3,100. Even if you’re not getting a child tax credit, you might want to be able to claim a kid on your taxes to get that additional HSA contribution.

A family is you and a kid or you and a spouse. That gives you the higher limit. So if there are two kids and you both want to max out an HSA after divorce, you can do that as long as each of you claims one kid.

You can split the kids. One kid on the ex-spouse’s insurance, one on the other’s. Then you can actually both contribute $7,200.

You can’t really do a podcast on divorce without talking about prenups. It may be a bad word in a lot of people’s minds. But there are more pros than cons when opening up the discussion with your future spouse about finances. Everyone says you should get a prenup, but no one has one. Clearly, if you are getting remarried, you’re getting married after you’re established in your career, you have kids from the prior marriage, this is a must. You’re doing your kids a disservice to not have this, but a lot of us got married when we were young and broke, poor and didn’t have anything. The consequences are probably less in those situations. Dr. Hwang didn’t think it would have changed anything in his situation.

Brought to you by the Laurel Road Student Loan Cashback℠ credit card. Laurel Road is committed to serving the financial needs of doctors. You take care of us. It’s time someone took care of you. With the new Laurel Road Student Loan Cashback℠ credit card, you can earn 2.0% in Cashback Rewards towards eligible student loans for each $1 spent on eligible purchases, or 1.0% in Cashback Rewards as a statement credit. Subject to credit approval. For terms and conditions, please visit Laurel Road. Laurel Road is a brand of KeyBank N.A. Member FDIC and Equal Housing Lender. NMLS # 399797.

We think he is talking to residents who are trying to borrow more money while they’re living in residency on the average American household income.

Teresa and her husband made a plan to live off one income. In 5 years post-training they were able to reach millionaire status. There are many roads to reaching a net worth of a million dollars. They chose investing in real estate. But the principles are the same: earn money, carve a good chunk out, and invest it in a smart way. It doesn’t take long until you’ve reached your goals. Every one of you can be a millionaire.

If you have other questions for Dr. Hwang or want to hear more from him, you can read his blog, RockStarMD, follow him on Instagram, or for you podcast listeners, check out his podcast.

Intro:
This is the White Coat Investor podcast where we help those who wear the white coat get a fair shake on Wall Street. We’ve been helping doctors and other high-income professionals stop doing dumb things with their money since 2011. Here’s your host, Dr. Jim Dahle.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
This is White Coat Investor podcast number 210 – How to survive and thrive as a divorce doctor.

Dr. Jim Dahle:

This podcast is brought to you by the Laurel Road student loan cash back credit card. Laurel Road is committed to serving the financial needs of doctors. You take care of us, it’s time someone took care of you.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
With the new Laurel Road student loan cash back credit card, you can earn 2.0% in cash back rewards towards eligible student loans for each $1 spent on eligible purchases or 1.0% in cash back rewards as a statement credit.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
Subject credit approval. For terms and conditions, please visit www.laurelroad.com/wci. That’s www.laurelroad.com/wci. Laurel Road is a brand of KeyBank, N.A and member at the FDIC, an equal housing lender. NMLS number 399797.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
All right, let’s do our quote of the day today. This one comes from Will Rogers who said, “When you find yourself in a deep hole, stop digging”. I think he’s talking to residents who are trying to borrow more money while they’re living in residency on the average American household income.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
Thanks for those of you out there who are working hard in the trenches of medicine. It’s not an easy job. It involves long hours, crazy hours, crazy people, and dealing with the ill and injured sometimes. It can be a difficult thing to do.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
So, if you’re a high-income earner and you’re listening to this podcast, chances are you have a hard job. It might be that you’re a doc. It might be that you are an APC. It might be that you are an attorney or a business owner, but chances are, you’re not just punching a clock. This is a part of you and you’re working hard at it and you spend years learning your craft. So, if no one’s told you thank you today, let me be the first.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
We got something cool that’s going to come out this week. You may have noticed it on the blog. We got a store. That’s right, a White Coat Investor store or a shop. You can find that at shop.whitecoatinvestor.com. All kinds of cool stuff there that you will love. T-shirts, books, Yeti mugs, water bottles, beanies, journals, pens. We’ll put all kinds of new special deals up there from time to time as we come up with new stuff we’ll put it in there.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
If there’s something you want to see, let us know, and we’ll see if it works, but for the next two weeks through May 24th, it’s 10% off everything in this store. So, now’s the time. Check it out. See what’s there and get your WCI schwag right now. A 10% off everything through the 24th. That’s shop.whitecoatinvestor.com.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
All right, we’ve got a special guest on the podcast today. He was actually a speaker at the WCI con 21 in the virtual event we had back in March. And so, I’m looking forward to getting him on the podcast.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
Our special guest today is anesthesiologists George Wong, who was one of our faculty members at WCI con 21. Welcome to the podcast George.

Dr. George Hwang:
Thanks so much for having me. It’s definitely a pleasure to be on this format. I loved doing the conference. Thank you so much for letting me be part of that.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
Yeah, it was a great time. It turned out way better than I expected honestly. It really was an awesome event, smashing the successful and you are a big part of that. So, I appreciate it.

Dr. George Hwang:
Definitely. Thank you.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
Now, I don’t want to pigeonhole you into one little niche in the physician financial blogosphere, podcastosphere, but you did such a good job on your presentation there. I wanted to bring you onto the podcast and talk about the same subject.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
Now your talk was titled “How to survive and thrive as a divorced doctor”. And this is something that’s relatively new in your life, but something that I get requests for all the time on the podcast, on the blog, and I’m not divorced. I have very little experience with it. Obviously, I have some friends and family and whatever that are divorced, but no real personal experience with it, which is what people are really looking for when they’re wanting to learn about something. They want not only someone that knows all the ins and outs of it, but that can personalize it a little bit. And so, I’m grateful to you for being willing to come on here, talk a little bit about your story, but also get into the nitty gritty details of financial planning and divorce, because it can be pretty complex, it turns out.

Dr. George Hwang:
Yeah, definitely. Nobody plans on this to happen. Nobody goes into marriage if they’re going to get divorce. It happens. Back in the day, people at least would think physicians were more often getting divorced and actually they found out that wasn’t necessarily true. About 25% of docs, 24% docs are divorced. So, a lot less than what people thought, but still a pretty significant number when you look at that, if you look at that as a whole.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
Yeah, but it’s half the rate of everybody else, it’s actually pretty good. And among dual docs couples it’s even lower. I think I’ve seen figures as low as 10% or 12% among dual docs couples. So, we got this terrible reputation, maybe we’re not as bad as we think.

