Three Tips to Help You Navigate the Holidays

When you are divorced with kids, Christmas and Hanukkah can become minefields that make previous family headaches look simple. But there’s good news: There are a number of steps that you can take ahead of time to make things better for everyone involved.

It pays to go into the holiday season with a plan. This year, I’m offering three helpful tips that will allow you to do just that.

  1. Remember and enshrine the idea that the holiday isn’t about you. It’s about making it calm, fun, and memorable for your kids. First, work out the parenting strategy in advance, and let the kids know what is going to happen and when. Make sure you don’t convey to the kids that you are going to be lonely without them. Figure out what you’ll be doing, tell your kids, and let them know that you will have fun and be fine—and that they should have fun and will be fine with the other parent. Kids pick up on emotions very easily and tend to feel responsible for a parent’s happiness in divorce. There is a pretty general standard plan when dealing with Christmas parenting time, assuming the kids aren’t
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How Much Alimony Does a Spouse Need?

The alimony statute in Massachusetts provides that the amount of general alimony shall generally not exceed the recipient’s need or 30 to 35 percent of the difference between the parties’ gross incomes. It has long been the rule that the standard of need is measured by the “station” of the parties — by what is required to maintain a standard of living comparable to the one enjoyed during the marriage. The Supreme Judicial Court has provided further guidance in the decision of Young v. Young.

Derek and Joy Young had been married for 24 years when Mr. Young filed a Complaint for Divorce. Mr. Young worked as an executive, and his compensation consisted of base salary, cash bonus, stock options, investor equity units, share plans, and opportunities to purchase common stock at a discount. Mr. Young earned a substantial income, but the amount varied widely year to year. The parties enjoyed an affluent, upper-class standard of living during their marriage, which included an eight-bedroom residence, luxury vehicles, a summer home, and expensive vacations.  After trial, the Court ordered Mr. Young to pay alimony to Mrs.Young of 33% of his gross annual income. The trial judge determined it was … Keep reading

Tricky Halloween Parenting

When I was a child, Halloween was the day my father came home from work early to walk my sister, brothers, and I around the neighborhood in the costumes my mother made. Store-bought costumes were out of the question. The rule was that all homework had to be done before we could go out. While my dad walked up and down neighbors’ driveways with us, my mother stayed home to hand out candy that she stockpiled in a big ceramic pumpkin. My mom loved to see all of the costumes on the children who came to the door. When we got home, she checked our loot for anything suspicious, which also gave her the chance to steal those Nestle Crunch bars she coveted.

Families have different rules and traditions surrounding Halloween. But when parents decide to separate and divorce, things inevitably change. Some parents hold tight to try to keep traditions alive, while others seek to immediately change things. Parents often cannot agree on who will buy the costumes and who will take the children trick-or-treating. Sometimes, parents insist that they both walk around with the children, which is good solution in situations that are truly amicable, but creates … Keep reading

If you read this blog, you probably know that I am a huge proponent of negotiating settlements in divorce cases. As an attorney who has spent her career in divorce litigation, I know firsthand the costs associated with bringing a case to trial, and the devastation that trial can leave in its wake. But convincing parties who are angry and have hurt one another to compromise is no small feat.

The length of time and expenses involved with litigation can, therefore, encourage parties to become more reasonable. In some instances, one of the parties may be truly unable to recognize that compromise is in his or her best interest. But in others, a letter from counsel, laying out the realities of the various choices available and asking the client to sign off on the unreasonable negotiating position he or she is forcing their attorney to take, can break the logjam. (There are also times that intractable issues exist that must be tried; however, that is very rare.) A lot of cases settle on the eve of trial, which is horrifically expensive. Over the years, innumerable judges have told me that the best divorce agreements leave both sides unhappy. I … Keep reading

Newly separated and divorcing clients almost always come to us with preconceived ideas of what they hope/expect might happen in their cases. All too often, these preconceived ideas are based on a client’s own sense of equity and justice, but are incorrect as a matter of law. Here are five of the most common misconceptions, and reality checks for each.

1. My spouse almost never spent time with the kids while we were together, so he/she should not have significant parenting time with them now that we are separated.

Reality: Everything is subject to change post-divorce, including a parent’s active involvement in the day-to-day caretaking of the children. Gone are the days when it was presumed that the children would remain primarily with one parent after a divorce, spending every other weekend and perhaps a weekday dinner visit with the other parent. Courts are increasingly defaulting to shared-custody arrangements, even in situations where one parent’s involvement pre-divorce was fairly minimal. Every parent will be given the opportunity to be significantly involved in their children’s lives.

