Robin M. Lynch Nardone

Divorce and the Engagement Ring

A diamond is forever. Unfortunately, sometimes marriage is not. So, what happens to the engagement ring?

An engagement ring is in the nature of a pledge, given on the implied condition that a marriage will take place. If the engagement is broken off before marriage, then the “contract to marry” is said to be terminated and the donor (the one who gave the ring) can recover the ring, provided the donor was without fault relative to the breakup. After marriage, however, things are different.

Under Massachusetts law, upon a divorce, marital property is divided equitably. A judge may divide all property to which a party holds title, “however, and whenever acquired.” This means that any property owned by either party at the time of the divorce is subject to being allocated between the parties – including the engagement ring. Further, “fault” in terms of the reason for divorce will not result in the exclusion of the ring from the divisible marital estate. A judge will consider what is equitable under the facts of each case and has the power to order the ring to be retained by either party or sold. While an engagement ring is most often retained … Keep reading

Tax Time is Here

The deadline for filing 2019 federal and state income tax returns is right around the corner – July 15, 2020. If you were divorced in 2019, here are a few things to think about:

Filing Status – Your marital status as of December 31st controls whether you are considered married or single for purposes of filing your tax returns. Remember the Nisi period discussed in a prior post?  Under Massachusetts law, a party is not considered divorced until the Nisi period expires. This means that even if the Judgment of Divorce is dated December 1, 2019, due to the Nisi period, you remained married for another 90 days. If you were still married as of December 31, 2019, you can file your 2019 tax returns as married filing jointly or married filing separately. There are risks and benefits to either filing option, so consult with your attorney. There is also an option to file as head of household where you are “considered unmarried” due to living apart from your spouse for six months or more during the tax year. To qualify as head of household, you must also have paid more than half the cost of maintaining your … Keep reading

At What Age Does a Child Have a Say in the Parenting Plan?

One of the most frequent questions I am asked by parents involved in custody disputes is: “when is my child old enough to decide to live with me?” The answer – that children under age 18 in Massachusetts do not get to make decisions around parenting plans – often comes as a surprise.

M.G.L. c. 208, sec. 28 provides:

Upon a judgment for divorce, the court may make such judgment as it considers expedient relative to the care, custody and maintenance of the minor children of the parties and may determine with which of the parents the children or any of them shall remain or may award their custody to some third person if it seems expedient or for the benefit of the children….Upon a complaint after a divorce, filed by either parent or by a next friend on behalf of the children after notice to both parents, the court may make a judgment modifying its earlier judgment as to the care and custody of the minor children of the parties provided that the court finds that a material and substantial change in the circumstances of the parties has occurred and the judgment of modification is necessary in the Keep reading

Safeguarding Your Mental Health During and After Divorce

Many people going through divorce experience feelings of fear, sadness, loss and depression. Out of concern for the impact seeking help for these feelings may have on custody disputes, some people choose not to seek help, which may only make matters worse.

The loss of a marriage and change in family is a traumatic experience. If you are going through a divorce, know that seeking help for feelings of depression and sadness is normal and reasonable, even for those seeking custody of their children. Needing to talk to someone, or even to take antidepressants, is common. There is no reason to avoid seeking treatment.

In 2019, the suicide rate in Massachusetts was 9.7 deaths per 100,000 residents. Research reflects that up to 20% of those in Massachusetts who committed suicide experienced an intimate partner issue, such as divorce, break-up or conflict in their relationship in the months or weeks prior to death. Even after the divorce is over, there is evidence that divorced and separated people have higher suicide rates than married people. Of divorced people, divorced men commit suicide at rates 9 times higher than that of divorced women.  It has been suggested, though not proven, that because … Keep reading

How to Obtain a 209A Abuse Prevention Order During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Abusers like to isolate their victims – closing off relationships with trusted friends and family who can offer another perspective or a place of shelter from abuse.  Stay-at-home directives issued to flatten the curve of COVID-19 are giving some people cherished time at home with family, while it is trapping others with their abusers.  As my colleague, Andrea Dunbar, recently wrote, Courts in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts remain available for those in need of protection from abuse. But which Courts are available and how can they be accessed by those suffering intimate partner abuse?

All District Courts, Probate and Family Courts, as well as the Boston Municipal Court have jurisdiction to enter 209A Abuse Prevention Orders.

  • There are 61 District Courts in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. You can find the District Court that serves your home address here.
  • There are 18 Probate and Family Courts in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. You can find the Probate and Family Court that serves your home address here.
  • The Boston Municipal Court has 8 locations serving the City of Boston. You can find the BMC locations here.

To obtain an initial 209A Abuse Prevention Order, forms can be emailed … 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

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

Now Leaving Massachusetts – The Impact on Alimony

As a life-long Massachusetts resident, I find it hard to understand people who move to Massachusetts from warm climates. While my colleague, Jordan Bowne, recently suggested that fall is a great time to be in Massachusetts, we all know what comes after fall. Here are some words and phrases that come to mind when I think of winter in Massachusetts: snow, sleet, freezing rain, black ice, frozen pipes, ice dams, blizzard conditions, polar vortex, school cancellations, wind chills below zero, thundersnow… Should I go on? After spending hours digging out and then placing a beach chair on the side of the road as a “space-saver,” it might occur to some people that a beach chair could be put to better use in a warmer locale. If you were divorced in Massachusetts but have since moved to a place where your beach chair is only used at the beach, what state has jurisdiction to enforce or change the alimony provisions in your divorce agreement?

Modification: Alimony provisions that merge into a Judgment of Divorce can be changed upon a showing of a substantial and material change in circumstances. When that occurs, a party seeking to change the alimony terms needs … Keep reading

Divorcing With Special Needs Children

Divorce is hard.  Along with all the emotional upheaval associated with the end of a relationship, the legal wrangling and disputes over division of assets, allocation of liabilities, parenting plans and the appropriate amount of support can be challenging.  When special needs children are involved, parenting and support issues become even more complex.

Special needs children can place extraordinary demands on their caretakers.  In fact, taking care of a special needs child often becomes a full time job for one of the parents.  The parent who sacrificed his/her career to care for the child is likely to be faced with on-going caretaking responsibilities beyond the child’s age of majority.  Determining spousal support for the caretaker-parent must account for the lost career opportunities both in the past, as well as in the future.

Where a child suffers from a physically debilitating condition, there can be challenges involved in meeting the child’s daily care needs, equipment, and specialized treatments that need to be considered.  Parents may not have the financial ability to have two sets of necessary equipment to allow a child to safely spend time in each parent’s home.  This creates additional problems when it comes to fashioning a parenting … Keep reading