Dr. George Hwang:
Yeah, totally. Actually, we are better than some other fields like lawyers and other high-income professionals. And yeah, you’re right. Dual doc is definitely better.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
Now if it isn’t too raw, can you tell us a little bit about your own marriage and divorce?

Dr. George Hwang:
Yeah. So, I actually come from a two-physician marriage. And so, just to go through a quick story. We met in undergrad at Georgetown. We did our pre-med classes together. We both went to Georgetown for med school for residency. I did anesthesia and she did ortho for residency. We got married right after med school, which is very typical. There are a ton of weddings people go through after they graduate.

Dr. George Hwang:
And so, after we graduated from our residency, we stayed in DC. I stayed at Georgetown and she did private practice for ortho. And that’s when we started out our family. And so, we had one child and a second child. And that’s for me, that’s for us, that’s when things started kind of falling apart. It was right around the seven-year mark when that happened. You’ll hear about the seven-year itch or whatever it is, but that’s for us when things started, whatever cracks were there before amplified. I can go into complete detail about it.

Dr. George Hwang:
By the way, therapy is great, marriage counseling is great, personal therapy is great. And I can go on this whole thing about that, but that’s not necessarily what I’m here for. I want to talk about what the circumstances are and how to survive that. But yeah, it’s a hard time. It’s a very hard time and you don’t plan on it. I never thought I’d be a divorced doc. Sometimes when I say that out loud, it’s certainly really strange. I think I’m the only one in my group. There’s one other person in my group that is divorced, but yeah, it’s a long process and it goes in waves and phases. There’s a roller coaster behind it.

Dr. George Hwang:
But that’s basically my story. Even during the marriage, I was financially, I would say somewhat literate. I’ve read about the blogs, one house, one spouse, all those things. And I definitely knew the consequences from divorce. It was very clear, but it still happened and I definitely experienced the tough parts of it.

Dr. George Hwang:
And I would say my experience is very middle ground from experiences I’ve heard from other people and then somewhat worse than other people. But it’s funny, after people started hearing about me being divorced, I started getting phone calls saying, “Hey, I’m thinking about divorce. Well, what does that mean?” What’s going to happen? Well, I’ll tell you my experience”. And then some people will tell me, “Oh, I just got divorced. How are you navigating this? What are you doing for child support? What are you doing for paying alimony?” And it was very eye-opening just how bad some situations really are. But, yeah, it’s a subject, as you know for finance it’s just everybody’s situation is different. And so, I’ll try to give the highest yield stuff that I think most people can relate to.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
Awesome. It’s interesting, there are two things docs don’t like talking about. They don’t like talking about their lawsuits and they don’t like talking about their divorces. We’re all type A kind of people. And I think it’s just hard to talk about those sorts of things.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
Let’s start with a little more about statistics. It’s interesting that women who work more have higher divorce rates, but men who work more have lower divorce rates. Do you have any idea why that statistic is true?

Dr. George Hwang:
Yeah. You know what? This could be a podcast in and of it itself. I would not be the one to talk about it, but I have an idea what it might be about. And I think to answer your question most directly, I think it’s burnout. I think that’s the biggest thing. This is the craziest statistic. Women are half of all the medical school entrance, more or less in the United States. And there are a third of the profession and growing.

Dr. George Hwang:
And despite that, they are shown to be giving better quality care than male physicians a lot of times, but there’s a lot of disparity in the pay gap. So, a couple of things that contribute to burnout. There’s the work-life balance. They experience work family conflicts to a larger degree than men I think because they take on more of the home and principal duties a lot of times.

Dr. George Hwang:
There is the workplace bias. Another thing that can happen. They have a better chance of being harassed at work. They’re less likely to be promoted or move into leadership positions. And then there’s a gender pay gap I mentioned. It can be anywhere from 8% to 20%, I’ve read less than males. And so, that’ll translate to tens of thousands of dollars.

Dr. George Hwang:
So, when you look at all those things, it’s not a good recipe for success in your marital life necessarily. So, I think that really contributes to that, the idea of burnout and burnout directly can affect your relationships at home. Just looking at it from a far, obviously not being a woman that’s kind of what I see. And I think that makes sense to why women, especially if they work more are more likely to be divorced.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
Most docs who get divorced are going to end up paying, just because they typically have a high income. They’re typically paying child support and or alimony. Can you talk about some of the ways to plan the timing of a divorce to reduce or increase that depending on which way it’s going to be flowing? And specifically, maybe even talking about moving to a state that’s known to treat your gender better in divorce maybe than the one that you are in.

Dr. George Hwang:
That’s an interesting question. It’s hard to time, first of all, the divorce. I will say that every state is different. But I would say if you’re going to time it, I mean, I guess one strategy you could do, but a lot of times when they determine child support or alimony, they look at your previous year’s income W2, 1099, whatever it is. And if that is high one year, that will definitely increase your child support and or your alimony. If you were to try to time it, maybe one year you want to do part-time or cut back on your hours, that would certainly be a strategy, but I would say all in all though, you can’t really time it. Divorce just sometimes happens.

Dr. George Hwang:
But there are cases where you’re in a marriage and you kind of know things are not going in the right direction and maybe you could do it. But either way, one party is going to take you down on the wrong end of the deal. So, I would say it’s going to be hard to really time it to your advantage. A lot of other things you can do, you can do a lot of thinking about. This one I think it’s kind of hard to really figure that out.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
Ethical dilemmas are bound obviously in any sort of a planning situation like that, because what you’re gaining on one side, somebody else’s losing on the other side. And this could just be a race to the bottom, right? Both of you see this isn’t going to a good place. And all of a sudden, you both just start spending all the assets and you both reduce your income to nothing. And then all of a sudden, you’re both in a terrible financial place. It’s interesting.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
I also find it fascinating that some states at least have a reputation for being better to women in divorce or being better to men in divorce. And I know here in Utah, the reputation is that we’re much, much better to women here than we are to men in divorce. And I don’t know what states are better for men. I have no idea. But have you looked at any statistics like that? Which States tend to be friendlier to one gender than the other?

