Is a Permanent Restraining Order Really Permanent?

It is the public policy of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to protect citizens from the devastating impact of domestic violence. General Laws c. 209A provides “a statutory mechanism by which victims of family or household abuse can enlist the aid of the State to prevent further abuse” through court orders prohibiting a defendant from abusing or contacting a victim, or requiring a defendant to stay away from the victim’s home or workplace. Commonwealth v. Gordon, 407 Mass. 340, 344, 553 N.E.2d 915 (1990). See G.L. c. 209A, § 3. A 209A restraining order, also known as an abuse prevention order, can be issued ex parte, meaning without the defendant present in court, if the victim shows a substantial likelihood of immediate danger of abuse. An initial order issued without the defendant present then must be reviewed within 10 days to allow the defendant an opportunity to be heard by the court. After the hearing, the temporary abuse prevention order may be extended for no more than one year if the plaintiff proves, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the defendant has caused or attempted to cause physical harm, committed a sexual assault, or placed the plaintiff in reasonable … Keep reading

“We have been together for so long, it is as if we are married.” In a small number of jurisdictions, including nearby Rhode Island, a couple can be legally recognized as being married, without any formal registration of a civil or religious marriage. This legal concept is often referred to as a common law marriage. Massachusetts is one of a majority of states in which common law marriage is not available. Nevertheless, some of the principles of common law marriage can be applied in Massachusetts divorce cases, particularly those in which alimony is at issue. For example, when considering the length of the marriage in a divorce case, Massachusetts courts have the authority, under limited circumstances, to include months or even years prior to a legal marriage as part of the overall length of the marriage. The effect of this artificial extension to the marriage length can be significant: the longer the marriage, the longer the potential duration of alimony.

The Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act of 2011 provided in its definition of “length of the marriage” that the marriage length shall be calculated as the number of months from the date of the legal marriage to the date of … Keep reading

Estate Planning After Divorce

Divorce attorneys saw a wave of divorces last year due to the changes in the tax laws that took effect on January 1, 2019. If you were one of the masses whose divorce was finalized in 2018, now is the time to revise your estate plan. Here are the issues you should discuss with your lawyer:

  1. Make sure your estate planning attorney has a copy of your Divorce Agreement. Your attorney will need to know what obligations you have to your ex-spouse in the event of your death.
  2. Update your Health Care Proxy. The health care proxy allows you to name someone to make health care decisions for you if, for instance, you were in a car accident or had a health emergency and were unable to communicate. You may want to name an adult child, a friend, or another relative.
  3. Update your Power of Attorney. If you had an old power of attorney naming your ex-spouse, that should be revoked. You should also execute a new power of attorney naming a friend, relative or trusted advisor to act as your agent regarding your finances and assets.
  4. Update your Will and Trust. Remove the provisions for your ex-spouse, and
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Rethinking the Amount of Alimony

As I wrote in a prior blog piece, under M.G.L. c. 208, sec. 53, the amount of alimony paid to support a former spouse should generally not exceed the recipient’s need or 30 to 35% of the difference between the parties’ gross incomes established at the time of the order being issued.  While the Court has authority under the statute to deviate from the percentages, the 30 to 35% range provided an easy measure that helped many parties come to agreement on alimony. Then came the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act signed by President Trump in 2017 included provisions eliminating federal tax consequences for alimony payments made pursuant to judgments issued and agreements entered into after December 31, 2018. Many people with pending divorce actions rushed to get their divorce agreements signed and approved by the Court before year-end 2018 to ensure that their alimony payments would be deductible by the payor and taxable to the recipient. For those who will begin paying alimony in 2019 or future years, alimony payors will no longer be able to deduct alimony from income reported on a federal income tax return and recipients will no longer … Keep reading

Hi there,

Spring is a time for new beginnings. I am delighted to be able to introduce the new editorial board of Divorce Law Monitor, my partners, Robin Lynch Nardone and Christine Fletcher.

I have worked with Robin for 20 years and she is one of the best divorce lawyers I know. Christine brings a new strength to the blog as her practice is in the area of trusts and estates. She will help explore the interface between inheritance and probate issues and divorce.

Our new editorial calendar will provide a weekly post every Thursday.

I am looking forward to seeing where they will take the blog.

Best,

Nancy… Keep reading

New Decision Fine-Tunes Mass. Removal Law

In some divorces/post-divorce situations, one parent wants to move with the parties’ children to another state, or even another country. This is called “removal,” and requires either the permission of the other parent or the approval of the probate court. Removal is commonly driven by a new job or spouse, a desire to return to a previous hometown in which friends and extended family live, or a need to move to a more affordable location.

Massachusetts’ highest court recently released a new removal decision in the case of Miller v. Miller. For many years, we have had two standards for the court’s analysis of whether to allow removal: the “real advantage” standard under Yannas v. Frondistou-Yannas—where one parent has primary physical custody of the children—that slightly favors the custodial parent seeking removal; and the “best interests” standard under Mason v. Colemanwhere the parties share physical custody (roughly, 50/50)—that puts the parties on equal footing. Until now, cases typically fell under one standard or the other, based on existing custody stipulations, orders, or judgments.

In Miller v. Miller, though, the Supreme Judicial Court has fine-tuned the law a bit. From now on, probate courts must … Keep reading

Making Sense of Recent Law Changes

Happy New Year, all! May 2018 bring you health, happiness, and prosperity.

The federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, in conjunction with Massachusetts’ Alimony Reform Act, will bring the Commonwealth’s divorce practitioners and their clients a certain amount of confusion.

Prior divorces and divorces with agreements completed in 2018 will not be affected. But most divorces take longer than a year to complete, and thus, many folks filing in 2018 will be impacted by the changes.

The new federal law eliminates the deduction for alimony in divorces occurring after December 2018. Every previous settlement contract (and judicial divorce decision) was negotiated with consideration of the alimony deduction. It enabled the parties to save some of the money that would otherwise have gone to the government in taxes.

The Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act was written with these tax implications in mind. The percentages of alimony to be paid (30% to 35%) reflect the deduction to the payor, and are, therefore, higher than the child support calculation.

Both of these are laws, and the federal supersedes the state. As a result, real inequities to the payor spouses will exist if the legislature does not find a way to make … Keep reading

Divorcing a Narcissist

Life with a narcissist is often destructive, demeaning, and difficult. In fact, being with that person can make it nearly impossible for you and your children to not lose yourselves entirely. Unfortunately, divorcing a narcissist is a complex and frustrating battle that can frequently feel like reliving the worst moments of your marriage.

In general, divorce requires defensive thinking. Divorcing a narcissist requires more. You have to think through what he may do (I say “he” because male narcissists outnumber females by 2 to 1) and you have to figure out how to let him believe he has won. Not an easy, quick, or inexpensive process.

The majority of divorce cases (approximately 95%) settle. Ones involving a narcissist typically do not. The path to finality is filled with unnecessary battles. In most cases, discovery of a spouse’s finances is relatively straightforward. Not so with a narcissist. There will be multiple trips to court necessitated by his focus on control, making the process costly and painful. There will be fights over children…

In the end, I have come to believe, through post-divorce friendships with my clients, that those fights are worth it – that being able to lead a … Keep reading

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