Alternatives to Massachusetts Family Court

Family law disputes such as divorce, child custody, visitation, spousal support are often emotional and can be stressful. When two parties cannot agree, they may believe taking their case to court is the only option. However, litigation is expensive and can be a very lengthy process. Additionally, the courtroom environment empowers the judge to make decisions instead of allowing the two parties involved to decide what is best.

There are viable alternatives to litigation and these options often allow the parties involved to determine what works best. Consider these effective alternatives.

1.    Use a Mediator. Mediation is a productive way for each party to discuss, debate and decide for themselves the issues that are important to them, including child custody, financial support and property division. A professional mediator is a neutral facilitator. Through a series of meetings, the mediator will draft a document outlining what was agreed upon. That document will then be submitted to the court for approval. It is not a legally binding document until approved by a judge. Since a mediator cannot give legal advice, it’s often recommended that both parties consult an attorney to discuss their individual rights and the consequences of certain decisions within the agreement drafted by the mediator.  [Read more…]

Understanding the Annulment Process in Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, anyone who is no longer happy in their marriage can get a divorce for just about any reason. However, there are some cases where the marriage should not be legally recognized in the first place. In these situations, an annulment may be the best option. Understanding the annulment process in Massachusetts can help determine if this is an option for you to consider.

Who Qualifies
In general terms, couples qualify for an annulment in Massachusetts based on social or religious reasons. Some of the most common reasons for granting an annulment over a divorce include:

  • Marrying a close relative.
  • Fraud.
  • Impotence in one party.
  • Mental incompetence.
  • Presence of a hidden contagious disease.
  • One party is already married.
  • One party is underage and unable to consent.
  • Coercion.

Top Four Questions Regarding Alimony and Remarriage in Massachusetts

Divorce is a challenging time for both spouses. So many factors involving the outcome can have lasting effects. Alimony is no exception. Alimony refers to a specified amount of money paid to one spouse by the other spouse during and after divorce. The purpose is to help the lower-earning spouse maintain a reasonable standard of living. One of the most popular questions asked is, “can remarriage discontinue alimony?” A change in the Massachusetts alimony law in 2012 clarified that provision and several others. Consider these four frequently asked questions about alimony and remarriage in Massachusetts.

How Much is Alimony?

The main consideration in calculating alimony in Massachusetts is each spouse’s income or income ability. However, many other factors are at play when a court determines how much alimony a spouse is required to pay. While the actual amount is usually a percentage of the paying spouse’s income, the following factors are also considered:

  • How long the two were married.
  • The standard of living while married and the ability of both spouses to maintain that standard of living.
  • The income, skills and employment opportunities of both spouses.
  • The current liabilities and needs of each spouse.
  • The age and health of each spouse.

[Read more…]

The Discovery Process in Massachusetts Divorce

When deciding to pursue a divorce in Massachusetts, certain processes must be completed by each party in an effort to fairly divide marital assets and debts. Financial disclosure procedures play an integral part in the divorce process. The information gathered by disclosures can affect the outcome of a divorce, and according to Massachusetts law, these rules must be followed exactly to ensure each party receives what they are due.

Financial Statement Long Form

If you or your spouse’s salary exceeds $75,000 a year in gross income, you must complete the Financial Statement Long Form. The long form is substantial, and it will take some time to properly fill out. This form will require you to provide proof of income from a variety of sources. For instance you must disclose base salary information including any overtime you preformed, tips you made, bonuses paid, or commissions from sales. In addition, information must be provided regarding self-employment, funds from disability or Welfare, and interest made on investment accounts. The Long Form will also require you to disclose your debts such as business expenses and deductions for household utilities and health insurance. [Read more…]

What You Need to Know about Massachusetts Child Support

Massachusetts has enacted new child support guidelines effective August 1, 2013.

Child support is ordered in custody cases to ensure the child is properly cared for by both parents. The two issues are considered separately, though. Whether you are the person who is supposed to pay support or you are receiving the support, it is essential to understand how it works in Massachusetts.

Support Calculations

Child support is typically determined based on a variety of factors that are unique to each set of parents. Some of these factors include:

  • Rate of pay
  • Child care paid
  • Health and dental insurance paid
  • Other prior support obligations
  • Number of children

In most cases, the state will determine the amount of support that must be paid to ensure the child has a reasonable quality of life in both homes. Some support obligations are paid through wage garnishment by the Department of Revenue, while other support orders require the payor to pay the recipient directly.

[Read more…]

Protecting Your Business Through Divorce in Massachusetts

As many business owners here in Massachusetts know, a marriage is not guaranteed to succeed. Some may last for decades before failing, others just a few years. But no matter how long the marriage existed, its demise can have a profound effect on a business – unless the business owner took steps ahead of time to minimize the impact a divorce would have on it.

