Episode 4 features special guest Haleh Moddasser, CPA. Haleh is the Senior Vice President and Managing Partner of Stearns Financial Group’s Triangle Office, and she has recently published a book entitled Gray Divorce: Silver Linings. In Episode 4, Haleh and host Jaime Davis discuss the concept of Gray Divorce and the different impact divorce after age 50 can have on women versus men.
Note: Our Podcast, “A Year and a Day: Divorce Without Destruction”, was created to be heard, but we provide text transcripts to make this information accessible to everyone. All transcripts on our website are created using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers and could contain errors.
Jaime Davis: Welcome to Episode 4 of A Year and a Day. I’m your host, Jaime Davis. In Episode 3, I discussed common myths that surround the topic of separation and divorce with my law partner, Carrie Tortora. In this episode, I will have the pleasure of speaking with Haleh Moddasser about gray divorce, a phenomenon that is becoming more and more prevalent in today’s society. Haleh is a CPA and the senior vice president and managing partner of Stearns Financial Group’s triangle office. She is a member of the Stearns Intelligent Aging Committee, providing special expertise to clients in the areas of senior housing, gray divorce and women in finance. Haleh is published widely on the topic of women in finance and has been interviewed by numerous national organizations including the AARP, the AICPA, TD Ameritrade and Kiplinger’s. Most recently, Haleh spoke about her new book, Gray Divorce, Silver Linings, A Woman’s Guide to Divorce After Fifty, at the Charles Schwab national conference. Welcome, Haleh.
Haleh Moddasser: Thank you for having me, Jaime.
Jaime Davis: So first, what is gray divorce?
Haleh Moddasser: Good question. Technically gray divorce is divorce over the age of 50 between longtime married couples. Often that can be three decades or more.
Jaime Davis: Wow. And so are you seeing more and more of this in your line of work?
Haleh Moddasser: Yeah. Shockingly it’s becoming really prevalent. In fact, when I first discovered it as a phenomenon was when I was in my office one day and a 74year-old woman came in asking for financial advice. This is not an unusual request of a financial advisor until she told me that she was leaving her husband.
Jaime Davis: Wow.
Haleh Moddasser: I know. And in my mind’s eye I went back to my mother or my grandmother and could not even imagine either of them thinking about leaving their husband at age 74. So I knew something had changed, and that prompted me to do a lot of research. And I started having more and more people coming in and quickly learned that in 2010 600,000 people had gone through a gray divorce and that number is expected to grow to 800,000 people by the year 2030.
Jaime Davis: Really?
Haleh Moddasser: Yeah.
Jaime Davis: That’s amazing.
Haleh Moddasser: So to put that into context in 2010 that same year 1.8 million people got divorced. What that means is about a third of all divorcing people in 2010 were age 50 or over.
Jaime Davis: I know in my line of work, too, as a divorce lawyer, I have seen an increasing number of older folks coming in; but I didn’t realize that the statistic was that striking.
Haleh Moddasser: Yeah. We’ve done a lot of research as to what’s changed. What changed between our parents’ and grandparents’ generations, and it’s a couple of things. One is baby boomers are aging and boomers were the first generation of adults to divorce in midlife, so thirties, forties. And we all know that second and third marriages have a higher divorce rate than first marriages. So it makes sense that as boomers are getting to retirement ages, they’re more likely to get divorced. But really the biggest driver to this phenomenon is longevity. People are living longer. We’ve added about 10 years to life expectancy since 1960. And what that means is people didn’t have a chance for a do over before. By the time they got to be retirement age, 65 or so, maybe they had another 10 to 15 years of life, but often times they spend half of that time sick, in a nursing home. There wasn’t an opportunity to do anything different. Now people are not only living longer, but they’re actually living healthier. And what I mean by that is the time in skilled nursing is down to less than 2 years. So people in their seventies and eighties are often traveling, starting businesses, second careers and finding new mates. This does becomes a possibility when it never was before.
Jaime Davis: So they’re still really active and they want to be happy?
Haleh Moddasser: Yes. Yes. One surprising statistic is that two thirds of these gray divorces are being initiated by women. I know that surprises a lot of people.
Jaime Davis: Absolutely. Why do you think that is?
Haleh Moddasser: Well, I think there are a number of reasons. Number one being the financial independence of women; and the way that the laws are written women who are in the know know that they’re entitled to half the marital estate, even if they’ve been stay at home moms.
