Court Decisions

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

With Chaos, Comes Opportunity – Court Initiatives During COVID-19 That Hopefully Will Continue to be Implemented for Years to Come

As someone who has repeatedly sought to bring some levity to my articles on the topic of divorce, an objectively life-altering event, I find myself contemplating how the current COVID-19 pandemic will shape our lives, most importantly, but also the divorce process in the years to come. Despite working for four years as a public health professional in bioterrorism and emergency preparedness for my native Los Angeles County, I am far from qualified to dispense advice on the long-term impact of the pandemic on our lives, so I will focus this article on the divorce side of things.

Sun Tzu famously wrote in The Art of War, “in the midst of chaos, there is opportunity.” As a quick aside, I think that I once used that quote as an away message on my AOL Instant Messenger account, probably in reference to a fizzled high school romance or something. See, levity. Anyway, while I usually reserve famous quotes for ironic and/or comedic purposes in lighter times, I think the quote well-encapsulates the glimmer of hope for positive change and adaptation in the middle of this incredible public health crisis.

The Family Law Bar (not the place selling $5 pitchers … Keep reading

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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

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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“We have been together for so long, it is as if we are married.” In a small number of jurisdictions, including nearby Rhode Island, a couple can be legally recognized as being married, without any formal registration of a civil or religious marriage. This legal concept is often referred to as a common law marriage. Massachusetts is one of a majority of states in which common law marriage is not available. Nevertheless, some of the principles of common law marriage can be applied in Massachusetts divorce cases, particularly those in which alimony is at issue. For example, when considering the length of the marriage in a divorce case, Massachusetts courts have the authority, under limited circumstances, to include months or even years prior to a legal marriage as part of the overall length of the marriage. The effect of this artificial extension to the marriage length can be significant: the longer the marriage, the longer the potential duration of alimony.

The Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act of 2011 provided in its definition of “length of the marriage” that the marriage length shall be calculated as the number of months from the date of the legal marriage to the date of … 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

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

trust shieldHi there,

I continue to be amazed by the distinguished group of divorce and probate lawyers I have the privilege to work with at Burns & Levinson. Today’s decision on Pfannenstiehl v. Pfannenstiehl, a case which will guide family financial planning across the country, is a credit to their hard work and dedication. We’re proud to bring you part two of this story which our contributor Tiffany Bentley brought to our attention back in April. This case was deemed “unwinnable” by many, so it is hugely important to our client as well as a celebrated achievement for our team.

Best,
Nancy


Almost exactly four months ago, I blogged with great pride about the compelling arguments from my colleague, Bob O’Regan, to the Supreme Judicial Court in the matter of Pfannenstiehl v. Pfannenstiehl. Today, I blog with even greater pride about the SJC’s unanimous decision in our client’s favor.

In Pfannenstiehl, initially both the Trial Court and the Appeals Court went to great lengths to ensure that the wife would benefit from an irrevocable trust established by her (now former) husband’s father. The husband had no access to or control over the trust. Assets and … Keep reading