Andrea T. Dunbar

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?

Keep reading

Social Security
If you’re going through a divorce later in life, social security benefits should absolutely be a topic of conversation.

A few years back I wrote a post about things to consider when divorcing later in life. One of these considerations was Social Security. Social Security continues to be an important topic of discussion for any couple divorcing later in life, because it can have a significant impact on income and sometimes retirement benefits.

Of course, just when we get comfortable with the rules and how they’re applied, Congress goes and shakes things up. As part of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, just signed by President Obama on November 2, 2015, the federal government is eliminating two key pieces of Social Security that are important for retirement planning for married and divorce spouses alike.… Keep reading

Say what?
Say what?

Privilege is one of the most important legal concepts that an attorney can be versed in. Inadvertently waiving the attorney/client privilege or the psychotherapist/patient privilege, for example, can have dire consequences for clients and attorneys alike. An interesting blog post by our esteemed colleagues in the Business Litigation and Employment Law groups got me (well, really Nancy) thinking about a lesser known privilege known as the common interest privilege and how same is relevant to divorce.

First, a little background on the Common Interest Privilege. According to the Restatement (Third) of the Law Governing Lawyers, a riveting legal treatise more commonly used to prop up a wobbly desk, the common interest privilege applies…… Keep reading

Thinking of moving? Check the child custody laws in that state to see if there are differences.
Thinking of moving? Different child custody laws in each state may make things even more complicated.

While the borders between Massachusetts and Rhode Island appear to be incredibly permeable, this is just not the case when dealing with custody of children. With few exceptions, the home state of the child is where a court proceeding for custody of that child must be commenced. The home state is defined as the state he or she has resided in for six months prior to the beginning of custody proceedings. Put a different way, the residency of the child, not the parents, determines where an initial custody proceeding must be brought.… Keep reading