Jaime Davis: Sure.
Haleh Moddasser: Secondly, I think in, especially in this generation of woman, they’ve spent a long time enabling and caring for other people. So enabling their husband’s career, perhaps they’ve been stay at home moms, they’ve taken care of their children, their parents; and they finally get to a point where it’s time for them to live a little. By the time the kids are grown, maybe the husband is, you know, involved in his career, they’ve grown apart. The woman wants to travel, she wants to experience life for the first time really and just doesn’t seem to have a partner to do that with and just finally says, “I’m done.” Or it may be a case, and I’ve seen this a lot where there’s been chronic abuse, verbal abuse, you know, the woman doesn’t feel heard, has not been happy for years and years and finally the children are grown and she feels now is her time.
Jaime Davis: So what motivated you to write the book?
Haleh Moddasser: Well, unfortunately I was almost a gray divorcer. I went through a divorce when I was 48 years old and in going through that process, I obviously have a strong financial background, I’m a CPA and I had worked for a number of years in the financial industry and even I found it very difficult to get good, solid, financial advice in the divorce space. And I began to realize that women going through this process who don’t have a financial background are really at a disadvantage when it comes to divorce negotiations and just kind of had a personal interest and sense of empathy in helping other women who are going through this, make sure that they have the best chance that they can financially to get a do over.
Jaime Davis: So you mentioned that you see or that you saw at the time women were at a bit of a disadvantage going through this process especially if they were older. Why is that?
Haleh Moddasser: Well, I think the, and I hate to stereotype because this really is an issue of one size fits one, but I will say that in this age group and especially in the segment that I work in, which is the wealth management segment, we have a lot of high-net-worth divorces; and in those cases the woman has had the luxury of being able to stay at home with her children. So that can be a blessing and a curse because in, in those sense, she’s kind of become disempowered. There has become a power imbalance within the marriage. The husband is the one who is making all the money, he’s generally driving all the decisions, he’s the one who knows all about the assets, where they’ll held, how they’re tax, what their tax position is. And so she’s kind of been in the dark, relying on him to take care of the finances. And this is not just with stay at home moms. I mean I have women who are doctors who still delegate that long-term retirement planning to their husbands. I akin it to asking a husband what his china pattern is. He, it’s not that he is stupid. He just doesn’t care. And it’s the same oftentimes with women. They just don’t care about long-term retirement planning. They’re more interested in the today, the here and the now. And so when it comes to divorce negotiations they’re often times completely in the dark about what the marital estate is worth, where it’s located, what they’re entitled to. They don’t necessarily understand about investing as well as their husbands, and so I think it puts them at a severe disadvantage.
Jaime Davis: Yeah. And a healthy, you know, sometimes it can just be a regular division of labor, that one spouse or the other takes care of the finances, and the other spouse takes care of some other aspect of the marriage. But the real problem comes in if the marriage is not a healthy marriage, and it’s a dysfunction situation, where one spouse is actually keeping the information from the other. I think that can be a problem as well.
Haleh Moddasser: Yeah. I, I completely agree. And I will say, though, it’s not just with divorcing people. I mean, we all know that women outlive their husband’s by an average of 14 years.
Jaime Davis: Right.
Haleh Moddasser: And, and so oftentimes even in a perfectly happy marital situation, if the husband predeceases the wife, the wife is completely blindsided and super vulnerable to financial predators at that time. So I advise all women to take an active role in the finances of the family. It really doesn’t make sense to delegate financial security to someone who is likely to predecease you.
Jaime Davis: Right. Even if you aren’t necessarily interested in the subject matter, I mean, you sort of have a duty to yourself to at least know what the information is.
Haleh Moddasser: Absolutely.
Jaime Davis: To seek it out and to know where your accounts are and what the plan is and maybe to even participate in that plan.
Haleh Moddasser: Absolutely. At a minimum just joining your husband for the annual or biannual meeting with your investment advisor, just being present, is a huge asset for women.
Jaime Davis: I mean information really is power in this context.
Haleh Moddasser: Absolutely.
Jaime Davis: In your book you mention on Page 7 that numerous studies indicate that following a divorce, men continue to build their net worth, often acquiring and even exceeding their married standards of living, while women do not. Why do you think that is?
