Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Life After Windsor

Life After Windsor

It has been just eight months since the United States Supreme Court issued its landmark ruling in U.S. v. Windsor (570 U.S. ____ (2013)), but the effects of the decision have been significant and widespread.  In Windsor, the Court partially invalidated the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).  Enacted in 1996, DOMA contained two key provisions intended to “defend” marriage: section 2 of the Act gave individual states the power to recognize, or not recognize, same-sex marriages validly performed in other states or jurisdictions; section 3 specifically defined marriage as between one man and one woman.  In Windsor, the Court invalidated section 3 of the Act, but section 2 remains in place. 

While Windsor made it clear that federal law now recognizes same sex marriages, it left us with the question of how the marital status of same-sex couples will be determined.  Does “marriage” require residency in a state that recognizes same-sex marriages?  Or are same sex couples who marry in states that recognize same sex marriages considered married for purposes of federal law?  Since Windsor, federal agencies have been left to promulgate rules to flesh out this issue.

Most agencies, including the IRS, have adopted the “state-of-celebration” rule, meaning any same-sex couple that marries in a jurisdiction where same-sex marriage is recognized will be considered married under federal law.  For example, if a gay couple from Oregon marries in Washington state (which recognizes same-sex marriages), the IRS will consider the couple to be married for all purposes of federal tax law.

Windsor presents a myriad of opportunities and challenges in the areas of family law and estate planning—particularly during tax season where insurance, gift and estate taxes are concerned.  Issues such as spousal support, property division, qualified domestic relations orders (QDROs), pension and military benefits are also implicated.  For states like Oregon, which recognizes same-sex domestic partnerships but does not recognize same-sex marriages, proper planning is essential, and your estate planning and family law attorney(s) can help you further navigate the complex and ever-changing rules.

Written by John Christianson, Of Counsel, Estate Planning.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Shareholder News: Paige A. De Muniz

This year, we are pleased to share the announcement that Paige A. De Muniz has been named a Shareholder. Paige received her Bachelor of Science in Psychology and Political Science from the University of Idaho, and her Juris Doctorate, with a Certificate in Dispute Resolution, from Willamette University College of Law in 2008. She started with the firm in the fall of 2008. Her practice focuses on a broad range of family law issues, including divorce and complex asset cases, custody and parenting time, child support, grandparent and third-party rights, paternity issues and domestic partnerships. Paige a member of the Oregon State Bar, Oregon Trial Lawyers Association and Oregon Academy of Family Law Practitioners. She is also a Board Member for the Multnomah Bar Young Lawyers Section and serves on the development committee for the YWCA of Greater Portland. Congratulations Paige!

Read more about Paige De Muniz HERE.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Welcome Catherine and C.J.

Gevurtz Menashe is pleased to welcome two new attorneys to the firm – Catherine Barker and C.J. Graves.

Catherine Barker has been practicing law for the last 11 years and has successfully resolved hundreds of marital dissolutions and family law battles using traditional litigation and collaborative law principles. Catherine recently relocated from Kansas where she's spent the past 7 years practicing law and raising her two children with her husband. If Catherine wasn't a family law attorney she would have gone to graduate school to get her PhD in ichthyology (branch of zoology that deals with fish) – which would have made her days at work a little different than they are now. Catherine's passions are her children, traveling and fixing old houses. If Catherine weren't living in Portland she'd prefer to be living on a warm beach – wouldn't we all?

C.J. Graves recently received his Juris Doctor from Northwestern School of Law at Lewis & Clark, where he earned academic honors. Prior to that, C.J. received a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Portland, with a double major in English and Psychology. C.J. clerked at Gevurtz Menashe during law school and is excited about starting his career in family law with the firm. When he's not working, you'll find C.J. running trails throughout Portland, working out at the gym or exploring new restaurants. If C.J. wasn't an attorney he would be writing travel guides, which might be a little more entertaining than the legal memos he's writing now.

Read more about Catherine Barker HERE and C.J. Graves HERE.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Gevurtz Menashe 'Oregon’s Most Admired Companies' by the Portland Business Journal

Gevurtz Menashe is honored to be selected as one of Oregon’s Most Admired Companies by the Portland Business Journal.  The firm ranked in the top 20 in the professional services category this year.   Companies on this list are chosen annually by more than 500 executives in a range of industries from across the state.  These executives are asked to complete a survey indicating which organizations they believe are the most admired in Oregon. This recognition is truly an honor.

We continue to be proud of the service we provide our clients and thank the business community for their continued support.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

End of Year Gift Giving and Estate Planning

Besides the personal fulfillment that comes along with making a gift, there are also various tax benefits associated with gift-giving. As 2013 draws to a close, take a moment to consider how you can utilize gifts to further your estate planning goals.

Gifts to Friends and Family

In 2013 and 2014, you may give up to $14,000 per recipient per year without affecting your gift or estate taxes. These "annual exclusion" gifts may be made to an unlimited number of recipients, and spouses can combine exclusions to transfer up to $28,000 per recipient per year. Gifts in excess of the annual exclusion must be reported to the IRS on a gift tax return, and the amount in excess of $14,000 reduces your lifetime federal gift and estate tax exemption.

