Chat with us, powered by LiveChat

My ex is refusing to pay court-ordered support. What can I do?

When a divorce is finalized, a divorce decree outlines essential information about the court’s decision. A divorce decree is an enforceable order by the court that both parties are legally mandated to follow.

Items outlined can include payment of child support or spousal support, a transfer of property, or specific visitation schedules. Unfortunately, too often, parties neglect or elect to ignore the outlined orders. This can greatly harm the spouse, who is dependent on support. While the penalties to the offending party for these transgressions can be severe, the spouse being affected is required to file a claim to make the court aware of the transgression.

A contempt of court charge can be filed against a transgressor in violation of a court order if certain conditions are met. These conditions include:

  • a valid order from the court
  • awareness of the outlined order by both parties
  • evidence of the transgressor knowingly violating a court order

Penalties will vary on a case-by-case basis. However, common penalties include the payment of fines, legal fees, and even jail time.

If you feel your ex-spouse is in violation of a court order, you need an attorney who understands Massachusetts Family and Divorce law. Some individuals attempt to resolve issues directly with their former spouse. However, any agreement made cannot be enforced by the courts.

If you have questions and would like to speak with a reputable Massachusetts family law attorney, please contact our office.

Divorcing During COVID-19

When your relationship is already strained, living under quarantine conditions can quickly shed light on a troubled marriage. Whether you’ve been contemplating divorce for a while or the stress of recent events has become the straw to break the camel’s back, so to speak, our attorneys can help you understand the divorce process and your options.

During these unprecedented times, we are all taking a look at our lives and examining our relationships. Perhaps the tiny cracks in your relationship have turned into irreparable gaping holes. With a newfound outlook on how we see our futures, some couples may decide to part ways.

If you’re among those wondering if you can file for divorce during the covid crisis, the answer is yes. While we do not know when the Court will reopen to petition your divorce officially, we can get the ball rolling.

While some judges and court employees are working from home, any new or scheduled cases that involve oral argument will likely be postponed for several months. However, if you and your spouse are able to reach a settlement between attorneys, you may be able to process your divorce through the family court system faster.

Below are some things you should know about divorce under any circumstances.
Massachusetts recognizes both “fault” and “no-fault” divorces.

  • Massachusetts Courts divide property equitably–not necessarily equally. This means property and assets will be distributed in a way that the Court believes is fair under the circumstances.
  • Whether to award alimony, how much to award, and for how long is all left to the discretion of the Court.
  • In Massachusetts, both parents have a legal obligation to support their children.
  • If parents can’t agree on custody and visitation, a court will decide all custody issues.

If you decide to explore your options or start the divorce process now amid the covid-19 pandemic, our skilled attorneys and staff are here to help and support you. To learn your options or for advice on how to proceed during these unique circumstances, give our office a call.

Don’t Fall Victim to Hidden Assets During Divorce

When it comes to divorce in Massachusetts, everything related to finances must be fully disclosed. This includes every single asset, purchased together or otherwise, as well as all accumulated debts. Each spouse is instructed to report known findings through a financial affidavit.

It is against the law to purposely hide, understate, or overstate assets, as well as any marital property, debt, income, or expense. In extreme cases, this can potentially lead to the withholding party being sentenced to serve time in jail.

If you suspect your spouse of attempting to hide assets, it’s imperative to retain a divorce lawyer who has significant experience discovering hidden or undervalued assets. A top-notch Massachusetts divorce lawyer will know the tricks used to hide assets and work with forensic accountants, investigators, and other experts to uncover these attempts to mislead the system.

Some common methods of hiding assets are outlined below.

Overpaying the IRS
Spouses who anticipate that their divorces will be finalized during the next tax season have been caught intentionally overpaying the IRS. If undetected, this gives them a way to shelter money and provide them with a head start on the following year’s taxes once the divorce becomes final.

Selling Assets to Fiends
Be wary of transactions made between a spouse and a close friend or confidante. This is a tactic commonly used to hide assets whereby an arrangement is made to return or ‘sell back’ assets following divorce finalization.

Delaying Financial Gains
It is not uncommon for a spouse expecting a large commission, promotion, or pay raise to postpone the financial distribution until after the divorce is final.

Additional attempts to hide assets to watch out for include:

  • Transferring money from a joint account to an individual one
  • Putting assets into a family trust, offshore corporation or shell corporation
  • Purchasing art, collectibles or other items that retain value but are not liquid
  • Purchasing insurance policies, cashier’s checks, and savings bonds

Keep in mind that Massachusetts is an “equitable division” state when dealing with property division. This means all assets and debts must be identified, valued, and divided. Equitable division, however, does not mean all assets and liabilities will be split evenly between parties. Arguments can be made in court as to why and how certain assets should be divided.

