5 Reasons to Avoid Court in Your Divorce Proceedings

Court is inevitable in divorce proceedings. Even if you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse are in full agreement on all issues, you’ll need a judge of the Probate and Family Court to approve your separation agreement and incorporate it into a judgment of divorce. The judgment of divorce legally terminates your marriage. In cases where agreement cannot be reached, there can be numerous appearances in court, including motions, pre-trial and trial. There are some reasons you may want to consider avoiding a trial and instead consider mediation or other forms of alternate dispute resolution:

  1. Uncertainty: If you take your case to a judge to decide all issues or even just one or two issues that you and your spouse can’t agree on, there is uncertainty in going before the judge. Probate and Family Court judges have a lot of discretion in making decisions in a divorce, particularly those relating to child custody and asset division. So, one judge could decide your case differently than another, and parties do not get to choose which judge is assigned to their case. It can be hard to know what your assigned judge will do in your case and what the result will
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Why You Should Consider Using a Parenting Coordinator

A parenting coordinator is a third party hired by divorced or divorcing parents to help resolve parenting disputes – such as holiday and vacation plans, the selection of activities for the children, or school choice. Under Massachusetts Probate and Family Court Standing Order 1-17, a parenting coordinator can be appointed in any case relating to the care and custody of minor children. Under the Standing Order, parents may, by agreement, engage a parenting coordinator to assist them in dealing with existing or future conflicts regarding their access to and responsibilities for their children. A parenting coordinator can be given authority to make binding decisions or be limited to simply trying to help the parties come to mutual agreement.

Here are a few of the benefits to hiring a parenting coordinator:

  • Less time in court. A parenting coordinator can help parents avoid repeated trips to the courthouse to deal with minor disputes.
  • Less cost. Sharing the cost of a parenting coordinator will be less expensive than continuing to use attorneys to work out parenting disputes.
  • Quicker decisions. It can take months to get a hearing date in the Probate and Family Court. Parenting decisions often must be made quickly
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We’re Divorcing – Who Keeps the Pet?

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, pet populations, particularly dogs and cats, are on the rise and expected to continue to increase through at least 2030. Many people have welcomed a new pet to the family during the COVID-19 pandemic as well. A common question that clients ask their divorce attorneys is: who keeps our fur baby?

In the Probate and Family Court in Massachusetts, as in most family courts in the U.S., pets are treated as personal property. This means that they’re divided between a divorcing couple according to the same considerations that are applied to things like the toaster, the china, and the lawnmower. Under the law in Massachusetts currently, it’s not possible to have a “visitation” schedule for pets, unlike the parenting plans included in separation agreements or divorce judgments for any divorcing couple with children. For children, courts consider the children’s best interests in determining custody and a parenting plan, but a pet’s best interests won’t be considered, and a Probate and Family Court judge won’t order a “visitation” schedule or “pet parenting plan” for pets.

So, in considering who keeps the pet, the Court will take the same factors into consideration that they … Keep reading

I want a divorce. Where do I start?

The decision to move forward with a divorce is never easy. Regardless of the length of the marriage, the reason for the divorce, or whether children were born or are expected of the marriage, you married that person for a reason and created a life with that person. To then decide to divorce that person, which will likely drastically change both of your lives and the lives of any children born of the marriage, is not a decision made lightly. The uncertainty of what to expect in divorce proceedings and what steps to take (or not take) are often equally paralyzing. Divorces are not just a breakdown of a relationship and partnership; they are often also a financial uncoupling. Making the wrong decisions may cause you not only additional emotional stress but financial loss.

If you ultimately decide you want a divorce, you may ask yourself, “What’s next? Where do I start?” Consider the following steps:

  1. Consult with an experienced divorce attorney.

Divorce is complicated. Knowing your rights and obligations under the statutes and case law for divorces in Massachusetts is critical to making a fully informed decision and getting the best deal possible. An experienced divorce attorney … Keep reading

New Child Support Guidelines to Go Into Effect This Fall

On August 2, 2021, Chief Justice of the Trial Court, Paula M. Carey, signed new Child Support Guidelines, which go into effect on October 4, 2021. These new guidelines are the result of work by the Child Support Guidelines Task Force, which was convened by Chief Justice Carey in 2020 to undertake the quadrennial review of the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines required by federal regulations.