Haleh Moddasser: Well, again, in this segment, part of it is that the woman perhaps hasn’t worked ever or for decades. So she really has no earnings power, and she may be too old to develop the skills required to ever earn a significant income; whereas the husband has been building his career all these years and regardless of age. I mean, I have many retired men who are still consulting, sitting on boards, they’re still earning an income even post-retirement. Secondly, men are more inclined to invest. Women somehow feel more secure if they keep their assets in cash, which actually is a guaranteed loss of purchasing power of 3 percent a year every year for the rest of their lives. So I think it takes about 22 years before you lose half of your purchasing power.
Jaime Davis: And that’s just because of inflation?
Haleh Moddasser: Just because of inflation. And so the irony in this is, and I want to encourage women to really hear this, when women do invest they’re oftentimes better investors than men because, ironically, they’re less emotional. Women typically chase security as opposed to returns so they’re able to be more steady and disciplined, which is actually the kind of temperament you need to be a good investor.
Jaime Davis: In your experience as a CPA and wealth manager, what obstacles have you seen facing women over fifty who are going through a divorce?
Haleh Moddasser: I think the, the biggest issue that I see is a woman’s fear of the future and so often times instead of coming in and sitting down and trying to get as much information as she can, trying to, to help her negotiate a settlement, she’s kind of willing to accept what’s offered to her. Part of that is part of the marital relationship. You know those patterns are hard to break. So perhaps she’s been in a situation where the husband has always “taken care of her,” and she still thinks that he’s gonna do right by her. And he may be trying to do right by her, but wouldn’t it be nice if the woman could corroborate that. She could actually have her own voice and independently come to the table knowing what it is she needs to get out of the settlement to ensure her best chance of financial security. So I really encourage women to seek out that information, and don’t sign anything until you’ve actually put together a forward-looking financial plan that says, “If I accept the settlement option, how long will these assets last? What happens if I run out of money? Do I have a Plan B?” Because there are many ways to skin this cat. Even if the marital estate doesn’t have enough money to take care of you for the rest of your life, there are other remedies, like life insurance or long-term care insurance. So, there are a myriad of ways we can ensure that you’re going to be taken care of without having to rob Paul to pay Peter, if that makes sense.
Jaime Davis: What factors should a woman consider when she is trying to determine whether or not a particular settlement offer is a good deal for her?
Haleh Moddasser: Well, what I’ve seen is often times women aren’t aware of the differences between taxable and tax deferred assets. And so I actually had a case where a woman came in and she said, “Oh, my gosh, we did this divorce so cheaply. We paid $2,000 to a mediator. We sat at the kitchen table. We had the balance sheet. We split everything 50/50. I got a million dollars. He got a million dollars. And here I am ready to invest my assets.” So I looked, and she had planned to buy a house, so I looked at what she got versus what he got; and he got the investment account that had already been taxed. She got his deferred compensation plan which was all pretax money. She had no idea that the minute she withdrew that money it would be taxed at ordinary tax rates. It actually meant that she couldn’t buy the house she had already placed an offer on. So if that wasn’t bad enough, can you imagine her rage at being duped this way in this negotiation? And keep in mind, these are people that have been married for decades. They share children. They share family members. They’ve shared a lifetime together. They’re going to continue to see each other. I mean, it makes it virtually impossible to have a civil relationship going forward, when you feel like there’s been such an inequity.
Jaime Davis: Sure. Out of that million since she ended up with retirement what, what did that equal out to for her?
Haleh Moddasser: It depends on her tax bracket and other sources of income, but I would say probably 700,000, maybe 600,000 –
Jaime Davis: Wow.
Haleh Moddasser: – depending on where it is.
Jaime Davis: So it’s a huge difference.
Haleh Moddasser: A humongous difference. The difference between owning her own house, the difference between her financial security versus his. And the tragedy was he was continuing to work and he was earning a gazillion dollars, and she was at home with three kids. I find that often women are so terrified of the financial consequences of divorce that they are pennywise and pound foolish. And, you know, they’re willing to pay the attorney. They’re not willing to pay that little bit of an extra flat fee to a financial person to help them make sure that something like this doesn’t happen. And, you know, when you’re talking about gray divorce, very little about the divorce has to do with child custody or, or even alimony because often times both people are divorced. It really is a division of assets and ensuring financial security. So the, a financial advisor in that role is probably more important than anything else because the divorce is about money.