Dr. George Hwang:
Yeah, I haven’t seen it. The only thing I’ve really seen is some states have a shorter time that you can divorce. Meaning, for example, in Virginia, where I’m from, you need to be separated for a whole year before you can officially get divorced. And so, a lot can happen in one year obviously. And so, you can kind of start planning some things then like you can start planning how you’re going to file for taxes and how you’re going to adapt to child support. It’s not official for one year, but for example, in another state, I saw Alaska, you could do it in under 30 days. You can make it official after separation.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
There you go. That’s my home state baby.

Dr. George Hwang:
Oh, is it? Okay, great. Shout out to all you Alaskans out there.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
That’s right. So, lots of different things affect child support and alimony payments, but I found it interesting from your presentation, you talked about how a high cost of living area can affect them. Can you go into a little bit more detail about that?

Dr. George Hwang:
Yeah. So, child support alimony, they are very different things by the way, obviously. And in fact, the factors that go into it are very different, but I’m telling you, I live in a high cost of living area. It’s not to your advantage. For a doctor, generally, you’re going to make, if you’re for anesthesia, for example, but I think in a lot of other fields too, you make less when you’re in a high cost of living area in a big city. So that’s one big knock. I mean, yes, it will decrease your total amount proportionally, but ultimately you want to have a high income. That’s the most powerful thing. You want to have high earning potential.

Dr. George Hwang:
But yeah, other things too. Childcare is more expensive in a high-cost living area, like where I live. For a nanny, it’s going to be anywhere from $50,000 to $60,000 to pay a nanny. On top of that, if you go to a private school, which a lot of people do. They send their kids to a private school for preschool, which is crazy. That could be $25,000. Right now, it’s $25,000 per child for preschool if you want them to go private.

Dr. George Hwang:
Daycare is not much cheaper. Maybe it can be $18,000 to $20,000. So, all those things are very expensive compared to a low-cost living area. And some of that is calculated into your child support. Child support is like a base number they just assign you based on those factors. But a lot of times nannies would be on top of that and private schools would be on top of that. So being in a high cost of living area definitely can put you behind the eight ball when you’re trying to recover, or you’re trying to plan for retirement or being financially independent.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
I find it interesting when they calculate that they tend to try to preserve the lifestyle that the spouse or the child had before, which seems crazy to me. Because now you’re going from one household to two households. There’s no way to preserve that lifestyle. You’re lucky if you’re not halving your lifestyle. In your experience, do they ever make an allowance for that or is the assumption that the higher earner is just going to somehow support that lower earner, at the same lifestyle?

Dr. George Hwang:
Yeah. It’s very tough. And that part is tough. If you’re already beyond living like a resident phase where you bought the “doctor” house, “doctor” car, yeah, it’s hard to do that afterwards. And especially for alimony that’s a big one where if there’s a scenario where the lower income spouse, if they are not working for example, or if they don’t have much money, you got to pay the same amount you paid before the divorce to get at least short-term until they get back, get on their “feet”. Meaning either get a job, either train, retrain for a job, any of those things. So yeah, the idea of what it was like before is what it should be like after, at least in my experience has been the standard.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
Wow. That’s got some pretty serious financial implications on how that higher earner is going to be living afterwards.

Dr. George Hwang:
Huge, huge.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
You just basically lost all those economies of scale you had with two people living together in the family altogether. And yet you’re still responsible for essentially maintaining that cost in addition to your new living costs, that can be pretty tough.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
Let’s talk a little bit about recovering financially from a divorce. You used in your presentation the phrase “Live like a resident”, which obviously I use all the time to refer to people when they come out of training to keep living like a resident for two to five years afterward. Do you think most divorcees need to go back and live like a resident for another two to five years to make up for this hit?

Dr. George Hwang:
Hey, you know what? You don’t have to. You can go on to trips. You can do all that. But if you’re having an idea to retire at a reasonable age, then yeah, you should live like a resident. All joking aside, I firmly believe you do, but also depends on where you are in your career. So, for example, if you’re at the end of your career and you’ve got a big fat retirement account and you’re going through a divorce and you don’t have a prenup, guess what? Your timeline is now lengthened. Even at the end of your career, if you’re looking at 10 to 15 years until financially independent or retiring, you could prolong that by 20, 30 years and that’s not insignificant.

Dr. George Hwang:
So, I think living like a resident is definitely a good idea, especially in the acute phase. Because you don’t know how much lawyers’ fees are going to be. I mean, that could be astronomical. You don’t know how disputed everything’s going to be. You don’t know how much your child support’s going to be. If you have children, you don’t know how much alimony is going to be. If you have alimony necessarily. So, I really do say at least that first year, and maybe beyond just kind of let the dust settle, see where you are and then later after that you can reevaluate where you are. But yeah, I really do think that you have to.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
Not the time to take up retail therapy clearly.

Dr. George Hwang:
No, and you know what? That’s like the same thing with a resident after they graduate that they want to delay gratification, right? They want to get all whatever they want, the house, the car or whatever it is. And it’s the same thing with divorce. Sometimes you’re like, “Hey, I’m free. Let me spend on things that I wasn’t able to spend before”. All those things. So, it’s a slippery slope.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
For sure. Well, you mentioned attorney cost. How much does an attorney cost and what can one do to reduce those costs?

Dr. George Hwang:
First of all, it’s very important to find a good attorney but that doesn’t mean you need to find the best attorney, or most expensive attorney I should say. I made this mistake. When I first got an attorney, I don’t know what it was. I don’t know if this is because I was like, “No, I’m going to get the best attorney. When I looked at it, it was $800, $900 an hour”. Obviously, I think about it in terms of what I get paid. And I’m like, “Okay, that’s a lot more than I get paid”. So, that one actually was not a good experience. They were very contentious. They were like, “Oh she’s trying to do, she’s trying to do this”. I’m like, “I don’t think she’s trying to do that. I think we’re okay”. So, I actually dropped her after a month and she definitely didn’t like that. I mean, she was like a very high-powered attorney and I think her ego was hurt for sure.

Dr. George Hwang:
But I would say the range really could be from $250 on the lower. There are junior attorneys, there are senior attorneys and there are partners. You can go on that scale, what level you want. And it goes from $250 an hour to $800 an hour plus I would say. You could definitely get up there. And so, all summed down the average, what they say is it’s around $19,000 – $20,000. But if it’s contested that will skyrocket even exponentially $30,000, $100,000 or more.

