Merger and Survival of Divorce Agreements

When parties to a Massachusetts divorce settle their differences and come to an agreement, they enter into a written settlement document, commonly known as a Separation Agreement.  The Separation Agreement must then be presented to and approved by a judge in the Probate and Family Court. The judge will review the agreement and the parties’ financial statements to determine if the Separation Agreement is fair and reasonable, not the product of coercion or duress, and ensure that it makes adequate provisions for the care, custody, and support of any unemancipated children. If the judge approves the Separation Agreement, it is then incorporated into the Judgment of Divorce.  Beyond incorporation, the agreement will either “merge” into the Judgment of Divorce or “survive” as an independent contract.  The parties also have the option to request that certain provisions of the agreement merge while other provisions survive.  All too often, I see unrepresented parties stare in bewilderment when asked by a judge if they intend for their Separation Agreement to merge or survive.

Provisions of an agreement that merge into a Judgment of Divorce are subject to modification upon a showing of a substantial and material change in circumstances.  Merged provisions can … Keep reading

Planning Around Your Child’s Partner

We all love our in-laws, right?  (wink, wink)  Shielding your hard-earned assets from a child’s spouse in the event of divorce is a critical component of your estate plan.  Perhaps you love your son-in-law, but would prefer to pass assets down within your own bloodline.  Or, perhaps having been divorced yourself, you realize the possibility of your own child’s divorce, and you worry that your son’s inheritance could end up in the hands of his ex-spouse and their new family down the road.  Whatever underlies your concerns, there are ways to prepare an estate plan around these contingencies.

But before meeting with your estate planning attorney, a first step might be having a conversation with your child about a prenuptial agreement.  Admittedly, it can be difficult to discuss financial matters with your children, and even more uncomfortable to broach the subject of their potential divorce.  Recognize that your child may feel offended and hurt if they sense that you disapprove of their partner or question their judgment (in personal or financial affairs).  Keep in mind that you can’t force a prenup on your child, as doing so could invalidate it.

Whether or not a prenuptial agreement is on the … Keep reading

First of all, to our past, present, and future readers, we want to thank you for reading and wish you all a very Happy New Year!  We hope that our articles provide you with some new insight and perspective, as well as the occasional levity to the often challenging (but always interesting) divorce process.  In this “fake news” era, I thought it would be helpful to start the year by dispelling some “myths” and “misconceptions” of the divorce process, specifically, as they apply to the ubiquitous issue of dividing assets in a divorce.  I hope you enjoy.

Divorce practitioners are very familiar with our clients’ “friend” who was awarded all of the assets in the divorce because [insert divorce myth here].  The topic of these unscathed friends comes up frequently in the context of the initial intake meeting in which we discuss goals and expectations in the divorce process with our prospective clients.  Truth is, everyone going through the divorce process (for the first time) will inevitably have certain expectations about how the marital assets will be divided at the end of the divorce.  Often times, the expectations are rooted in someone else’s prior experience with the process.  As … Keep reading

The SECURE Act - Considerations for January 2020

Often times in a divorce matter, the two biggest assets the parties have are their house and retirement accounts.  While everyone was busy with the recent holiday rush, President Trump signed the SECURE Act into law as part of the government’s spending bill.  The SECURE Act takes effect on January 1, 2020, and makes important changes to retirement savings.  While not a law directed specifically to divorcing spouses, it is important to understand the changes the SECURE Act has made given that retirement accounts are a significant consideration in most divorce matters.  Some of the most important changes the SECURE Act made are as follows.

The SECURE Act now allows for annuities to be included as 401(k) investments.  Annuities can be complex investments with many different moving parts.  In some instances, an annuity cannot be divided between spouses.  The inclusion of annuities in 401(k) plans will likely complicate the division of retirement assets in the context of a divorce.

The SECURE Act also increases the age for required minimum distributions (RMD) for qualified retirement plans.  Previously, RMDs were to begin in the year in which the account holder turned 70.5.  The SECURE Act has increased the RMD age to … Keep reading

Now Leaving Massachusetts – The Impact on Alimony

As a life-long Massachusetts resident, I find it hard to understand people who move to Massachusetts from warm climates. While my colleague, Jordan Bowne, recently suggested that fall is a great time to be in Massachusetts, we all know what comes after fall. Here are some words and phrases that come to mind when I think of winter in Massachusetts: snow, sleet, freezing rain, black ice, frozen pipes, ice dams, blizzard conditions, polar vortex, school cancellations, wind chills below zero, thundersnow… Should I go on? After spending hours digging out and then placing a beach chair on the side of the road as a “space-saver,” it might occur to some people that a beach chair could be put to better use in a warmer locale. If you were divorced in Massachusetts but have since moved to a place where your beach chair is only used at the beach, what state has jurisdiction to enforce or change the alimony provisions in your divorce agreement?