Jaime Davis: Right. And I guess especially with gray divorce, given that the people are so close to retirement age, any alimony obligation that there would be would probably be for a very short time, I would imagine, just because very few judges, at least in my experience, are ordering lifetime alimony. Usually it’s to take someone to retirement age; and so if they’re already that close anyway it makes sense that you need to as, especially as the wife, to get more on the property side of the equation.
Haleh Moddasser: Absolutely. And again to reiterate, if there is not enough on the property to basically maintain two households and maintain your standard of living, there are other things to look at. For example a pension election, you know, –
Jaime Davis: What’s that, for those of us that don’t know?
Haleh Moddasser: So let’s say your husband works at a company that has a pension. And oftentimes this is just assumed to go to the husband, and the wife gets the other assets. But if the husband chooses a survivor benefit, he actually takes a little bit less during his lifetime; but at his death the woman gets the remaining pension for the rest of her life. This is, you know, amounts to a huge sum of money over a woman’s lifetime and doesn’t require you to have cash sitting around to make her whole. So there are a myriad of ways to look at this that we can figure out how to make both people as likely to succeed going forward financially as possible. It does not have to be a zero sum game.
Jaime Davis: But it does require the person to do their homework?
Haleh Moddasser: It does. It absolutely requires the woman to have the courage to ask for the information, to be willing to look at the information. You know, knowledge is power. If it’s going to be a bad outcome, wouldn’t you rather know it now, when you have a chance to impact what might come, what might happen, as opposed to the woman I just described who came to me after the fact, and there’s really just nothing you can do.
Jaime Davis: Right. It’s like not going to the doctor because you don’t want to know the diagnosis, and then you just end up dead.
Haleh Moddasser: Exactly.
Jaime Davis: It’s sort of the same thing.
Haleh Moddasser: Exactly.
Jaime Davis: So you mentioned that there can be issues with the tax consequences of whatever asset the woman gets in the divorce. What other issues can there be with a settlement that a financial professional could help with on the front end?
Haleh Moddasser: So one of the things that I often recommend to my women clients is to try to negotiate for a lump sum in lieu of alimony, and there are a couple of reasons for that. The most important two I would say, the first one is alimony doesn’t grow with inflation. So if you’re getting alimony for 10 years and you’re losing 3 percent a year, it basically means that you’re able to buy less with that same amount of alimony each year that passes by. The second reason I don’t like alimony is because it’s often times conditional. And what I mean by that is the woman ends up having to choose between love or money. Let’s say she meets someone, and they want to get married, or they want to live together. Well, legitimately, she would have to give up her alimony to be able to do that. Most women are, you know, are not in the financial situation to just give up their alimony. And so it prevents the woman from moving forward with her life and keeps her in a place of dependency with her husband, exhusband. And so for those reasons, I think emotionally and financially, it makes sense if you can negotiate a lump-sum settlement. Now, you might be thinking, “Why on earth would the husband do this?” But I’ve talked to so many husbands who will say things like the following, “I’ve taken care of her for the last 30 years, and it’s gonna really upset me to have to write her a check for the next 10 years every month.” And they would rather just write her a bigger check up front, cut the ties themselves, because it allows them the opportunity to retire, if they want. They don’t have that financial pressure of continuing to support someone financially.
Jaime Davis: I think the one downside, just playing devil’s advocate here, if you represented the person who was going to be paying the alimony, that lump sum means that your client is bearing all of the risk, that the person gets remarried, that the person cohabits. You know, if they’ve already gotten their money up front, I guess potentially the person could have ended up paying less over the periods of years but, you know, who knows in these cases. Anything is possible.
Haleh Moddasser: Yeah.
Jaime Davis: And, and you’re right, there are plenty of folks who are more than happy to just lump sum it and get out of that monthly check for sure.
Haleh Moddasser: Yeah. Agreed. I think from the woman’s perspective, if she’s been a dependent from an emotional point of view, it gives her the best chance of moving forward. But I agree. If the husband was paying alimony and he’s keeping his fingers crossed that the woman is gonna get married in a year and he can stop paying, obviously he would prefer to do that. You know, I kind of view the marriage as a business transaction. If you get a buyout, does that mean you should not be able to start a new business? And I kind of think not. This buyout was based on the prior 30 years of marriage. It should not be based on what you do going forward. And so I, I think I’m biased in that opinion.