Dr. George Hwang:
But you really have to think about what your situation is. If you’re fresh out of residency or fresh out of med school, it’s more than likely not very complicated. When you get to the point where you’ve got multiple properties, you’ve got your own practice, you’ve got kids, you’ve got a lot of things that can muddy up the picture. Then the attorney is going to be your best friend, but my next point is your attorney isn’t your best friend.

Dr. George Hwang:
They charge by the hour like I said, but not only by hour, they actually do by 15-minute increments. So, each time you write a quick email saying, “Oh, I’ve got a question”, guess what? That is 15 minutes.

Dr. George Hwang:
So, my pro tip here, when you do a divorce talk as a week goes on, if it’s not urgent, just write down in email multiple questions. And they could probably answer that in 15 minutes. But if you’re firing off questions here and there, they will, and I experienced this. Maybe it’s unethical but I think they just charged by the time they actually opened the response. So anyway, that’s a quick pro tip, I would say, not shoot your lawyer like a friend, and to save up your questions on a bigger email.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
Yeah. It’s a pretty expensive therapist to talk to your $900 an hour attorney just for silly stuff. What about other options? Mediation, arbitration? You mentioned trying to avoid a contested divorce. What are the ways you can do that? And are those options realistic?

Dr. George Hwang:
Yeah. And I think in many cases they are. And yeah, mediation is a great tool. Today’s mediation, if it’s not contentious, you’d think that there’s not a lot to really split up and you think that you guys can agree. You can go through your lawyer to find a mediator. And basically, it’s somebody that can guide you to what is the best decision. They’re not going to make the decision for you, but they’re a facilitator to figure out what’s best. And so, I think anyone that’s going to divorce should at least consider it. I think if you probably have an idea if it’s definitely not going to go well, in which case your mediation is probably not the right way to go.

Dr. George Hwang:
Like I said, you never know how things are going to end up. So, you may start with mediation, and then if things start getting not good, you may have to just forego that and go straight up with the lawyer. I read a stat there saying that somewhere that works 80% of the time.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
80% is pretty good. That’s higher than I would have expected.

Dr. George Hwang:
Yeah. And that was on a lawyer’s page that I saw that on. So, I would think that they would not want to say 80% of the time. But yeah, I have heard of cases of people doing mediation and definitely it saves you a lot of time, less time in the courtroom if it goes that route. So, it’s not for everybody though. I think most people will have an idea if mediation is going to work though.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
Can you talk for a minute about what are the differences between marital and non-marital assets?

Dr. George Hwang:
Yeah, absolutely. Any of your assets are considered either non-marital or marital. So, anything acquired or improved upon during the marriage are marital assets. And then properties that each spouse acquired from a third person as a gift or inheritance, those are considered non-marital, even if acquired during the marriage. The laws will be different from state to state on that too.

Dr. George Hwang:
And so, for example, community property versus non community property state. So just to get into that, and I don’t have much experience with community property, but I know they kind of adjusted it. So, I will say the majority of the states out there are not community property. So, 41 states have this equitable distribution law where a marital estate is made up of assets required under each spouse’s name. So, they’re not technically considered community, unless on the deed, it’s written with both names.

Dr. George Hwang:
But in contrast in states Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin, they’re community property law states, meaning that 50-50 split applies to a couple’s entire marital estate. And so, if you’re the higher earner or if there’s a big disparity, you could probably guess that that is not the state that would benefit you in a divorce. And I will say that a lot of times, even in the equitable distribution states, a lot of times if it’s somewhat equitable income for both sides, a lot of times 50-50 is what ends up being the case anyway. And then they take a variety of factors into account.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
Let’s talk a little bit about this approach people take sometimes when they’re really unhappy and they decide “I’m going to take all the assets out of our accounts and put them somewhere else”, or “I’m going to spend all the money”. How far do they go back when dividing up assets and debt? What are the consequences of doing those things? Moving it to your own brokerage account or worse, just blowing it all on a heli-skiing. What happens if you do that?

Dr. George Hwang:
Yeah. There is history, unfortunately. Like I mentioned earlier, they do look back. So, don’t look back certainly within a year, it depends on how long you’ve been married to. If you’ve been married for 20 years, I think that’s maybe going to be harder to see. But in most times, if something like that happens, it’s going to be a very big spike in expenditures for that time period for the year. So, that stuff is considered and it will be equitable in terms of how they distribute. I think every state’s going to be different, like you mentioned. But I have heard of that too. Luckily that didn’t apply to me, but I can see that happening.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
Now you say sometimes that assets are divided equitably, but not equally. What do you mean by that?

Dr. George Hwang:
That’s basically kind of the idea that we talked about with the community property. So, the court will divide property between spouses in a way that they consider fair or equitable. And a lot of times it will be 50-50, but that’s what equal is. Equal is saying no matter what, it’s 50-50, no questions asked. And then the equitable, you are taking into account other things like the financial condition or the earning power of each spouse, what properties each spouse has or whatever business each one has. A lot of things like that, that’ll take into account that. So that’s more equitable when you consider those things.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
Now, they say you should never move out of the marital home when you’re considering divorce. Can you explain why that is?

Dr. George Hwang:
I came across that when I was doing the talk and I thought it was an interesting concept. So, they say basically, if you move, actually if you decide to move out, the spouse can file a motion for exclusive possession of the home. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that the home is theirs and that they have all the value of it. It just means that that time period, through the divorce proceedings basically, you cannot enter your home. And obviously, it’s not a good thing. If you’re going to be in a contentious divorce, that’s going to be the case. Just know that. That’s not a harbinger of doom for getting a divorce.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
Mediation is not going to work at that point when they won’t let you back in the house,

Dr. George Hwang:
That’s not going to work. But yeah, if that happens, that’s going to be hard because then if you want to take your stuff out, your possessions, you can’t do it legally.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
Now how do you get yourself off as everything’s split up? You’re finally done, it’s done with it. How do you get your name off the mortgage or off the credit cards or off the car loans or off the other debts? How do you do that?

Dr. George Hwang:
Yeah. Well, I say the big one is definitely the house. Obviously, if you own a house together, that’s going to be probably one of your biggest or likely your biggest asset and there’s lots of strategies to do it. I’ve heard of scenarios where both decided to stay living in the house as divorced, as a divorced couple. I’ve heard people being separated but they switch one week on, one week off in the house. That’s also a strategy. I’ve heard it all, and these are my friends too. So, I’m constantly surprised by stuff like that.