Efforts to conceal financial gains can become more sophisticated with high-net-worth divorces. Due to the complexities surrounding asset division, it is imperative for anyone going through a divorce in Massachusetts to seek out legal representation. Our team of experts can guide you through every step of your divorce.

Protecting Assets in a Divorce

Divorce is as much a financial blow as it is an emotional one. Alimony and child support may take a large, even unreasonable amount out of your monthly paycheck. Conversely, if your income is much smaller than your soon-to-be-ex-spouse’s, or if you stayed at home to look after the family, you might find yourself in dire financial straits if you are not awarded a just settlement.

You deserve a divorce settlement that takes into account your circumstances and your contributions to the marriage— and financial, logistical, or emotional. In this article, you will find three steps to follow to protect your assets in divorce and reach the settlement that is best for you.

I. Be Open and Honest—and Savvy: On your end, it is important not to hide any of your assets.  Hiding your assets, or even appearing to hide your assets, may be used against you in court by your spouse and his or her counsel.

In fact, most people’s attempts to hide their assets—by spending large amounts of cash—fail to improve their divorce outcomes. This is for two reasons. First, because Massachusetts family courts take into account income (earnings) rather than expenditure (spending). Second, because assets are defined as more than cash, excessive spending fails to protect non-liquid holdings like stocks, bonds, and even intellectual property.
To understand the full scope of your assets, it is worth investing in professional help to value and to locate them.

II. Pursue Discovery: While you should be honest about your assets, you should not assume your spouse will be. The stress of even an amicable divorce can make people do desperate things—even honest people. Of course, you may be divorcing because of habitual dishonesty or financial abuse. In these cases, especially it is important to pursue the discovery process. 

Like in any legal matter, discovery serves to expose the facts of the case. Under legal penalties, your spouse will be forced to hand over financial documents to confirm how much and where assets, joint or otherwise, are. If your divorce discovery includes a deposition, your spouse will be forced to answer questions honestly or risk perjury charges.

III. Be Ready to Fight: If there is a single take-away you should remember while preparing to protect your assets, it is this: playing fair does not mean being a pushover. While you should be open about your assets, you should be savvy by having them professionally valuated. While you should be honest, you should not assume the same about your spouse. And while you should hope for a smooth divorce process, you should prepare for the opposite. Do not give away valuable concessions because you believe it will make the process “easier.” It will be costly in the long run, and may not make the process any shorter or smoother.

Consult with a skilled family law attorney, like those at our firm, to make navigating hearings and court-dates easier, all while protecting what is rightfully yours.

What factors do courts consider when determining child custody?

Courts primarily base their decision on what is in the child’s best interest, using the Child’s Best Interest Standard. Factors vary from state to state, but the overall goal is to make a decision that promotes the health and wellbeing of the child.

Parents are encouraged to come to an agreement on matters of child custody and visitation to submit to the court. However, if the judge finds the settlement agreement is not in the child’s best interest, it can be rejected.

Courts will generally determine the stability of each parent’s home environment and their interest and commitment to caring for the child. Other factors include the health of each parent, both physical and mental; the special needs of the child, if any; the child’s own wishes if they are old enough to say so; whether there is evidence of illicit drug use, or drug/alcohol abuse; and adjustment to the community, such as where they go to school, proximity to other caretakers, etc.

In Massachusetts, the best interests of the child are the overriding guiding principle for judges making custody decisions. State law also says that the child’s “happiness and welfare” are paramount and that the parents’ rights are equal unless a parent has been found to be currently unfit.

Child custody cases can be complicated and always require extensive knowledge of family law. When facing a child custody issue, you will probably have several questions. Please call our office for experienced advice regarding your family law concerns.

Altering Your Child Custody Agreement

  • My ex-spouse has asked to pick up our children, of whom we share custody, at a different time from that stated in our custody agreement. I’m fine with the change. Do we need to alter the agreement, or is a verbal agreement enough?

The is almost always going to be “get it in writing.” While you may have the most amicable divorce in the world, you never know what the future may hold. Contracts fill the gaps left when human trust fails.

If this is a one-time, or two-time situation, a verbal agreement might suffice. Of course, without putting it in writing, if you agree to a “quick change,” you may find yourself agreeing to a years-long arrangement without intending to.