Jaime Davis: No, and I, I think that’s a very valid point. Absolutely. When do you think a woman should consider hiring a financial professional to assist in the divorce process?
Haleh Moddasser: Well, I’ve seen this done optimally one of two ways. One is like the 74year-old woman that I knew who came in and asked for financial support and advice prior to even initiating a divorce. So her idea was, “Let’s figure out if I can even do this. In an optimal scenario, if I can negotiate this settlement, can I maintain my lifestyle? How much would I have to cut it back? Can I be happy with that?” before she even got to the next step. In those cases we often do multiple scenarios, you know, starting with a 50/50 division of asset, maybe some alimony, maybe no alimony and let’s just see what that might look like. Other times, we are in a situation where the divorce has already been discussed, maybe both parties have an attorney and either the woman independently or the attorney might call and say, “I have a woman in this situation, and we’d really like to get some advice on an acceptable settlement will be for her.” And so in that case, I usually will meet with the attorney and the woman and will kind of brainstorm collaboratively on what do you think is, you know, I might ask the attorney, “What do you think a settlement would be or, or like to be?” and then we’ll start with that number. Because oftentimes especially in these high-net-worth situations, it’s not very clean. There might be a closely held family business, and so it’s not a simple, “Let’s divide the IRA 50/50.” So, really, for me, getting input from the attorney as to the likelihood of an outcome is very helpful in projecting, “If we get this outcome, here is the lifestyle that the woman can have.” Does it mean that she’s selling her house? Does it mean that she’s no longer able to buy her Prada shoes? I mean, whatever that looks like, she needs to know that before she goes into the negotiation because at the end of the day, we’re trying to get to the minimal settlement she’s willing to accept. And she really needs to know that number because one, she’s trying to get it, and two, if she doesn’t get it, she needs to know what she’s giving up.
Jaime Davis: How often do you find that your clients just want to hang onto that house? Does that happen a lot?
Haleh Moddasser: For the women clients, yes. I see that a lot and, and again it’s the size of one size fits one. So I hate to generalize but 9 out of 10 times it’s just a tragic mistake. And I say that because let’s say you have a house worth $500,000 and an investment account worth 500. The woman will often say, “You keep, you know, the assets at whatever advisor you’ve got, and I’ll keep the house.” And she’s emotionally attached to the house. It’s where she’s raised her children, she wants to maintain continuity and stability for her family. Well, the husband’s investments, you know, if he had had those since 2008 have grown 250 percent. I can assure you that the house has not. In addition it has been a money pit. It’s needed a new roof, a new HVAC, you’re paying property taxes. It is an albatross. The woman often ultimately ends up having to sell the house after it depleted everything she has, and so she just ends up in a way worse situation than the husband. I never try to talk a woman out of keeping the house. All we do is run multiple scenarios. “Here’s what it looks like if you keep the house; here’s what it looks if you don’t.” If there’s a huge disparity, the woman makes her own decision. “Is it worth keeping that house if it means I’m gonna run out of money in 10 years?” And, you know, 9.9 out of 10 times, it’s not.
Jaime Davis: Right.
Haleh Moddasser: Yeah.
Jaime Davis: Do you find that women are hesitant to reach out to financial professionals?
Haleh Moddasser: I do, and I’m glad you asked that question, Jaime, because there’s a recent study that’s been done that women self-report 2 out of 3 times that they don’t trust the financial services industry.
Jaime Davis: Why is that?
Haleh Moddasser: Well, you know, you turn on the news, and you think of the financial crisis in ’08 and you think about, you know, greed on Wall Street and also the financial services industry was founded by and still dominated by men; and let’s face it, it’s Mars and Venus. Women and men think differently about many things, and money is no exception. For example, how many times have you heard that a man and another man go play golf together, and they talk about everything under the sun and never share that one of the wives is in the hospital? That would never happen between women. Women are more holistic in their relationships. If they sit down with an advisor, they want to know that person, to trust that person. They want to feel heard and understood, that you get them. That’s often hard to do in a typical advisory relationship. So my number one advice to women is: Find someone to work with who you can trust, who you feel has your back, because trust is the foundation of the entire relationship.