Dr. George Hwang:
I think a very common one though is to split it up. Like you said, get off the mortgage. And for liability purposes. If you don’t have to talk about this, it’s going to be the best way to do it. So, really get off the mortgage. If somebody stays in the house, what they’re going to want to do is refinance. That’s really the only way to get off the mortgage. Just like you did originally when you took out the mortgage, you’ll have to pass the lenders eligibility requirements to refinance the loan. You have to show that you’ll be able to make the payments and live up to your end of the deal. But this time, the lender is looking at your situation and not the combined situation. So, the story may change. So that may be difficult.

Dr. George Hwang:
And then once that is successful, assuming that’s all good, you’ll want to get the ex-spouse or the spouse that’s not living there, do a quick claim deed. And so, it’s a process you go through the lawyer and basically the spouse that’s out of the house gives up any right to the property. And then at that point, it’s a common way to do it is refinance and you can use the money from there to essentially buy out the ex-spouse that moved out.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
Well, I guess I worry about this scenario where you’re trying to get your name off the mortgage and they can’t qualify to refinance. Can the court somehow order them to either refinance it or sell it so that you can get off the mortgage? What are your options there?

Dr. George Hwang:
It’s a very tough place to be. Again, if you don’t qualify, you may have to sell it. And that is tough too, because at that point you’re probably in a bigger house and you will likely need to downsize. If you have custody of the children, if you have kids, yeah, you might have to sell it, be forced to sell. Again, never think of yourself having to be in that situation, but it can happen.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
Let’s talk about valuing assets when you’re splitting them up. Now, obviously some of this stuff’s really easy, right? I mean, it’s easy to value your brokerage portfolio. You just got to pick a date to do it on. But there are other assets that aren’t so easy to value. The house, maybe investment properties, maybe a small business or your practice. What are the procedures there?

Dr. George Hwang:
Yeah, you’re right. The retirement accounts, all that it’s pretty straightforward, but the stuff outside of that. Yeah, you just split it up into the house. So, I would say for the house, the best thing to do when you know you’re separating is basically you get the value of the house, reevaluate it.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
You tend to buy an appraisal basically.

Dr. George Hwang:
Yeah. You can get an appraisal. Some people just look at and they’ll even look at Zillow for example, or Redfin and just see what their estimate is. That’s a quick and dirty way to do it.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
What is the court requiring? Is it just all come down to whether you all disputed or what?

Dr. George Hwang:
Yeah, exactly. It’s whatever you choose, whatever the spouse decides to do.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
If you can agree on a price, no big deal. Otherwise, you’re spending $600 on an appraisal or $10,000 on a business appraisal.

Dr. George Hwang:
Exactly. So, that’s for the house and that determines how you split it up. If it’s 50-50 and then you buy it out, that’s one scenario. But then talking about a medical practice, which a lot of docs have. So that’s going to be a way, way trickier thing. And bottom line is you’ll probably need to have somebody come in, hire somebody to appraise it for you. And it takes into account the physical equipment that you have there, and then also evaluating what your business is worth. It’s hard to just put in a calculator in a spreadsheet, so you’ll probably need to hire somebody for that.

Dr. George Hwang:
And then in terms of whether that’s marital versus non-marital, that’s another big issue, right? So that’s going to be determined on a lot of times when you start a practice. Was that before the marriage or after the marriage? And then also there’s even scenarios like if you started during the marriage, and it grows, and it does very well. And then maybe even to make it more complicated, say that your spouse worked at that practice or sacrificed and didn’t work and stayed at home to take care of the kids. Then absolutely, that actually a lot of the times will be considered a marital asset. That’s a big consideration. You don’t think about that stuff when you start a practice, but if there’s anything, maybe at least put that on the radar.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
Yeah. And that’s going to affect your partners too, in that practice a lot of the time.

Dr. George Hwang:
Big time. Big time.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
Yeah, interesting.

Dr. George Hwang:
In residency interviews, you can’t ask about your marital status or what your relationship is like. But I think if you’re in business and you’re looking for a partner, you want somebody that’s pretty rock solid for a lot of reasons. You want to know that this is not going to happen.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
So, let’s turn now to some other aspects of planning. Why is it important to reevaluate your insurance plan, your trust and your beneficiaries when you get divorced?

Dr. George Hwang:
Yeah. When you’re going through divorce you’re not thinking, “Oh, I got to change my estate planning. I’ve got to change my beneficiary”. So, I think it’s something that’s often overlooked and can be very significant in the long run. I looked at this. I’ve been divorced now for about three years, but honestly, during COVID I just started rethinking things a lot. Just like, “Oh, what would happen if I pass? What would happen if something horrible happened?”

Dr. Jim Dahle:
A lot of us are doing that in COVID. I talked to an insurance agent the other day and he said, you wouldn’t believe how much more volume we’ve had in the last year, just in docs wanting term life and disability insurance.

Dr. George Hwang:
Yeah. I’m an anesthesiologist, I’m on COVID call, and oddly, I’m thinking about this as I’m taking care of COVID patients. It’s like, “What if I get this? I’m terrified”. Especially March, April time. So anyway, that’s why I really kind of got reengaged. I was like, “I got to talk to my state attorney. I got to see what was going on”. And so, if you’ve got a revocable trust, which I have, I wanted to make sure it’s not the long joint family trust anymore, it’s just me now. And I want to be, I got to change that. So, my ex-wife is not a part of that anymore. In addition to that, actually beneficiaries always be the children. And so, that part didn’t really change too much, but you’ve got to change the name of it. It doesn’t apply anymore.

Dr. George Hwang:
And this is actually the part that really, I think it’s interesting, long-term disability. So, I definitely recommend everybody have that. If you don’t, get it, unless you know you are financially independent or you are going to retire soon. For example, I had long-term disability that accounted for that. I had my spouse there. If I got disabled, I always had her as a cushion. Now, some people will say, don’t do that just account presence, knowing an account what your spouse is doing for a job. But I did. So, my disability at the time was $7,000. And I realized if I got disabled $7,000 it’s not going to cut it. For a month it’s definitely not going to cut it.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
It’s a dramatic decrease in your lifestyle.

Dr. George Hwang:
Yeah, exactly. It wouldn’t cut it. When you count child support, you count mortgage, I bought a house near the tail end of the divorce or way past the divorce, not under the divorce. But, yeah, I knew my budget, I calculated my budget. $7,000 was not going to cut it. So, I doubled it. I increased it, $15,000. And luckily, I was able to do it without too much of a hiccup. Did my premium go up? Yeah, double also. from 240 to 500. And the other part also is that disability.

