Andrea T. Dunbar

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

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

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

Divorce and Space Crimes

The First Crime in Space! Recent headlines from The New York Times and other prominent news agencies drew in readers stating that the first crime in space had allegedly been committed. The articles went on to discuss the thorny privacy and jurisdictional issues given that NASA was involved and the crime was purported to have occurred on the International Space Station, where astronauts from the United States, Russia, Japan, Europe and Canada orbit the Earth. At its heart, however, the supposed first crime in space is a bitterly contested domestic relations matter involving income, assets, custody of a child, and de facto parent status.

Summer Worden and Anne McClain (a decorated NASA astronaut who was tapped for the first all-female spacewalk, and is in consideration to be the first woman on the moon) were married in 2014. Ms. Worden has a son, who was born approximately one year before the parties met.

By 2018, the parties’ relationship had broken down, and Ms. McClain, who had no legal status as a parent to Ms. Worden’s son, approached a Texas Court asking for shared parenting rights to the child and “the exclusive right to designate the primary residence of the child.” … Keep reading

Dealing With Irrevocable Trusts in Divorce

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As you know from my prior posts, I appreciate the interplay between divorce and estate planning.  I enjoy working on cases where both worlds collide, and have been fortunate to be involved in some very interesting cases, which have involved irrevocable trusts.

A common misconception relating to irrevocable trusts is that they can’t be altered.  This is not actually the case in many circumstances, and is important to remember, especially when family circumstances change, such as when a divorce arises.

A trust is irrevocable because either the donor (the person who established the trust) has died, or because the trust’s terms make it irrevocable.  Changing an irrevocable trust can sometimes be done through a process known as decanting.  When a trust is decanted, it is replaced by a new trust and the assets of the original trust are transferred to a new trust.

The Rhode Island decanting law lays out some specific requirements for an irrevocable trust to be decanted.  Some of those requirements include the following.  First, the terms of the original trust must allow for the trustee to make principal payments to one or more beneficiaries.  Second, the trustee must exercise the power to decant via a … Keep reading

Summer Parenting Time

Mother and Son in a Park

As we enter the “dog days of summer” and New England braces for a serious heat wave over the next few days, I can’t help but think about the importance of summer parenting plans. Summer is when most parents try to maximize the time they spend with their children.  Free from the demands of school, homework, and most extracurricular activities, summer is an optimum time to enjoy quality time with children, especially school aged children.  I recently saw a quote that said “there are only eighteen summers in childhood . . . How will you make this one count?”

As summer time with children is so fleeting and precious, summer parenting time can become a hot button issue in a divorce.  When crafting a summer parenting plan, the best interest of the children should be at the forefront in setting the parenting schedule, and this generally entails maximizing the children’s time with both parents.

Summer parenting plans can take on many different forms. Some parents share time equally in the summer with their children.  Some parents continue to observe the school year parenting plan with slight tweaks to allow for long weekends or vacation weeks.  There are a myriad … Keep reading

Child Support and Gifting

As a divorce lawyer who also does some probate litigation and trusts and estate work, I have always been interested in the interplay between divorce and trusts and estates.  Recently, the issue of whether gifts are considered income for purposes of calculating child support came across my desk.

Now in talking about gifts, I don’t mean the ugly reindeer sweater grandma sends you for Christmas every year.  When speaking of gifts, I am referring to a specific estate planning strategy where wealth is transferred to others via use of a gift tax exclusion.  Gift tax exclusion, sounds scary, but it is actually a pretty simple concept.  A gift tax exclusion is the amount of money, or other assets, one person can give to another person in any given year without incurring a gift tax (simply put, how much dough grandma can give you before it has to be reported to taxing authorities).

For 2019, the annual gift tax exclusion is $15,000, which means any one person can give another person cash or assets totaling $15,000 in 2019 without triggering a gift tax.  It is common in families where there is money to spare for parents to gift children, spouses, … Keep reading

Who Gets Custody of Fido After a Divorce?

As a mother of a three (3) year old, I spend a fair amount of time (more than I’d like to admit) immersed in animated television programs. I am struck by how many of these programs revolve around pets.  From Chase from “Paw Patrol” being “on the case,” to Caillou’s cat Gilbert going to the vet (is there really a more polarizing cartoon character than Caillou?), to the summer blockbuster “The Secret Life of Pets,”which follows the lives pets lead when their owners are at work or school (sequel coming soon), pets are an important part of daily existence.

A dog owner myself, I can appreciate how a pet becomes a central part of a family. Given the love people have for their pets, it is understandable that “Fido” can factor heavily into a divorce. Much to animal lovers’ chagrin, however, most states (including Massachusetts and Rhode Island), consider domestic animals to be personal property subject to division between parties to a divorce matter, just like cars, boats, furniture, salad spinners, etc. An informal, personal poll of several family court judges in Massachusetts suggests that judges are loathed to spend time thinking about the best interest of a pet, … Keep reading

After a three month maternity leave, and a few months adjusting to being a full-time working mom, I’m excited to be back to contributing my thoughts to this blog! I’m also excited to be writing on a topic that I not only find interesting but also encounter a great deal in my practice – interstate custody disputes.

Pure Home State Jurisdiction

Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote a piece about the differences between child custody laws in Massachusetts and Rhode Island with a specific focus on the differences between the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (UCCJA) and the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). As detailed in the previous post, Massachusetts was the lone hold-out in adopting the UCCJEA, retaining pure home state jurisdiction when determining where to litigate child custody disputes.… Keep reading

divorce and lottery
The odds of this being you in the next Powerball drawing are 1 in 292,000,000+

As people scramble to purchase Powerball tickets for a chance (however small) at the 1.3 billion dollar jackpot, the largest in U.S. history, I couldn’t help but think about the practical considerations that come into play when dealing with divorce and lottery winnings, especially for those who are divorcing, or already divorced. Sure, it’s nice to fantasize about buying a second (or third, or fourth) home in the most exotic of locales, or giving thousands of dollars to charities and every person you’ve ever met, but lottery winnings could also affect property division in a divorce, or a child support and/or alimony obligation.

Can my former spouse claim any of my lottery winnings?

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