Moreover, while it is hard to think about, custody agreements in part to protect children from the threat of parental abduction. Without having a firm time or  day for the hand-off, you might find yourself more anxious for the return of your children than you need to be.

If this is a longer-term change, you should definitely alter the custody agreement. If both parents agree to the change, they can jointly file a petition with the court in a fairly simple process.

Whether you are working out an initial custody agreement or need to modify one that is no longer working for your family, come discuss your individual situation with our skilled family law attorneys.

My Kids Hate the Custody Arrangement – What Can I Do to Change It?

Even in the best of circumstances, divorce can be difficult for children. Children are often resistant to change: adapting to new schedules and surroundings, learning to live with one parent at a time, and getting along with possible new stepsiblings or half-siblings are all big changes, ones which can challenge a child’s developing social skills and coping mechanisms. However, many, if not most, children with divorced parents eventually adapt and thrive, growing into healthy and well-adjusted adults.

There are cases, however, where a child’s discomfort with a custody arrangement goes beyond natural resistance to change, beyond the fairly standard complaints of “I don’t like it here” or “I like dad’s house better.”

Perhaps there is serious, ongoing, and frequent conflict between the child and one of the custodial parents, a conflict that makes living with that parent a deeply anxious situation for the child. Perhaps the conflict is with a stepparent or stepsibling and a child’s grades are dropping as a result of the distress.

Conflict and negative situations are not the only reason to consider modifying a custody agreement, however.

Perhaps, at the other end of the spectrum, a mom can now spend more time with her children because of a promotion that allows her more control over her schedule. Or perhaps a ten-year-old custody agreement no longer works for a fledgling teenager because she prefers to live at her mom’s house as it is considerably closer to her new high school than dad’s, allowing her to participate in more extracurricular activities and sparing her a long commute in rush-hour traffic.

In these cases, it may be in the child’s or children’s best interest to file for a custody modification. If approved by the court, this modified agreement will supersede the original judgement or a preexisting temporary custody order.

In Massachusetts family courts, as in family courts across the country, children’s best interest and well-being are primary concerns. As such, any petition for custody modification must demonstrate that:

  1. Circumstances have substantially changed since the last custody agreement was approved
  2. The change is in the child’s or children’s best interest

When both parents agree to a change in the custody arrangements, they can jointly file for modification. Each parent could benefit from having a lawyer to help set out the details and wording of the petition and its filing. In general, a joint petition for custody modification is a fairly straightforward procedure.

In contrast, when one parent is applying for a custody modification the other does not want, it is highly recommended to have a lawyer. This applies whether you are the parent filing for a change or the parent opposed to a change.

Our partners are experienced family law practitioners. We can help make custody modifications easier on the whole family. Call today to schedule a consultation. We will discuss your family’s unique situation and design a plan to best serve your family’s needs.

Accessing Spouse’s Social Media Accounts During Divorce

While recognizing the hurt that comes with the breakdown of a marriage, and recognizing that marriages may break down due to the inappropriate behavior or abuse by a spouse, some behaviors and activities will not be viewed kindly by the family courts, and may even run afoul of the law. Spying or snooping on a spouse’s social media or digital presence for “dirt” is one such behavior.

With the rise of social media, people lead their lives as much online as offline. Digital lives can be accessed and assessed all in one place—a phone or a computer—and offer a rich source of information that could only be gleaned through extensive investigation in the real-world. Digital devices also contain sensitive, intimate information and communications that may never see the light of a real-time, physical day. This is information—evidence of infidelity, bank statements and the location of assets, backlogs of abusive text messages to a spouse—that could prove very damaging to the owner in a divorce case.

It is easy then to understand why a spouse might be tempted to snoop on the other’s phone, hack into a messaging app, or download statements from a spouse’s singly-held bank account. These are temptations that are critical to resist, though, for one’s own legal and financial good.

On the one hand, electronic snooping might be liable to prosecution as wiretapping. Massachusetts has some of the strictest laws in the nation around consent in recording, requiring that everyone on a recorded line or other recording at least know they are being recorded, even if they do not explicitly consent. This extends to other forms of electronic communications. For spouses, there are extra protections on the privacy of marital communications, and potential extra penalties.

Additionally, a court may look unfavorably on snooping, and the victimized spouse and his or her counsel may be able to argue this is a form of spousal abuse. This could backfire, in the end, on the snooping spouse in the terms of the final divorce settlement.

In short, do not snoop on a spouse’s phone or computer, as satisfying as it might be to uncover extramarital affairs or asset hiding. Stick to that evidence which is publicly available on social media profiles, or, better yet, leave the process of legal discovery to competent counsel. Our office is staffed by lawyers skilled in the discovery process, along with all facets of divorce law. Call today to discuss your family’s particular needs.

