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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.

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.

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.

What are the benefits of choosing mediation over litigation in a divorce?

When most of us think of divorce, we think of custody battles, endless legal filings, and costly court proceedings. The whole process of divorce can seem more daunting, and perhaps even more painful, than the emotional aspects of a marriage’s dissolution.

But what if there was another way? Another, more humane, more gentle, less expensive way?

There is: mediation.

Not every divorce is contested. If both parties agree that the marriage should end, it is a much simpler process than when one seeks to prevent the divorce, or when it is necessary to assign fault to one partner or another. What remains for the spouses is to agree on the division of property, alimony allocation, and child custody arrangements.

By meeting with a divorce mediator, such as one of our experienced family law attorneys, couples can work out the terms of their divorce face-to-face. The mediation process can save divorcing couples time, money, and heartache.

Once an agreement is reached by both parties, an attorney can help with filing a petition for divorce with the courts. The court will then review the property distribution agreement signed by the divorcing parties. Once approved by the court, the divorce will be final. The whole process from petition to grant of divorce could be only a month, as opposed to a months-long legal battle.

If you believe that divorce mediation is right for you, call our office today to arrange a consultation.

What is a ‘gray divorce’ and how is it different from the typical divorce?

A ‘gray divorce’ refers to a split that happens between an older husband and wife, often after many years of marriage. The ‘gray’ in ‘gray divorce’ refers to the color of the divorcing couple’s hair. With more and more couples over fifty, or even over sixty-five, choosing to part ways, the phenomenon has also earned the names of ‘silver splitter’ and ‘diamond divorces.’ While it might be unsettling to think that forty years of marriage is no guarantee for many more, it is necessary to think about the particular issues that arise when senior citizens divorce.

Contrary to what the media would have you believe, gray divorces do not typically come about as part of a man’s midlife crisis. Rather, they are an outgrowth of advancements in medicine and changes in society. With people living longer than ever before, it is getting harder to “grin and bear it” in a lackluster marriage, and people are less tied to ideas of how senior citizens “should” spend their retirement.

With children grown and living on their own, gray divorces do not involve acrimonious custody disputes. However, for well-established couples, there will be extra concern for the division of property and alimony awards. With couples approaching retirement, or already retired, issues of income and savings are critical to both parties’ well-being.

If you or someone you love are involved in a ‘gray divorce’ situation, call our office today to speak with skilled family law attorneys about the best course of action.

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