Dr. George Hwang:
So, I have child support and I don’t have alimony, but some people may, that money can be used towards child support. So, if you’re the ex-spouse and the doc gets disabled and they can’t cover child support, like the situation I was in at $7,000, that’s a problem, right? They’re no longer able to pay child support. So, you could ask the ex-spouse that’s asking you to basically ask or request that they get a higher premium. And that blew my mind. It makes sense.

Dr. George Hwang:
I will say though, at the end, everything is reevaluated at the end of the year. So, if you are disabled and you start off making anywhere near the amount you were before, that will be taken into account and you could do a court order to adjust things. So, it’s not the end of the world, but I just like to have my ducks in a row. And I want to ensure I’m at the best position I could be in. So that’s my recommendation is to just relook at that.

Dr. George Hwang:
Same with life insurance too. So, assuming you have term life insurance, redesignate beneficiaries? For sure. You don’t want whatever you’ve designated to go to your ex-wife. I will also say that a lot of states won’t allow that to happen. And that’s just ridiculous, right? Especially if you are remarried. So yeah, with life insurance, it’s the same thing, reevaluate your beneficiaries. And you may or may not need to adjust the premium. You may not need to change that part, but definitely the beneficiary.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
Yeah, I can’t imagine a situation where you need more disability insurance and less life insurance.

Dr. George Hwang:
Yeah, absolutely.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
When you get divorced. So, maybe they can offset each other a little bit that way. Let’s talk about student loans. How are student loans viewed by divorce courts and what strategies are available because of that?

Dr. George Hwang:
Yeah, student loans, for sure. It’s complicated, but in a way, I’ll try to simplify it. So basically, if you got the student loan before the marriage, it’s yours, the person who took it out. And in general, that’s going to be the case. And if it’s during marriage and especially if the spouse co-sign, then that’s a marital asset. But for the most part, it’s going to be the person who took it out. There are specific scenarios I’ve heard of. I think I saw one, I read about someone one in New York, where basically, if you graduated, if you’ve completed your training or finished your med school and got your degree during the marriage, then it was considered a marital liability. So, I just read that. That was one thing that I read.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
So, it could be on a case-by-case basis then.

Dr. George Hwang:
It could be, yeah, but I would say for most people out there, it is your burden. If you were the one that got the loan is your burden. And if you have it before the marriage, it’s definitely going to be your burden.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
Well, if your marriage is on the rocks, pay on your student loans, not your spouses. Is that what you’re saying?

Dr. George Hwang:
Yeah. It’s a tricky scenario. Right?

Dr. Jim Dahle:
All of these planning strategies sound terrible. But this is basically what it is. Paying on yours is better than investing, investing is better than paying on theirs. That’s basically the way it works.

Dr. George Hwang:
Yeah. Right.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
I’m looking in the video. My face is all red. I’m embarrassed just saying it. But that’s the strategy. All right. Well, this is something that I’ve always wondered about. Are divorce courts and divorcees smart enough to recognize the difference between a Roth account and a tax deferred account? And is there an adjustment made when assets are split up for those two things?

Dr. George Hwang:
Well, I think coming from your perspective or our perspective in the WCI world, that probably doesn’t really seem fair if you really dig into it. But like I mentioned before, it is straightforward and there’s really not that much interplay between the two.

Dr. George Hwang:
So, for example, let’s talk about a Roth IRA. So, dividing a Roth. You’re going want to do something called a transfer incident to divorce. And so that’s basically, you’re saying, you’re saying that your IRA division is going to be treated like a transfer incident to divorce and that no tax will be assessed on separation. And that makes sure that you’re not taxed on it.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
I totally understand that but can you stick the spouse with the tax deferred account and keep the tax-free account yourself? That’s the question.

Dr. George Hwang:
Yeah. So, the tax deferred stuff you do differently, which is QDRO which is a qualified domestic relations order. That’s also pretty straightforward, but I will say that once that is separated, if it’s done correctly, you got to make sure it’s done correctly, you will pay no taxes, you’ll pay no penalty. But when you’re talking about sticking to somebody like preferentially taking it from one side to the other, it’s a case-by-case basis. And I would say, if you and I kind of dug into it, you probably could figure out a way to do it. And the other person may not know.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
Even if they do know, there’s going to be more overall wealth if the lower gets the tax deferred account and the higher earner gets the tax-free account. Even if you make an adjustment for the fact that yeah, they got to pay taxes on that, that’s still the way you’d want to set it up for the most total wealth between the two of you. And I’m just curious if divorce courts ever address those issues or just don’t think about them.

Dr. George Hwang:
Yeah. I’ll give an example. Like in mine, they’ve put together just retirement, just retirement, IRA, tax deferred or whatever. And I just split mine in half and then countered with hers, and then just made the adjustment. So, mine was more and so I had to pay. And basically, what they did is they did what you’re talking about, which is they gave her the split from my 403. So that’s what they did.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
So, she got tax-deferred money and you got to keep all of your Roth IRA.

Dr. George Hwang:
Yeah, exactly.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
Yeah. So, it worked out to your benefit if they looked at it all as the same money.

Dr. George Hwang:
Right.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
That’s kind of the sense I’ve always had is that they’re not smart enough to think about that issue, but it really is a big difference in money, especially if people are splitting up late in life and this is most of their assets, they are in qualified retirement accounts.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
All right. What about this? I’m curious, you mentioned 80% of people can pull this off with a mediator. And I guess that really answers my question of what percent of people can really decide on all the issues both custody as well as splitting assets and liabilities without going to court. I guess that’s 80% too. Huh?

Dr. George Hwang:
Yeah. I think it’s going to be a little bit of bias there, right? So, your 80% of success is going to be the people that you already know. It’s the sample sizes. People that are probably not contentious and they’re going to get along, but people are going to be contentious, they’re not even thinking about mediation. So, it’s a little skewed, I think.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
Oh, yeah. Good point. A little bit of selection bias there, for sure.

