Children & Divorce

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

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

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

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

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

Recent Changes to the Law Relating to Child Support and Health Insurance

On July 8, 2019, the Massachusetts legislature approved changes to the law surrounding orders for health insurance coverage in cases where child support is ordered. The statutes impacted include G.L. c. 208 (the divorce statute) and G.L. c. 209C (for children of unmarried parents). The law, entitled An Act Making Appropriations For The Fiscal Year 2019 To Provide For Supplementing Certain Existing Appropriations And For Certain Other Activities And Projects, provides for, among other things, the following:

  • If the Court enters a child support order, either parent may be ordered to maintain health insurance coverage for a child if such coverage is available at reasonable cost and is accessible to the child. Under the previous law, only the parent paying child support could be ordered to maintain coverage for a child, unless the parties otherwise agreed.
  • Health care coverage is deemed to be reasonable in cost if the cost to the party ordered to provide health care coverage does not exceed 5% of the gross income of that party. Further, private health insurance shall be deemed not available at reasonable cost to a parent whose gross income does not exceed 150% of the federal poverty guidelines for the family
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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

New Decision Fine-Tunes Mass. Removal Law

In some divorces/post-divorce situations, one parent wants to move with the parties’ children to another state, or even another country. This is called “removal,” and requires either the permission of the other parent or the approval of the probate court. Removal is commonly driven by a new job or spouse, a desire to return to a previous hometown in which friends and extended family live, or a need to move to a more affordable location.

Massachusetts’ highest court recently released a new removal decision in the case of Miller v. Miller. For many years, we have had two standards for the court’s analysis of whether to allow removal: the “real advantage” standard under Yannas v. Frondistou-Yannas—where one parent has primary physical custody of the children—that slightly favors the custodial parent seeking removal; and the “best interests” standard under Mason v. Colemanwhere the parties share physical custody (roughly, 50/50)—that puts the parties on equal footing. Until now, cases typically fell under one standard or the other, based on existing custody stipulations, orders, or judgments.

In Miller v. Miller, though, the Supreme Judicial Court has fine-tuned the law a bit. From now on, probate courts must … Keep reading

Divorcing a Narcissist

Life with a narcissist is often destructive, demeaning, and difficult. In fact, being with that person can make it nearly impossible for you and your children to not lose yourselves entirely. Unfortunately, divorcing a narcissist is a complex and frustrating battle that can frequently feel like reliving the worst moments of your marriage.

In general, divorce requires defensive thinking. Divorcing a narcissist requires more. You have to think through what he may do (I say “he” because male narcissists outnumber females by 2 to 1) and you have to figure out how to let him believe he has won. Not an easy, quick, or inexpensive process.

The majority of divorce cases (approximately 95%) settle. Ones involving a narcissist typically do not. The path to finality is filled with unnecessary battles. In most cases, discovery of a spouse’s finances is relatively straightforward. Not so with a narcissist. There will be multiple trips to court necessitated by his focus on control, making the process costly and painful. There will be fights over children…

In the end, I have come to believe, through post-divorce friendships with my clients, that those fights are worth it – that being able to lead a … Keep reading