Modification: Alimony provisions that merge into a Judgment of Divorce can be changed upon a showing of a substantial and material change in circumstances. When that occurs, a party seeking to change the alimony terms needs … Keep reading

Estate Planning and Re-tying the Knot

If you find yourself lucky in love after a divorce, you have myriad considerations when deciding whether to remarry. If you have children from your prior marriage that you would like to provide for, I recommend that updating your estate plan be top of mind. A carefully crafted estate plan can function to provide for both your children and new spouse in a way that meets your goals.

Trusts are perhaps the most common estate planning tool used to protect assets and benefit different people. For married couples in particular, a qualified terminable interest property (“QTIP”) trust allows a spouse to enjoy access to assets held in trust during his or her lifetime while limiting the spouse’s ability to control the disposition of those assets after his or her death. This is an effective tool for providing your spouse access to assets for the duration of his or her life while preserving the remainder for your children after his or her death. You may also utilize a QTIP trust in conjunction with other trusts or estate planning vehicles to divide your assets.

Additional advantages to QTIP trusts include qualification for the unlimited marital deduction from state and federal estate … Keep reading

Happy Thanksgiving from the Divorce Law Monitor

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  It is a time to spend with family and friends, without the stress of gift-giving as called for by other holidays, and to enjoy delicious food and drink.  I recognize, however, that the holidays can be difficult for my clients going through a divorce, and it may not seem like there is a lot to be thankful for during such a difficult time.  Even on the darkest of days, however, I encourage my clients to practice gratitude.  Finding just one small thing to be thankful for each day can have a huge impact on mindset, outlook, and can be the difference between a swift and amicable resolution to a divorce, versus long protracted litigation.

According to PostivePsychology.com, individuals who practice gratitude are more likely to “experience positive emotions, are more satisfied with life, and experience fewer negative emotions, including depression, anxiety, and envy.”  While it is certainly normal and appropriate to experience and express negative emotions, especially while going through a divorce, looking at day to day life through such emotions and allowing them to become all-consuming can have serious, negative consequences on one’s physical and emotional health.

So, in the spirit of this … Keep reading

Twelve Months in Mass. – Establishing Residency Before Filing for Divorce

“Massachusetts Welcomes You” is a sign that greets you as you make your way into the Bay State, regardless of whether you are just passing through or sticking around for a while.  In addition to Massachusetts being a tourist destination, many people (myself included) decide to relocate to Massachusetts from lands near and far for a variety of reasons. So what happens if you move to Massachusetts and decide to get divorced?  How long do you have to be in Massachusetts before its Probate and Family Court “Welcomes You”?

As we become a more migratory society, issues regarding which state (or even country) has jurisdiction over a divorce have become more common. Based on each state/country having its own laws on the issue, the answer is not always clear as to which jurisdiction is the appropriate one to file a divorce after a recent move or if you are frequently on the move.

Under Massachusetts law, the Probate and Family Court can assert subject matter jurisdiction over a divorce only if: (1) the spouses previously lived together in Massachusetts, and one of them lived here when the cause of the divorce occurred; (2) the plaintiff filing the divorce action … Keep reading

Updating Your Estate Plan in the Event of Divorce

It’s advisable to review and update your estate plan with any change in personal circumstances, financial circumstances, changes in the law, or just the passage of an extended time. But if you’re in the midst of a divorce, or contemplating one, this may be the furthest thing from your mind.  Here are a few key reasons why you should make updating your estate plan a top priority:

Divorce can take a while.  Divorce proceedings often take many months, and you wouldn’t want your soon-to-be-ex-spouse benefitting from or having any rights with respect to your estate if you were to die in the meantime.  While beneficiary designations for certain assets cannot be changed once a divorce proceeding is filed, you may be able to update documents like a Will, Trust, Durable Power of Attorney, and Health Care Proxy at any time, whether or not your divorce is finalized.

Your estate plan may no longer reflect your wishes.  In Massachusetts, a final divorce automatically revokes any beneficial provisions for and fiduciary appointment of your former spouse (or his/her family members) in documents like your Will and Trust, but leaves the rest of these documents in-tact.  The “back-up” individuals named in your … Keep reading

The Price of Peace

The Price of Peace: a concept that arises in nearly every divorce matter, but you will likely never read about in any legal treatise on divorce law. You commonly hear about transactional costs (I.e. legal fees) and the cost of alimony or child support, but the price of peace is not commonly spoke of in mainstream divorce literature.

So what is the price of peace? To use a common lawyer answer, “it depends.” Generally speaking, the price of peace is a tangible or intangible cost for moving on. It is individual to every person or couple going through a divorce. It is that thing that a person is willing to forego in order to be done.

An example of a tangible price for peace is the following: Jane and John Doe are involved in heated negotiations to resolve their divorce matter. They have agreed on all matters, except they both want the new bbq grill that was purchased just before they separated. Recognizing that the transactional costs are steep, and that there is great value in resolving the divorce matter and moving on, Jane agrees to allow John to keep the bbq grill. The price of peace for Jane … Keep reading