If you currently pay or receive child support, you should consider whether these new guidelines result in a different child support obligation in your situation. There is a rebuttable presumption that the guidelines apply in all cases establishing or modifying a child support order, regardless of whether the parents are married or unmarried, the order is temporary or final, or the Court is deciding whether to approve an agreement for child support. There is also a rebuttable presumption that the amount of the child support order calculated under the guidelines is the appropriate amount of child support to be ordered. Existing child support orders are not automatically changed to be in compliance with the new guidelines unless the parties specifically agreed within the terms of an Agreement to automatically recalculate child support. Absent … Keep reading

Suspension of Parent Education Program Attendance in Divorce Actions

In an announcement made by the Probate and Family Court on June 25, 2021, effective September 1, 2021, divorcing parents of minor children will no longer be required to attend and complete the Parents Education Program as the Program is, at least temporarily, suspended. What does this mean for parents presently going through the divorce process? It depends on whether the complaint for divorce has already been filed or will be filed in the future. If filed on or before July 11, 2021, parents will still need to attend the Program and submit a certificate of completion before September 1, 2021. If the complaint for divorce is filed on or after July 12, 2021, the requirement is waived.

Prior to this recent suspension of the Parents Education Program, all parties to a divorce action in which there are minor children (under the age of 18) were required to attend and participate in an approved Parent Education Program pursuant to Standing Order 2-16. The purpose of Standing Order 2-16’s requirement was to provide divorcing parents guidance in understanding and addressing the challenges caused by divorce and to assist them in addressing and reducing the stress children may experience during and … Keep reading

Planning Considerations for Same-Sex Spouses in the Event of Divorce or Death

Marriage has always been governed by state law, and it is only in very recent history that select states began revising their definitions of marriage to acknowledge the rights of all couples to be married. While Massachusetts made same-sex marriage legal in 2003 via the decision in Goodridge, it was not until the landmark 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marriage, making same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states. Finally, same-sex couples could avail themselves of the many legal benefits of marriage that opposite-sex spouses enjoy. However, same-sex spouses often face unique and complex legal issues in the event of divorce or death, and their legal rights are unfortunately still not always secure. Some of these challenges can be avoided or minimized with careful and strategic planning.

Marital Agreements

Common in any divorce are determinations regarding the division of assets and potential spousal support. A major factor is the length of the marriage, which may be less straightforward for same-sex spouses. If a relationship between a cohabitating same-sex couple spanned 20 years prior to the legalization of same-sex marriage, yet their marriage of only … Keep reading

Non-Disparagement Orders in Custody Cases

As my partner Andrea Dunbar recently wrote, it is inappropriate to post negative comments about the opposing party in a custody matter on social media. But can the court prohibit it? The answer in most cases is no.

Notwithstanding the fact that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has a compelling interest in protecting children from being exposed to disparagement between their parents, freedom of speech is protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The First Amendment limits the government’s power to restrict expression simply because the government does not like the subject matter, idea, or content of the message. An Order from a Probate and Family Court judge instructing a party not to post comments about the other parent on social media is called a “non-disparagement order.” These types of orders are prior restraint on speech. In order for prior restraint on speech to be allowed, the speech must be truly exceptional. This requires that the harm expected from the unrestrained speech must be grave, the likelihood of the speech must be all but certain absent the prior restraint, and the order must be the least restrictive way to stop the grave harm. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial … Keep reading

Custody Litigation: The Roles of the Guardian ad Litem and ARC Counsel

In Probate and Family Court cases involving the care and custody of children, the Court may appoint a Guardian ad litem (GAL) to investigate or evaluate the case, and/or an ARC (Attorneys Representing Children) attorney to advocate the child’s position. Join Tiffany Bentley and Robin Lynch Nardone for a discussion on the roles of these professionals and their impact on custody litigation. Learn about:

  • How and why a GAL or ARC attorney is appointed.
  • The differences between a GAL and ARC attorney and how to determine which is most appropriate for your case.
  • How to prepare for a GAL investigation.
  • How to use a GAL report in negotiation or further litigation.

Click here to watch the full episode.… Keep reading

In-State Relocation With Children During or After Divorce

I recently participated with a client in an uncontested divorce hearing where the Probate and Family Court Judge presiding over the matter said something I have not heard many judges say at an uncontested divorce hearing. Addressing both parents, the Judge called attention to the removal language contained in the divorce agreement, making specific note to the residential parent. The Judge pointed out that while the language contained in the agreement only referenced removal of the children out of the Commonwealth, if the residential parent wanted to relocate with the children within the Commonwealth – but at such a distance that would impact the current parenting schedule – the residential parent may need to seek the Court’s permission to do so before she moved. While most divorce agreements contain specific language prohibiting out-of-state removal, very rarely do separation agreements provide similar restrictions for in-state relocation of a great distance, yet Massachusetts caselaw does restrict in-state “removal.” I was pleased that the Judge in this case called attention to this issue so that both parents were reminded of their obligations post-divorce with respect to the other parent’s relationship and parenting time with the children.

M.G.L. c. 208 section 30 … Keep reading