With Chaos, Comes Opportunity – Court Initiatives During COVID-19 That Hopefully Will Continue to be Implemented for Years to Come

As someone who has repeatedly sought to bring some levity to my articles on the topic of divorce, an objectively life-altering event, I find myself contemplating how the current COVID-19 pandemic will shape our lives, most importantly, but also the divorce process in the years to come. Despite working for four years as a public health professional in bioterrorism and emergency preparedness for my native Los Angeles County, I am far from qualified to dispense advice on the long-term impact of the pandemic on our lives, so I will focus this article on the divorce side of things.

Sun Tzu famously wrote in The Art of War, “in the midst of chaos, there is opportunity.” As a quick aside, I think that I once used that quote as an away message on my AOL Instant Messenger account, probably in reference to a fizzled high school romance or something. See, levity. Anyway, while I usually reserve famous quotes for ironic and/or comedic purposes in lighter times, I think the quote well-encapsulates the glimmer of hope for positive change and adaptation in the middle of this incredible public health crisis.

The Family Law Bar (not the place selling $5 pitchers … Keep reading

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Tips for Navigating Marital Stress During the COVID-19 Crisis

As we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are finding themselves working from home while caring for and schooling young children, which creates enormous stress. In situations where a marital relationship was already suffering before the parties were forced to be in near constant contact, the boiling point may be reached. Courts are mostly closed, except for true emergencies, instilling further feelings of hopelessness and stagnation. If you find yourself in a precarious home situation during these difficult times, below are some tips to navigate.

1. Be gentle on yourself.
Recognize that trying to work from home, care for children, school children, cook, clean, make dinner, etc., all while navigating the uncertainty, is hard! Don’t beat yourself up. The perfect is the enemy of the good. Your children will not be scarred forever if not all school assignments are completed perfectly, or if screens are used to allow you to get a few hours of work done. Just do the best you can, and don’t be fooled by the pictures of perfection portrayed on social media.

2. Protect your mental health.
If at all possible, try to engage in some form of self-care each day. Take a … Keep reading

Handling Your Probate and Family Court Matters During COVID-19

Stopping the spread of COVID-19 has required the government to take some unprecedented steps. The Probate and Family Courts in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts remain open as of today, but only for emergency matters, which will be handled by phone or teleconference when possible.  Click here to read Standing Order 2-20: Court operations under the exigent circumstances created by COVID-19, which went into effect today, March 18, 2020.  There are many nuances to the Order relating to specific matters heard by the Probate and Family Court.

Burns & Levinson LLP is committed to helping clients with family and personal matters get through this difficult time. Our team of attorneys, paralegals, and dedicated staff are available to answer questions about how this Order impacts you and to facilitate obtaining emergency orders when necessary.… Keep reading

Child-Focused Dispute Resolution

All too often divorce cases involving children end up being hotly contested, with a “win” or “lose” mentality.  Inevitably, this mentality results in neither parent winning and the children more often than not losing. While an asset division or support dispute can easily be assessed on a cost-benefit analysis (there is X is in dispute and you will spend Y in attorneys’ fees fighting it), when it comes to child-related issues, there is no price you can put on your child’s best interest. This often results in both parents spending a significant amount of time and money “fighting” to get custody of the children, which invariably causes a polarizing effect on their ability to co-parent the children going forward.

Rather than focus on who is going to “win” custody of the children, both parents should focus on what is truly in their child or children’s best interests, not their own.  What works for other families may not work for their family.  Both parents should be acutely aware of the individual needs of their child or children and work towards addressing those needs upon separation and divorce.

While it may not work in each case, and while it is certainly … Keep reading

Coronavirus and Divorce

Seems you can’t log on to social media, read a news headline or flip on the television these days without hearing about the coronavirus.  The Center for Disease Control has warned Americans to prepare for an outbreak, large cities (including San Francisco) have declared emergencies before even one confirmed case, and the World Health Organization is on the verge of declaring the coronavirus a pandemic, which is a disease found on more than one continent that spreads frequently between people.  As a result of fears related to the Coronavirus, global markets have been hit hard, and in the last few days, the Dow Jones and the S&P 500 have been decimated, erasing all 2020 gains.  According to the New York Times, flights on Chinese airlines are selling for less than a cup of coffee.

So how does this all relate to divorce?  Well, asset division is a major component of divorce.  In Massachusetts and Rhode Island, dividing assets is a three-step process. First, it must be determined whether the asset is part of the marital estate, next the asset must be valued, and finally, the asset must be divided.  As fears relating to the coronavirus have crippled the global … Keep reading

Marital Lifestyle is Not a Factor to be Considered in Deviation from Alimony Durational Limits


In 2011, the Alimony Reform Act determined that alimony is “the payment of support from one spouse, who has the ability to pay, to a spouse in need of support for a reasonable length of time.” G.L. c. 208, §48.  The “reasonable length of time” during which alimony shall be paid has presumptive durational limits based upon the length of the marriage.  Pursuant to G.L. c. 208, §53, the Court can deviate from the durational limits when setting the initial award or at the time an alimony award is modified “upon written findings that deviation is necessary.”  The statute sets forth grounds for deviation, as follows:

(1) advanced age; chronic illness; or unusual health circumstances of either party;

(2) tax considerations applicable to the parties;

(3) whether the payor spouse is providing health insurance and the cost of health insurance for the recipient spouse;

(4) whether the payor spouse has been ordered to secure life insurance for the benefit of the recipient spouse and the cost of such insurance;

(5) sources and amounts of unearned income, including capital gains, interest and dividends, annuity and investment income from assets that were not allocated in the parties divorce;

(6) significant premarital … Keep reading

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

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