2. My spouse cheated on me, so I’m going to take him/her to the cleaners in this divorce.

Reality: As our fearless leader Nancy … Keep reading

New Child Support Guidelines Effective September 15, 2017

New child support guidelines have been issued by Chief Justice Paula Carey, which go into effect on September 15, 2017. The new guidelines apply to all child support orders issued after that date.  Substantive changes from the current guidelines in effect include the following:

  1. Consideration of parenting time where one party has more than one-third but less than fifty percent of the parenting time was eliminated. The child support task force felt that allowing for an alternative calculation of support based on this type of parenting plan increased litigation and acrimony between parents.
  2. The child support worksheet now contains adjustments for childcare and health insurance expenses in two steps. First, the parent who pays the childcare and/or health insurance deducts the cost from his/her gross income. Second, the parties share the total cost of child care and health insurance in proportion to their available income for support.  However, because the adjustment for sharing the expense is capped at 15% of the child support order, the benefit to the party paying the costs may not be significant.
  3. Child support for children between the ages of 18 and 23 remains at the discretion of the Court. However, the new guidelines provide
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Retroactive Application of Durational Limits is Constitutional

In the highly awaited decision of Van Arsdale v. Van Arsdale, the Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that application of the durational limits contained within the Alimony Reform Act to alimony agreements predating the Act is not unconstitutionally retroactive.

William and Susan married in 1979 and divorced 18 years later in 1997.  At the time of the divorce, alimony in Massachusetts had no durational limits.  And so, William and Susan agreed at the time of the divorce that William would pay alimony to Susan until Susan remarried or until one of them died. They also agreed to review the amount of alimony when the children emancipated and when William retired. In 2015, after the enactment of the Alimony Reform Act, William asked the court to terminate his alimony obligation based upon the durational limits contained in the Act and because he had retired from full time employment. For a marriage of 18 years, the Act provides that alimony shall continue for not longer than 80% of the number of months of the marriage. Susan argued that applying the durational limits retroactively to her agreement with William, which was entered into before the law went into effect, was unconstitutional.… Keep reading

Horse named Zeus

Horse named Zeus
Zeus probably has strong opinions about being considered property rather than one of the family.

Hi there,

If you know me, you know I’m a fervent pet lover. We have dogs, cats, horses, goats, and are related to someone with a bearded dragon. I know, viscerally, how pets can feel like family members. As a result, they can be incredibly important to someone in the middle of a divorce. I also know, as does anyone who has befriended an animal, that animals have needs, wants and opinions of their own. However, the law has been pretty clear that pets are considered property, like a chair or lamp, during a divorce.

The ownership (homing) of a pet can be a hot-button issue in high conflict divorce cases. I’ve had many cases through the years where pets were at issue. If there are kids, it often makes sense for the pet to stay with the children. As we come to a more egalitarian parenting world, where kids are splitting time almost equally, this decision is not going to be as simple. In cases where there are no kids or the kids are grown, companionship of the critters can loom larger. Judges … Keep reading

2016/17

Hi there,

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday, despite what may be trying circumstances. Throughout the year there were many changes and clarifications in basic divorce law that will affect the many of you that are planning to divorce in 2017. This period between Christmas and New Years is what I consider the calm before the storm, as January is generally a very busy month for divorce lawyers. This quiet week is the perfect opportunity to both reflect on the past and prepare for the future. Below is a list of blog posts that explain the recent changes to divorce law and what those changes mean for you.

As we say goodbye to 2016, I wish each of you a happy and healthy new year. See you in 2017!

2016 Changes and Clarifications to Divorce Law

Best,
Nancy… Keep reading

Hi there,

I was somewhat surprised a couple of weeks ago to be asked for an interview by the talented Globe writer, Cindy Atoji Keene. It was published on Sunday, and reading it made me realize just how important it is to be able to let go of that “salad spinner” and focus on what’s truly important in the end game in a divorce.

There’s a salad spinner in every case — it could be the cat, the couch, or whether the kids come to visit at 5:30 or 6:30 p.m. Imagine fighting over a stuffed parrot, horse semen, or geese. These were all expensive court battles that I was involved in, and it all comes down to control.

I like to call it the Salad Spinner War, after one of my first cases that involved a short-term marriage with a wealthy Brahmin gentleman and his younger wife from abroad. We came to a fair division of assets and property, and because I was young and stupid, I agreed to go to the house to help divvy up miscellaneous items. We went through the antiques, oriental rugs, lamps, and furniture, and then came to the kitchen, where they started

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