Gifts can take many forms, including transfers of cash and real or personal property, provision of goods and services, and payment of another's obligations. The IRS also characterizes certain transactions as gifts, such as loans between family members with below-market interest rates and asset sales for bargain prices. For example, if you loan your son money but don't charge him any interest, you've made a gift to him. Or, if you take your daughter and son-in-law on an all-expense paid trip to Hawaii, you've made gifts to them in the amount of the plane tickets, hotel, etc. So, before writing a $14,000 check on December 31st, consider all other possible gifts you have made, and check with your tax advisor to determine whether a gift tax return should be filed.

Gifts to Charity

The end of each year brings with it a flurry of charitable giving activity. As people rush to make donations to squeeze in last-minute income tax deductions, don't overlook how charitable giving can benefit your estate. Like gifts to friends and family, all amounts you give to a charity during your lifetime are removed from your taxable estate. If your estate is subject to estate tax, every dollar gifted can save you approximately $.40 in estate tax.

Like gifts to individuals, charitable gifts can take many forms. From direct contributions of cash or property, to charitable trusts and annuities that allow donors to reserve an income stream, donors have options in structuring donations.

When making year-end gifts, remember that your estate planning attorney can help you navigate the complex and ever-changing gift and estate tax rules.

*This is general information only and not meant to apply to specific situations without consulting with a tax professional*

Written by John Christianson, Of Counsel.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Agreements to Modify Child Suppport: The Matar Case

In April, the Oregon Supreme Court gave its opinion in a case called Matar and Harake. The court denied modification of a child support award because the mother and father had previously agreed in their divorce judgment that the child support would not be modifiable. Generally speaking, when financial circumstances change, the support provisions of a divorce judgment can be changed to fit the new circumstances. What the Matar parents did was to waive their rights to seek modification, even if circumstances changed in the future.

Agreements in contemplation of divorce have a long history of being honored in Oregon. The Supreme Court announced the modern formulation of the rule in its 1982 decision in McDonnall and McDonnall: "Agreements made in anticipation of a dissolution are generally enforceable given the circumstances of the case." Today, marital settlement agreements are a key component of any divorce lawyer's toolkit. Precise figures are unavailable, but most attorneys estimate that 85 or 90 percent of all domestic relations cases are resolved by agreement. Even the Oregon Legislature has gotten in on the action, passing statutes in 2001 that made explicit Oregon's favorable treatment of marital agreements.

However, agreements that intrude on the court's authority are forbidden. Thus, in Heinonen and Heinonen (2000), the Oregon Court of Appeals invalidated an agreement by the mother and father to delegate decision-making authority concerning their children's custody status to a person other than a judge. But for the most part, Oregon courts have been remarkably willing to let the parties strike their own compromises, even in circumstances where an agreement effectively limits the court's involvement in other decisions about the dissolution. Matar represents perhaps the furthest reach of this principle to date.

The decision in Matar was anticipated by the Court of Appeals' McInnis and McInnis decision in 2005. There, the parties agreed that the husband's spousal support obligation would not be modifiable in the future, even if circumstances changed. The court decided the case based upon the principle of waiver. The court's power to modify was not changed by the agreement; the parties simply agreed never to file a motion to modify. That waiver of the right to petition the court is what the Court of Appeals upheld.

McInnis settled after the Court of Appeals' decision, so the Supreme Court never got a chance to weigh in on the question. Matar provided that chance, and the Supreme Court adopted the Court of Appeals' McInnis rationale completely. Matar was the more surprising result because it dealt with child support and not spousal support. Much like child custody questions, child support has long been regarded as the exclusive province of the court. But the Matar court had no trouble reaching the conclusion that the father and mother had waived their right to petition the court and thus that the agreement was enforceable.

These decisions raise the question of what happens if the support, for example, becomes not payable because of the disability of the support obligor; or, conversely, if it becomes absolutely insufficient because of a medical condition of the recipient or child, requiring expensive treatment. The legislature has provided a "public policy" exception that should apply to allow relief in such specific circumstances. But the courts have so far been unwilling to find a public policy violation based on the possibility that such circumstances might arise.

Finally, it is important to note that, in the case of child support, the District Attorney and the child him- or herself retain independent rights to seek child support that are not affected by any agreement the parents may make between themselves. In most circumstances, though, agreements to waive support modifications appear here to stay.

Written by Mark Johnson Roberts, Of Counsel.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Gevurtz Menashe Selected as a 2014 “Best Law Firm”, a recognized online attorney directory, has listed Gevurtz Menashe in their 2014 Oregon “Best Law Firms” ranking. Firms included in the 2014 “Best Law Firms” list are recognized for professional excellence with persistently impressive ratings from clients and peers.  According to a recent statement released by Best Lawyers, “achieving a tiered ranking signals a unique combination of quality law practice and breadth of legal expertise.” Ten Gevurtz Menashe attorneys made the 2014 Best Lawyers list: Shawn Menashe, Albert Menashe, Eric Larson, William Howe, Julia Hagan, Robin Wright, Zach Fruchtengarten, Dylan Cernitz, Craig Cowley and Marshal Spector.