Jaime Davis: What sorts of issues can you help a divorcing woman work through?
Haleh Moddasser: Well, you know, starting with the divorce negotiation itself is, I would say, probably as important as following the divorce, when the woman has sort of a lump sum of money and is maybe afraid of financial markets. Women often are made to feel as if they’re risk averse, when studies actually show that men are overconfident; and so I don’t think that a woman should shy away from her natural investment temperament. She is typically more disciplined, more measured, takes more time to study, to interview people and make sure she’s comfortable; but what I find is, women often don’t even take that step. They just kind of sit on it, and you, you just can’t sit on a pile of cash. If you had done that in the last 15 years, you literally would’ve earned 1 percent a year annualized, which means that you would’ve lost money to inflation.
Jaime Davis: Wow.
Haleh Moddasser: So it, it’s just not a viable option. So, I think the most important thing is to go to an advisor that’s a fiduciary, not someone who can sell a product.
Jaime Davis: And so what does that mean?
Haleh Moddasser: So a fiduciary advisor, there are three models in the financial services industry: One is a broker/dealer. A broker/dealer is the traditional advisor that you would think of who is, can sell products and get commissions; and I think there are many fine brokers in the world, but one can’t deny that there’s an inherent conflict of interest.
Jaime Davis: Sure.
Haleh Moddasser: And, and so the other model is a fee-only model. This is the other extreme, which is the fiduciary model. In that model, you’re paying for advice, but the person who’s advising you can’t sell you a product. So not only are you getting more objective advice, but you’re also more certain that there’s not a conflict of interest. And then the third model is a fee-based model which some would argue is the most expensive of all because they can get a commission, but they also can charge a flat fee. So it can be a double whammy. So my advice to any woman is to find a fee-only registered investment advisor which is a fiduciary model. Sit down and talk to that person.
Jaime Davis: And so how, how does the woman find that out? Does she just ask the person? Is it something that would be on their website? What’s the best way for her to get that information?
Haleh Moddasser: I think a direct question. If the person you’re talking to can’t definitely say, “Yes, I’m a fiduciary.” So this doesn’t mean that they say, “Of course, I have your best interests in mind.” They have to be able to say, “Yes, I’m a fiduciary.” If they cannot say that, that’s probably not the model I would recommend.
Jaime Davis: In addition to finding a financial professional who is a fiduciary, are there any other criteria the woman should look for?
Haleh Moddasser: Yeah, and I think this is really important. So, obviously, you want to check references. You also want to make sure that your financial professional has the highest designation what, in whatever discipline they’re in, either a CPA or a chartered financial analyst or a certified financial planner; but the, the most important thing is that the person is experienced in divorce, and I say that because that’s not something you go to school for. This is a very specialty niche within financial planning, and so some of the questions, if I were a woman that was going through this, would ask is: “How many divorce cases do you do a year? What size divorce cases do you do a year? What kind of outcomes have you seen? Can you give me a list of references of people that you’ve worked for, with, who’ve gone through a divorce that I can call?” So, I can’t emphasize enough how important experience is in, in this particular arena.
Jaime Davis: And I would think they probably need to be comfortable dealing with divorce lawyers.
Haleh Moddasser: Exactly. Exactly. So you may ask questions like, “Well, what divorce attorneys in the area have you worked with?” You know, if they’re kind of stumbling about, or you’ve never heard of the people, you know, this could be a little bit of a red flag. So I, I think it’s really important to make sure that the person is established, has good rapport with attorneys, has good rapport with clients, and has created some positive outcomes for her clients.
Jaime Davis: Haleh, I think this has been a great conversation. I loved your book. If anybody wants to check it out, it is Gray Divorce, Silver Linings. It’s a wonderful read. It’s an easy read. I think it can be a great resource in this area. Again, Haleh, thank you for taking the time today to speak with us about these issues.
Haleh Moddasser: Thank you. It’s my pleasure.
Jaime Davis: I hope you all enjoyed this episode of a Year in a Day. If you have any suggestions for future episodes, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at email@example.com. As a reminder, while in my role as a lawyer, my job is to give folks legal advice, the purpose of this podcast is not to do that. This podcast is for general informational purposes only, should not be used as legal advice, and is specific to the law in North Carolina. If you have questions, before you take any action, you should consult with a lawyer who is licensed in your state.