Robin M. Lynch Nardone

Grounds for Divorce – Part 1 - Irretrievable Breakdown

shutterstock_429855238General Laws c. 208, § 1A and G. L. c. 208, § 1B comprise the two Massachusetts no-fault divorce statutes, which allow for divorce on the ground of “irretrievable breakdown” of the marriage. In order to obtain a divorce in Massachusetts, the spouses must join together in a joint petition for divorce, or one party initiates the case by the filing of a complaint.  With a joint petition, both parties must attest via a notarized affidavit that the marriage has suffered an irretrievable breakdown.  With a complaint, the moving party must set forth a ground for the divorce, which can include the no-fault ground of irretrievable breakdown.

What is an irretrievable breakdown?

There is no test to be met to prove an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. All that is required is for one spouse to feel, subjectively, that the marriage is over.  Neither G.L. c. 208 §1A nor §1B contain a requirement that a spouse enumerate any objective factors that would lead a court to the conclusion that a marriage is irretrievably broken.  Rather, a party (or both) can simply attest that the relationship has ended with no hope of reconciliation.  In adopting no-fault divorce grounds in 1975, … Keep reading

For the Love of Pets

I grew up in a family where pets were always present. My dad was known to just randomly show up at home with a new puppy.  At one point in my childhood, I think there were two dogs, two cats, two hamsters and a few fish living in our house.  I have continued to share my home with pets in my adulthood – with always at least one cat (ok, often two). I have had my pets photographed with Santa (it was for charity!). I am known to give birthday cards from my dogs. At least I don’t dress them up in costumes – well, not usually.

Many people – myself included – consider their pets to be much more than property and love those pets almost as much as they love their children. Pets can become non-judgmental friends, companions for long walks, and a shoulder to cry on during difficult times. As my colleague, Andrea Dunbar, wrote in her recent post, pets are considered property in the Probate and Family Court when it comes to who will keep a pet after a divorce.  But, where there is abuse, the Court can give a victim care and control … Keep reading

To Post or Not to Post, that is the Question

A prenuptial agreement is designed to give parties control over the financial aspects of their lives in the event the marriage unfortunately ends in divorce. In addition to divorce situations, prenuptial agreements also give couples control over their rights to pass assets at death – allowing a party to disinherit a spouse or obligating a spouse to leave certain assets to their partner. Prenuptial agreements can also place restrictions and obligations on financial behavior during a marriage, for example, by requiring the filing of joint income tax returns and allocating the tax obligations, by requiring a party to obtain and maintain health or life insurance benefiting the other party, and even getting into the nitty gritty of who will pay the mortgage or buy the groceries. But what about control over other behavior during a marriage?

One thing high profile couples are now looking to include in prenuptial agreements are restrictions on social media posts, with financial fines imposed if a party breaches those provisions. The restrictions on social media posting are designed to contractually prohibit a spouse from making private arguments public, from sharing embarrassing photos, and from disparaging their spouse during a marriage and after divorce. With … Keep reading

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

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

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

Tricky Halloween Parenting

When I was a child, Halloween was the day my father came home from work early to walk my sister, brothers, and I around the neighborhood in the costumes my mother made. Store-bought costumes were out of the question. The rule was that all homework had to be done before we could go out. While my dad walked up and down neighbors’ driveways with us, my mother stayed home to hand out candy that she stockpiled in a big ceramic pumpkin. My mom loved to see all of the costumes on the children who came to the door. When we got home, she checked our loot for anything suspicious, which also gave her the chance to steal those Nestle Crunch bars she coveted.

Families have different rules and traditions surrounding Halloween. But when parents decide to separate and divorce, things inevitably change. Some parents hold tight to try to keep traditions alive, while others seek to immediately change things. Parents often cannot agree on who will buy the costumes and who will take the children trick-or-treating. Sometimes, parents insist that they both walk around with the children, which is good solution in situations that are truly amicable, but creates … Keep reading

New Child Support Guidelines Effective September 15, 2017

New child support guidelines have been issued by Chief Justice Paula Carey, which go into effect on September 15, 2017. The new guidelines apply to all child support orders issued after that date.  Substantive changes from the current guidelines in effect include the following:

  1. Consideration of parenting time where one party has more than one-third but less than fifty percent of the parenting time was eliminated. The child support task force felt that allowing for an alternative calculation of support based on this type of parenting plan increased litigation and acrimony between parents.
  2. The child support worksheet now contains adjustments for childcare and health insurance expenses in two steps. First, the parent who pays the childcare and/or health insurance deducts the cost from his/her gross income. Second, the parties share the total cost of child care and health insurance in proportion to their available income for support.  However, because the adjustment for sharing the expense is capped at 15% of the child support order, the benefit to the party paying the costs may not be significant.
  3. Child support for children between the ages of 18 and 23 remains at the discretion of the Court. However, the new guidelines provide
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In the highly awaited decision of Van Arsdale v. Van Arsdale, the Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that application of the durational limits contained within the Alimony Reform Act to alimony agreements predating the Act is not unconstitutionally retroactive.

William and Susan married in 1979 and divorced 18 years later in 1997.  At the time of the divorce, alimony in Massachusetts had no durational limits.  And so, William and Susan agreed at the time of the divorce that William would pay alimony to Susan until Susan remarried or until one of them died. They also agreed to review the amount of alimony when the children emancipated and when William retired. In 2015, after the enactment of the Alimony Reform Act, William asked the court to terminate his alimony obligation based upon the durational limits contained in the Act and because he had retired from full time employment. For a marriage of 18 years, the Act provides that alimony shall continue for not longer than 80% of the number of months of the marriage. Susan argued that applying the durational limits retroactively to her agreement with William, which was entered into before the law went into effect, was unconstitutional.… Keep reading

durational limitsThe Supreme Judicial Court’s recent decision of George v. George provides guidance in applying the durational limits contained in the Alimony Reform Act.

The Alimony Reform Act, which went into effect in March 2012, provides that all alimony awards that predate the Act are deemed “general term alimony.” Under G.L. c. 208, §49(b), general term alimony awards end on a date certain based upon the length of the marriage, except upon a written finding by the court that deviation beyond the time limits is required “in the interests of justice.”  Many alimony  payors who file complaints to terminate alimony based on the durational limit are met with the defense that it is in the interests of justice for alimony to continue beyond the durational limits. In the November 28, 2016 decision of George v. George, the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) sets forth guidelines for how a judge of the Probate and Family Court should apply the “interests of justice” standard.… Keep reading