One of the best ways to minimize the impact is with a prenuptial agreement. In most cases, Massachusetts’ law upholds the terms of a prenup – so agreeing ahead of time on how things will be handled should a divorce occur can prove invaluable in protecting a business and its assets. Even in states like Massachusetts which considers a variety of factors when deciding how to split a couple’s assets, a prenup can help protect a business that would not otherwise be protected. In order to ensure that the prenup won’t fold under pressure, it needs to be drawn up under the following conditions:

  • Full financial disclosure takes place on both sides.
  • Both parties have their own attorneys.
  • Both parties have time to give the agreement serious consideration.
  • Neither party feels pressured to accept it. [Read more…]

To Settle – or go to Trial

Often litigants are faced with making the decision of settling a divorce matter under their agreed upon terms or taking the case to trial to be heard and decided by the Judge.

The decision is certainly not always clear, but from a practitioner’s standpoint there are numerous factors for a client to consider:

Is my unwillingness to settle the case due to bitterness or hurt feelings? :

Always assess the situation and determine if your unwillingness to settle is the result of your hurt feelings or even feelings of bitterness. If so, as hard as it is to put your feelings aside and look at the actual issues, sometimes once this is done it becomes much easier to see what is actually important and worth fighting over.

Cost of Trial:

Keep in mind that in many cases the cost of trial can exceed the value of the assets or issue in dispute. Trial can and does often cost tens of thousands of dollars. This is an extremely important factor to keep in mind when considering trial over settlement.

Giving the Judge the final say:

Always remember that up until trial, you and your spouse retain the final decision making authority regarding your entire case. However this all changes the moment you decide to go to trial. By going to trial you are telling the Court that despite your best efforts you were unable to come to terms on resolving the issues and therefore need the Judge to decide them for you. Be aware that you still may not be necessarily pleased with the Judge’s decision post-trial. By going to trial you are essentially giving up your right to retain control over the outcome of your case, and instead placing the decision making authority in the Judge’s hands. You are in essence asking the Judge to determine the terms by which you will ultimately have to live by.

4 Tips For Making The Divorce Transition Easier For Children

1. Communication – Have age appropriate discussion with your children regarding any questions or concerns they are expressing. Always remember that they likely know more about the situation and what is going on than you think. Be mindful not to discuss the content of marital issues, but instead talk openly about what the living arrangements will be moving forward. This will help them to understand that while you and your spouse will no longer be living together, nonetheless a high level of stability and consistency will continue in your child’s life.

2. Encourage respect for other Parent – Always encourage and foster love and respect of the child towards the other parent. Although you may not feel cordial and amicable towards your soon to be ex spouse, your child loves this person, you (and you spouse) must respect this fact.

3. Never degrade the other Parent – NEVER speak words of negativity about your spouse in the presence of your child. Not only is this extremely inappropriate but it is immensely confusing to the child and often makes them feel as though they are being put in the middle of the “battle field”.

4. Family Counseling & Therapy – If your child seems confused or disengaged due to the divorce/litigation proceedings that are now taking place, Family therapy is an excellent source to be utilized. Children often feel secure knowing that there is a third party that they can trust. This helps them understand and overcome the issues and clarify any confusion or fears they may be harboring.

How Do Divorce Modifications Work In Massachusetts?

When you first go through a divorce, you will determine an appropriate order of child support, a parenting plan and an equitable division of property at the time. However, not everyone thinks ahead and creates a court order pertaining to child support and custody that will work until the children reach the age of majority. Parties often go through changes that warrant alterations to the original order. This is why some people need to go back to court for divorce modifications. If something isn’t working with your court order, it is important to learn how these modifications work.

Change of Circumstances

One of the most important things to know is you must prove that there has been a material change of circumstances to go to court regarding a modification. This change of circumstances can be the result of a major move, a job change that affects the current custody arrangement or anything else that may make the current arrangement impossible or difficult to follow. Talk to a qualified attorney first to determine if your circumstances warrant a modification to avoid unnecessary time in court.

What Can Be Modified?

Child support is often reviewed every three years to account for raises and other changes in income that typically occur. However, these changes may be assessed sooner than three years if a warranted change in circumstances has occurred. In addition, often times child support is determined by guidelines and therefore is easily determined. If you would like to change any aspect of visitation or actual custody of the children via divorce modifications, it must be taken before the court unless the two parents can come to an agreement on their own. In many cases, just about anything within the court order can be modified if the court finds the reasons for doing so are legitimate. [Read more…]

The damaging effects of social media on divorce and child custody

With the emergence and heavy use of social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter, it is paramount that separated and divorcing spouses are mindful of what they choose to post to these public forums.

Sharing too much information on Facebook or other social media sites can undoubtedly have a negative impact on the outcome of your divorce, child custody case or other such family law matter that you may be involved. Pictures and posts that you submit are public and can be submitted as evidence against you and considered by the Judge in making a final ruling on your case. Although you may think you are not subject to such issues because you believe that your privacy settings are secure, the fact remains that you and your spouse likely know many mutual acquaintances and therefore run the risk of your pictures and status updates being shared or leaked. In addition, you could be compelled to share contents of your social network page by means of proper discovery instituted by your spouse. [Read more…]