Divorce Planning

Griffin v. Kay: A Cautionary Tale in How Your Separation Agreement Is Worded

When spouses reach agreement on terms for a divorce, a written settlement document – commonly known as a Separation Agreement – is prepared. Parties then decide whether the agreement will either “merge” into the Judgment of Divorce or “survive” as an independent contract. When spouses reach agreement on terms for a divorce, a written settlement document – commonly known as a Separation Agreement – is prepared. Parties then decide whether the agreement will either “merge” into the Judgment of Divorce or “survive” as an independent contract. I have written about how your election impacts your ability to modify provisions in the future.

The recent decision in Griffin v. Kay is an excellent cautionary tale about making sure that the merger or survival language is clear and that both you and your spouse agree on what that language means.

Geraldine Griffin and Harry Kay divorced in 2004 and entered into an agreement calling for Harry to pay alimony of $90,000 per year until the death of either party or Geraldine’s remarriage. Their agreement provided as follows relative to merger or survival of the alimony provisions:

Notwithstanding the incorporation of this [a]greement in the [divorce judgment], it shall not be merged Keep reading

No Prenup? A 101 Guide to Postnups

More and more couples are electing to sign prenuptial agreements before their big wedding day, yet some can’t agree, don’t want to, or don’t have time to do one beforehand. After all, some people continue to believe that asking for a prenuptial agreement indicates that they expect the marriage to fail. Even if that is not the case, discussing a prenuptial agreement can be a difficult conversation to have during one of the happiest times of a relationship, making it problematic for some couples to agree on whether a prenuptial agreement makes sense for them.

Suppose you did not sign a prenuptial agreement before the wedding but wish to set forth financial rights and obligations between you and your spouse during your marriage or in the event of divorce or death. A postnuptial agreement may be an option for you to consider.

Below are some things to think about when considering a postnuptial agreement.

What is the difference between a prenuptial agreement and a postnuptial agreement?

A prenuptial agreement is a written contract signed between parties intending to marry. It outlines their financial rights and obligations if the marriage ends due to death or divorce.

People often enter into … Keep reading

Catherine Spanu, Burns & Levinson

Catherine Spanu, Burns & Levinson

Many divorcing spouses worry about the possibility of their spouse selling assets during a divorce and leaving little or nothing to be divided. It can be particularly problematic if a spouse was financially controlling or secretive, or handled all the finances during the marriage with the other having a limited idea of the full financial picture. One could sell assets that the other doesn’t even know exists. Or, a spouse might transfer money or property to a family member to try to prevent it from being accessed by the other spouse, anticipating that the family member will transfer it back after the divorce is final.

But will the Court really allow a spouse to cause financial harm to the other by allowing assets to be sold or transferred in this way? Probably not, due to Supplemental Probate and Family Court Rule 411. This is sometimes referred to as the “Automatic Restraining Order” or “Rule 411.”

This article will discuss how Rule 411 works, and what Rule 411 does (and does not do) to protect marital assets for equitable division during the divorce process.

Rule 411 Goes Into Effect When a Complaint Is Filed or Served

Once the spouse who … Keep reading

What Happens to the Life Insurance After Divorce?

It depends on what was put into writing – or not! On January 10, 2022, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) ruled that where a former husband failed to change the beneficiary designation on his life insurance policy, the divorce operated to revoke the designation of his former wife as primary beneficiary.

In the case of American Family Life Assurance Company of Columbus v. Joann Parker, the SJC was asked to consider whether the Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code (UPC), which went into effect on March 31, 2012, applied retroactively to a policy of insurance purchased by Sean Parker in 2010.

When he purchased the life insurance policy in 2010, Sean named his then-wife, Dawn, as primary beneficiary and his mother, Joann, as the contingent beneficiary. Sean and Dawn divorced in 2016, but their Separation Agreement makes no mention of the life insurance policy. Rather, their Separation Agreement provides only that they divided their personal property to their satisfaction and that there were no agreements between them outside of the Separation Agreement.

Following the divorce, Dawn continued to pay the premiums on Sean’s insurance policy, because she claimed he had agreed that she remain the beneficiary of the policy. … Keep reading

Planning Considerations for Same-Sex Spouses in the Event of Divorce or Death

Marriage has always been governed by state law, and it is only in very recent history that select states began revising their definitions of marriage to acknowledge the rights of all couples to be married. While Massachusetts made same-sex marriage legal in 2003 via the decision in Goodridge, it was not until the landmark 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marriage, making same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states. Finally, same-sex couples could avail themselves of the many legal benefits of marriage that opposite-sex spouses enjoy. However, same-sex spouses often face unique and complex legal issues in the event of divorce or death, and their legal rights are unfortunately still not always secure. Some of these challenges can be avoided or minimized with careful and strategic planning.

Marital Agreements

Common in any divorce are determinations regarding the division of assets and potential spousal support. A major factor is the length of the marriage, which may be less straightforward for same-sex spouses. If a relationship between a cohabitating same-sex couple spanned 20 years prior to the legalization of same-sex marriage, yet their marriage of only … Keep reading

What You Need to Know About the American Rescue Plan Act

President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act on March 11, 2021. In addition to the stimulus payment, this plan contains some tax credits that should be considered by parents divorcing this year.

The Child Tax Credit

• The plan increases the Child Tax Credit from $2,000 to $3,000 per child – $3,600 for any child under the age of 6 – for tax year 2021 only.

• The plan provides for children under the age of 18 at year-end – as opposed to 17 under the current plan – to qualify for the credit for tax year 2021.

• For 2021 only, the credit is fully refundable, even to those with no taxable income • The 2021 credit starts phasing out for single filers at $75,000, for head of household filers at $112,500, and for joint filers at $150,000.

• The American Rescue Plan Act requires that half of the Child Tax Credit be paid in advance, meaning that payments for 2021 should be paid between July and December 2021 with six monthly payments. Eligibility for the credit will, in the first instance, be based on 2020 tax returns.

• This credit can be taken by the parent … Keep reading

Webinar: How to Know When You Are Ready to Divorce

No one enters a marriage intending to get divorced, yet nearly half of all marriages dissolve this way. Before you move forward with the legal process, you must make sure this is the right step for you and your family.

In the first episode of our new webinar series, Elizabeth Crowley and Ronald Barriere discuss trusting your intuition, selecting a lawyer, and what questions you should be asking yourself during this difficult time.

Click here to watch the full episode.… 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

The New “Normal”?  Well, at Least Until June 1st…

Another week of social distancing, an extended stay-at-home advisory, and a new update on the status of operations of the Probate and Family Court due to COVID-19. While continued social distancing measures were certainly expected to continue in Massachusetts in some form past May 4, 2020, it was not easy to digest that this new “normal” would remain in place for at least the next month (particularly for this working mother of two young children who no longer has the assistance of outside childcare after Governor Baker announced last week that daycares would be closed until at least June 29, 2020).

On April 27, 2020, the Supreme Judicial Court issued an updated Order guiding Court Operations under COVID-19, which becomes effective May 4, 2020. The new Order extends the closure of the Probate and Family Courts from May 4, 2020, until at least June 1, 2020, except in the case of an emergency. A copy of the new order can be found here.

What does this new “normal” look like for divorce or custody matters presently pending or to be filed in the Probate and Family Court?  Here are a few of the most relevant take-aways:

  1. Until at
Keep reading
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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