The Massachusetts Appeals Court has issued a Rule 1:28 Memorandum and Order in a divorce case entitled Roof v. Abelowitz upholding the validity and enforceability of a prenuptial agreement that the wife signed only one day prior to the wedding. The court considered two particularly interesting factors in finding that the wife's waiver of rights under the prenuptial agreement was valid. In this case, the size and formality of the wedding and the prior married and divorced status of the wife carried weight.
In any divorce, the division of assets and support calculation (if any) will be one of the main, if not the main, focal points of the divorce process. In order to accomplish this task, both parties and their counsel should have a thorough understanding of the parties' financial circumstances - income, expenses, assets, and liabilities, among other things. Such concerns are often the target of discovery - parties are entitled to receive relevant information from the other side in order to make an informed decision. Such processes can sometimes be time-consuming and expensive, particularly in cases involving more complex financial arrangements.
Recognizing a child's need/right to receive financial support from both parents - even when those parents are apart - the DOR employs various methods to assist families in enforcing court-ordered child support obligations.
The Massachusetts Appeals Court recently issued a decision in a divorce case called Jankovich v. Jankovich. It was a Rule 1:28 decision, which is primarily directed to the parties and, therefore, may not fully address the facts of the case or the appellate panel's decisional rationale. Rule 1:28 decisions are not circulated to the entire Appeals Court, and, therefore, represent only the views of the panel that decided the case. Also, such a decision may be cited for its persuasive value but, because of the limitations noted above, not as binding precedent. Still, this particular case addresses the issue of children's access to third parties, which we as family lawyers often encounter in contested divorce cases.
With the explosion of social media over the last decade, evidence from Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and Instagram is now routinely used in divorce cases, shedding light upon critical factors such as a party's spending habits, irresponsible behavior, or failure to make a good faith effort to find a job. More often than not, an avid social media presence is considered a risk to a divorcing litigant, as anything a party posts online can usually be retrieved and used against him or her in a potentially damaging manner. As a result, divorce attorneys typically advise their clients to refrain from social media altogether during a contested family law proceeding.
Financial stress is often cited as a leading cause of divorce. Financial stress can have an extreme impact on a relationship. It can eventually wear away at the love and affection that one has for another because of how consuming the issue can be in someone's life - exhausting someone emotionally and depleting their personal resources to continue to work hard at being in a healthy committed relationship. Of course, financial stress is usually not the the only cause for the breakdown in a marital relationship, but it can have an impact on more aspects of a couple's life than just their finances.
Abraham Lincoln has famously stated that "a house divided against itself cannot stand"; and the disposition of the marital home is often one of the most contentious issues in a divorce case. In many cases, the marital home represents the couple's most significant asset (other than retirement assets) and deciding how to distribute the property can be thorny, particularly as the mortgage lender will continue to consider both parties jointly obligated until the property is either sold or refinanced.
Since the enactment of the Alimony Reform Act of 2011 (the "Act"), alimony awards once considered ambiguous or lifetime entitlements are now subject to specific, durational time limits based upon the length of the parties' marriage. But, under what circumstances might such durational limits be extended? In a recent decision, a Probate and Family Court (Hampshire Division) judge has ruled that a former husband's obligation to pay alimony to his disabled former wife shall continue beyond durational limits. Barcalow v. Barcalow (Lawyers Weekly No. 15-003-12.) In the Barcalow case, the parties were married for approximately 6 years, 2 months (or 74 months). By the terms of the Act, if the duration of the marriage is 10 years or less, but more than 5 years, general term alimony shall be no greater than 60 percent of the number of months of the marriage. G.L. c. 208, § 49(b). Following passage of the Act and more than 7-years post divorce, Mr. Barcalow filed a Complaint for Modification, seeking to terminate his alimony obligation to his former wife based, in part, upon the fact that his obligation exceeded the Act's durational limit.