Dr. George Hwang:
It depends case by case. Definitely selection bias. So, I would say if you’re at that level where you just know it’s not been contentious, or you just don’t have a lot of assets to really worry about, you probably can do it with mediation. I would really caution against not using a lawyer though, at least give a once through or twice through. This stuff can really affect your long-term agreement. I mean, you could do court orders to change it. It’s a living document that you can change whatever court order or whatever your divorce agreement is. But some of the stuff like your retirement accounts, once that’s given, you can’t get it back. So, you want to make sure it’s done correctly. I really recommend giving it to a lawyer to at least look through it and make sure everything looks good.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
Now you mentioned in your presentation that trends with alimony are moving towards smaller payments for shorter periods of time. Why do you suppose that is?

Dr. George Hwang:
I don’t have any personal experience with this, but I do know that in the past two years it has been a new rule. I think that the new rule that was passed by Congress has affected that trend of making it less alimony and less from a shorter period of time. So basically, that new rule, which was on January 1st, 2019, was a tax cuts and job act.

Dr. George Hwang:
So basically, if you’re divorced, starting January 1st, 2019, not a day before, but it has to be that day and beyond, it eliminates the deduction for alimony payments for the payer. And then on the other side, the recipient of the alimony is no longer to pay taxes on those payments. So, as a payer, definitely it’s not a good situation. As the recipient, a very good situation.

Dr. George Hwang:
So, for example, let’s just say that you got divorced after 2019, and let’s just say you’re paying $10,000 a year for alimony. You’ll no longer get a deduction for that and you’ll have to pay tax. Because there’s no advantage to that. And the recipient will not pay any tax on that $10,000 that they received. I don’t know. I mean, I can guess why they did it. The government ends up with more money. They actually said they did expect that to generate about $7 billion in additional income tax revenue over the next 10 years.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
Wow, because the high earner no longer gets the deduction, the lower earner does essentially.

Dr. George Hwang:
Yeah, exactly.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
Although it’s like, they didn’t think it through. Because if everyone really just adjusts to that, the alimony payments are just lower.

Dr. George Hwang:
Yeah.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
And so, it’s the same amount of tax revenue in the end. If they really thought it through, it’s just kind of a goofy policy. It just doesn’t seem right though. It seems right that it ought to be the person who’s actually getting the income to spend the income ought to be paying taxes on it. I don’t know. I mean, they’re not going to change it because I don’t think it’s the right way to do it, but it’s a little bit goofy that way.

Dr. George Hwang:
Another reason that they may have done this is that enforcing these rules before it was a little bit hard and just kind of too much time and effort spent to really chase these people. But I don’t know if that’s true or not.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Maybe it was, I don’t know. You had to send them a 1099 or something. I have no idea how they did it before. Okay, so we got some questions that came in from a listener. They wanted to talk about the taxation of alimony under current law, which you just did.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
They also asked who gets to claim the dependence on taxes. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Dr. George Hwang:
Yeah.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
Because obviously there’s some benefit there. Maybe the higher earner can’t even get a benefit from it or there’s probably some planning strategies around that.

Dr. George Hwang:
Yeah. And again, this goes into a lot of how your relationship is or how it was, but there’s lots of ways to go about it. You can go by who has majority custody, who spends most time with the kids. But from my understanding there is actually a phased out also depending on your income. So, if you’re a dual physician, for example, you may not really, even if you’re over $200,000 in income, they may not really affect you at all.

Dr. George Hwang:
But some strategies you do is if you want to try to be equitable or if you’re not even equitable, if you’re just trying to try to work it out, you could do one thing where if you have one child, one year one of the spouses gets the child, the next year, the other one gets it.

Dr. George Hwang:
If you have two children, you can do the same thing, two one year, two on the other year on the other persons. Or you can just split up, one child is on yours, one child is on the other. So that’s one strategy. And then if you have more kids, you just kind of figure it out. But that’s one way you can get around that to make it feel more collaborative, I would say. But that’s one way to go about it. You really have to choose to do that with your ex-spouse.

Dr. George Hwang:
Another important thing I want to say about that too, is that for example, if you’re a head of household, I’m not an accountant, but I can go with the criteria of what qualifies you as head of household. What you probably want to do if you’re divorced, after divorce, the tax credit at our physician level is only going to be around $600. Not a whole lot. I would say that actually the more bang for your buck is going to be if your employer offers a dependent care FSA and that’s going to be more important actually. So, right now it’s $500.

Dr. George Hwang:
So, if you’re in 35th percentile for your marginal, which is very common, that’s a pretty big range, I think encompasses most physicians. 35% of that, you’ll save about $1,750. So that’s much higher than $600.

Dr. George Hwang:
And I consulted my CPA a little bit. The new rule in 2021 starts in March, it’s kind of breaking news. So, there’s American relief act and actually it raised the limit of your dependent care FSA from $5,000 to $10,500 for just the year 2020. So, if you take advantage of that, and if you’re in the 35th percentile, you’ll get $3,675 tax savings for 2021. And you can imagine if you have a nanny, that’s dependent care, any of those situations, you’ll hit that pretty easily. So, if there are any listeners out there that are considering that, that’s pretty big. It’s more important than the dependent credit that you’re talking about.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
You said that’s for 2020 or 2021?

Dr. George Hwang:
2021. 2020, it’s still $5,000. 2021 this coming year right now it’s raised.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
And of course, remember, for the listeners out there, the FSA is use it or lose it. If you don’t spend that money by the end of the year, you just lose it. So, don’t forget that when you put extra money in an FSA.

Dr. George Hwang:
When you’re going to talk about failing forward and talking about your worst failures, your most embarrassing, I’ll tell you real quick. I did that. I did $5,000 FSA and for some reason, all my receipts, because you have to show that you spent that money on it. And all the receipts that I sent them did not go through. And I did not get the mail saying that they didn’t get it. And I lost that $5,000. I called everybody I could talk to, anybody. Talk to your manager, whoever it is like. You know what? Books are closed, nothing you can do about it. So yes, use it or lose it. And you better make sure that you get that.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
There’s another question from this listener that they had was about bonuses. Apparently, they’re getting divorced and one of the spouses gets a lot of pay as restricted stock options and cash bonuses. Do you know how divorce courts look at those? Do they provide some sort of discount because it’s not yet cash? Or how are those valued when they go to go to calculate, splitting up assets and splitting it and paying alimony? Any idea?

Dr. George Hwang:
Yeah. So, we’re talking about alimony. I think the way that the question is framed is not exactly accurate. Maybe in their head it makes sense. And I certainly think in my head that can make sense, but it ends up being more complicated than that. Alimony is really determined on the lower earners’ needs and the higher earners’ ability to pay. And it’s not so calculated like this.