Snooping on Your Spouse in a Massachusetts Divorce

As thoughts turn towards divorce, tempers can flare and people may behave in ways they normally would not be proud of, even in a relatively amicable situation. Of course, the bad behavior of a spouse—ranging from neglect of household duties to infidelity to abusive actions—may well have begun long before the divorce, and may well be the reason for it.

In seeking a favorable divorce settlement, one that compensates you for violations of the marriage contract and shields you from your spouse’s ongoing bad behavior, you will want to have evidence to bolster your claims. In a world of smart phones, where everyone has both a video camera and a broadcasting station in their pockets, you may be tempted to record your spouse’s bad behavior.

In a word: don’t.

Massachusetts laws on recording interactions between persons are possibly the strictest in the nation. While many states have “two-party consent” laws, meaning that both (or all) people on a recording must know they are being recorded and consent to it, the Commonwealth takes it a step further. Recording private conversations falls under Massachusetts statute chapter 272, section 99, also known as the wiretap statute.

Explicitly instituted as a measure against organized crime, the statute is of theoretical interest to law students because it addresses both police and civilian conduct with regard to recording in the same law. For civilians, there is an explicit ban on recording wire communications (i.e. phone conversations) and a ban on any audio recording by other means without consent.

While a subsequent court ruling (Commonwealth v. Jackson) would allow secret recording in public situations where there is not a reasonable expectation of privacy, there is continued debate over what constitutes ‘secret’ recording and ‘public’ space.

The penalty for violating the wiretap law is a fine up to $10,000, imprisonment of two-and-a-half years, or some combination of jail time and a fine. Using the contents of an illegal recording, even if one did not make the recording, is also banned and severely punishable. However, the statute only addresses protections for the privacy of oral communication captured on oral recordings. There is no mention in the statute of still photography or soundless video, however, which presents itself as a loophole.

Given that the penalties for an illegal recording are so severe, and that a family law court will not look favorably on “spying” against a spouse, it is safest not to record your spouse at all. Separate from the strict penalties that follow from the wiretapping statute, there are other complex legal issues involved, including marital privilege that protects communications between spouses.

As in all family law matters, it is best to consult with a lawyer about gathering evidence of your spouse’s ill-treatment of you. Call our office today to set up an appointment with one of our highly qualified family law attorneys.

Child Custody And The Holidays

The winter holidays may be the most wonderful time of the year, but they are also a top contender for the most stressful time of the year. Regardless of family structure, holiday gatherings and visits can be contentious. Under the stress of cleaning and cooking and visiting in-laws, even close-knit nuclear families, amicably divorced co-parents, or happily mixed step-families might experience some tension and conflict around this time of the year.

Given the stress of preparing for holidays, and the emotions invested in family celebrations, it is more important than ever for there to be good channels of communication about scheduling. When child custody agreements are involved, communication is even more important, especially if custody arrangements or their enforcement have been contentious issues in the past.

Many shared custody agreements drawn up as part of the divorce settlements will specify holiday visitation and custody rights for each parent. For example, one parent may have the children for Thanksgiving and New Year’s, with the other parent having Christmas and the surrounding days. In the next year, the parents might swap time periods, following an alternating schedule laid out in the custody agreement.

Changes happen, however. A flight back from a visit to grandma might be delayed by snow. A family wedding might be scheduled for the days after Christmas. A teenager with a mind of her own might want to go to a friend’s cookie-decorating party close to mom’s house an hour away, even though dad has custody for that date. What’s to be done?

If ex-spouses have a cooperative relationship as co-parents, these slight changes to the schedule might be handled between the two as an oral agreement. However, it is never a bad idea to get a one-time change to holiday custody arrangements in writing. Getting any changes in writing is especially important when respect for the custody agreement (such as timely drop-off of children at the other parent’s residence, frequent requests to “swap” custodial weekends, and the like) has been an issue in the past.

If you find that your ex-spouse frequently wants to make exceptions to the custody agreement, it may be time to get legal counsel involved. In a worst-case scenario, you might have to bring legal force to your requests that the custody agreement be respected. On the other hand, however, both parties might amicably agree it is time to update the custody agreement to better reflect your family’s changed needs.

Our experienced family law partners can help you sort out issues of holiday custody.  Call today to discuss how to guarantee happier holidays for your family.

Email Us
close slider

Get A Case Evaluation

We are happy to provide a consultation to all first time clients.
Please complete the form below and we will contact you.