Many married couples give little thought to the issue of which party "legally owns" property acquired during the marriage or the impact that legal ownership may have upon the distribution of assets in the event the marriage ends by death or divorce. Some couples assume, albeit incorrectly, that all property is "marital" in the sense that everything owned by either party will pass to the surviving spouse in the event of death. Other couples assume, also incorrectly, that owning property in one's individual name (rather than jointly) will protect the asset from the other in the event of divorce. While neither assumption is correct, the irony of the current state of Massachusetts law is that parties are afforded far greater rights in the property and estate of the other if their marriage ends in divorce than they are if their marriage ends in death.
In a recent case, the Massachusetts Appeals Court explored the issue of preclusion - once a person has gotten divorced, can his or her ex-spouse sue them for related conduct? The answer is yes, but not always. The Appeals Court explored both sides of res judicata - claim preclusion and issue preclusion, in reaching its determination.
In a recent Appeals Court case of Hassey v. Hassey, a provision in a divorce judgment requiring a husband to pay thirty percent of his anticipated future gross income to his former wife was struck down as inconsistent with the terms of the Alimony Reform Act of 2011.
One of the main issues facing divorcing and separating parents is to establish a parenting plan when each party provides care and custody for his or her children. There are a number of different parenting plans that can be negotiated or ordered. Under any such plan, the challenge is for one parent to respect the parenting time of the other parent. Often, one parent wants what is called a "right of first refusal." This is when the parent who is not scheduled to have the children is under a contractual right to receive notice from the parent who has the children, but is unable to parent during any specific period of scheduled parenting time. Under those particular circumstances, the parent who is scheduled to be with the children must notify the other parent that he or she is unable to parent for one reason or another and offer the other parent the opportunity to have additional parenting time. This would be in lieu of asking a babysitter, family member or friend to step in and provide childcare during those periods.
Louis C.K., one of my favorite standup comics, and the star of the FX series, "Louie," has a serious side. It stems in part from his experience as a divorced dad of two young girls and the effective co-parenting relationship that he has with their mother.
A Massachusetts state senator has filed a bill that could prohibit a divorcing parent from having sex in his or her own home. The bill states: "In divorce, separate, or 209A proceedings involving children and a marital home, the party remaining in the home shall not conduct a dating or sexual relationship within the home until a divorce is final and all financial and custody issues are resolved, unless the express permission is granted by the courts."
Massachusetts Courts allow for the filing of a Joint Petition For Modification Of Child Support Judgment, when both parents agree that an adjustment to an existing child support judgment is warranted. Recent amendments to the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines provide that a child support judgment may be modified when "there is an inconsistency between the amount of the existing order and the amount that would result from the application of the Child Support Guidelines." Modifying child support by joint petition may streamline uncontested support modification actions, as the Court may address such matters administratively and without the need for a hearing.
When parents of minor children separate, and have to establish appropriate parenting plans and make joint legal custodial decisions that are in their children's best interests, it is helpful to engage the services of mental health professionals, who can serve as parenting coaches. Parenting coaches can be engaged prior to, during, or after separation and divorce. Clients who have engaged parenting coaches often have a much easier time navigating through difficult child-related issues that come up in the context of separation and divorce.
With the enactment of the Alimony Reform Act of 2011, almost every former spouse with an alimony order has questioned whether he or she may be subject to the relief from, or the loss of, support payments under the new law. While the provisions of the Act clearly apply to parties who were divorced in Massachusetts and continue to reside here, former spouses who were divorced in another state, but have since moved to Massachusetts, are also wondering about the impact of Massachusetts alimony reform.
To make it easier for parties who enter written agreements for modification to have such agreements incorporated into enforceable court judgments or orders, Rule 412 has been expanded beyond judgments and orders regarding solely child support, and now include uncontested modifications of other child-related judgments and orders, including those related to custody and medical insurance coverage.
Generally, attendance at an approved Parent Education Program is required of all divorcing parents of minor children in Massachusetts. To better understand what such a program has to offer, and to learn about the grieving process in the context of divorce, I chose to attend such a court-approved program, which was held at a local high school (two sessions over a two-week period for about two hours each session).