Dr. George Hwang:
What I mean is that there’s a lot of factors that go into things like that. The standard of living, established during the marriage, property interests. So, the calculation is based on a lot of things. Bonuses are part of it, but also stock options, retirement funds, all those things. So, it’s not as clear cut and easy as that calculation.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
It’s not just half their income.

Dr. George Hwang:
It’s not just half their income. It’s much more complicated than that. Yeah.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
Okay. What about HSA limits? I guess that’s another reason to be able to claim one kid on your taxes, because then you can make the family HSA contribution of $7,200 rather than the single HSA contribution of $3,100. So, I suppose that’s another planning point. Even if you’re not getting a child tax credit, you might want to be able to claim a kid on your taxes to get that additional HSA contribution.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
But basically, that’s the way they work is you got to have a kid. A family is you and a kid or you and a spouse. And that gives you the higher limit. So if there’s two kids and you both want to max out an HSA after divorce, you can do that as long as each of you claims one kid.

Dr. George Hwang:
Right, yeah. So, $7,200 for two kids. I mean, you can do the same thing with that too. And I’ve talked to my CPA about this too, and you can split the kids. That’s another thing you can do. One kid on her insurance and one on the ex-spouse’s insurance one on the others. And then you can actually both contribute $7,200 in that way.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
But you can’t do the Baby Moses thing. You can’t cut the kid in half in each claim, huh?

Dr. George Hwang:
Yeah, probably not. That’s another set of court, another lawyer fee to deal with.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
Yeah, exactly. Well, we’re getting to the end here. We better wrap this up here. But I mean, you’ve got the ear of 30,000 or 40,000 doctors and other high-income professionals by the time this is said and done, that’s how many people are going to listen to this podcast. What else have we not talked about that they should know?

Dr. George Hwang:
Yeah. I’d never thought I’d be, I never really wanted to be a divorced doc, but this is so prevalent that I think it’s important to talk about. So, I think another thing really to consider is something called a prenup. And I know that’s a bad word in a lot of people’s minds. And there’s a lot of considerations, something that only talking about it, it kills the romance. Some people have religious reasons why that wouldn’t be the case, but all that aside, it’s something that I think that you should consider, especially if you’re a med student and you’ve got massive debt. In your head you’re thinking, “Why would I do a prenup? I have negative net worth”. But you have to realize that you’re going to be a high income professional. You’re going to make a lot of money.

Dr. George Hwang:
I would say that prenup is not a bad word if they’re open to it. I think in an ideal situation, there’s a lot of pros and cons to it. I would say there’s more pros than not. And in an ideal world, you can think of this as a way to open up the conversation to talk about finances. But I know it’s idealistic to talk about it that way. I find myself in a dream world by saying that, but it is definitely a way. You can open up the conversation about finances that could potentially help long-term about how you talk about money and what your goals are. I get it, it can kill the romance. It’s an exciting time when you’re getting married, but this should definitely be a consideration when you’re getting married. You can also do a postnup too, which is an act when you get married and you discuss those things.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
That seems particularly hard to pull off, a postnup right?

Dr. George Hwang:
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, less popular for sure. But prenups are getting more popular, definitely an increased rate of prenups out there.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
I find it interesting that everybody says you should get a prenup, but nobody has one, right? It’s a very fascinating statistic that way. And clearly, if you are getting remarried, you’re getting married after you’re established in your career, you got kids from the prior marriage, this is a must. I mean, you’re doing your kids a disservice to not have this, but a lot of us got married when we were young and broke, poor and didn’t have anything. And I suppose the consequences are probably less in those situations. If you think back, if you had had a prenup, do you think it would have changed anything in your divorce?

Dr. George Hwang:
Yeah. See, that’s a good question. I think given that we were both physicians, I don’t think it would have really changed a whole lot, but if there’s a scenario where there’s a big discrepancy, I think that would have changed. But yeah, I think it would have. I don’t think it would have in my situation. And that’s actually a reason if you’re not getting a prenup, it’s like, well, a lot of times the court of law could favor, it’s enough so you don’t need to do a prenup. You don’t have to broach that subject with your future spouse and you don’t have to pay money up front. But yeah, I don’t think it would’ve changed a whole lot in my scenario.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
Well, Dr. Wong, thank you so much for coming on the White Coat Investor podcast, opening yourself up, being so vulnerable and being willing to talk about such a sensitive subject. I know there are listeners out there who really appreciate what you just said about a divorce and the ending of your marriage and all the financial ramifications it’s had over the last two or three years for you. But I really appreciate you coming on.

Dr. George Hwang:
Yeah, actually thank you so much.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
All right, that was great. I’ve been wanting to get someone on the podcast, talk about divorce for a long time. So, I really appreciate George coming on and doing that. I think a lot of you will find that very useful. Clearly, I need to go spend a little bit more time in the Old Testament. Those of you who are Old Testament of files will remember that it was Solomon who threatened to cut the baby in half. It wasn’t baby Moses that got cut in half. He was found in the basket in the bulrushes. But at any rate don’t send me hate mail about how I mixed up Moses and Solomon, all right? In fact, as you’re listening to this, as this drops, I’m just getting off the river. I’m just coming out of the Grand Canyon.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
So, don’t send me hate mail anyway. I don’t want to come home to hate mail. I’ll already have a big email box full of questions and things to do. So, don’t make it any worse than it’s already going to be when I come home from that vacation.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
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Dr. Jim Dahle:
All right, don’t forget to stop by the WCI store. That said shop.whitecoatinvestor.com. We got hats, books, mugs, t-shirts, water bottles, journals, pens, you name it. And I’m sure there’ll be more to come as the years go forward.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
Thanks for those of you who have given us a five-star review on Apple podcast. That really does help give our show a huge boost and help new listeners discover the show. And we appreciate those of you who are telling your friends about the podcast. We hope it’s useful to you and age you in making your life healthier, wealthier, and wiser.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
Keep your head up, shoulders back. You’ve got this and we can help. We’ll see you next time on the White Coat Investor podcast.

Disclaimer:
My dad, your host, Dr. Dahle, is a practicing emergency physician, blogger, author, and podcaster. He’s not a licensed accountant, attorney or financial advisor. So, this podcast is for your entertainment and information only and should not be considered official personalized financial advice.

 


Originally posted at https://www.whitecoatinvestor.com/how-to-survive-and-thrive-as-a-divorced-doctor-podcast-210/

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