Divorce Process

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

We’re Divorcing – Who Keeps the Pet?

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, pet populations, particularly dogs and cats, are on the rise and expected to continue to increase through at least 2030. Many people have welcomed a new pet to the family during the COVID-19 pandemic as well. A common question that clients ask their divorce attorneys is: who keeps our fur baby?

In the Probate and Family Court in Massachusetts, as in most family courts in the U.S., pets are treated as personal property. This means that they’re divided between a divorcing couple according to the same considerations that are applied to things like the toaster, the china, and the lawnmower. Under the law in Massachusetts currently, it’s not possible to have a “visitation” schedule for pets, unlike the parenting plans included in separation agreements or divorce judgments for any divorcing couple with children. For children, courts consider the children’s best interests in determining custody and a parenting plan, but a pet’s best interests won’t be considered, and a Probate and Family Court judge won’t order a “visitation” schedule or “pet parenting plan” for pets.

So, in considering who keeps the pet, the Court will take the same factors into consideration that they … Keep reading

I want a divorce. Where do I start?

The decision to move forward with a divorce is never easy. Regardless of the length of the marriage, the reason for the divorce, or whether children were born or are expected of the marriage, you married that person for a reason and created a life with that person. To then decide to divorce that person, which will likely drastically change both of your lives and the lives of any children born of the marriage, is not a decision made lightly. The uncertainty of what to expect in divorce proceedings and what steps to take (or not take) are often equally paralyzing. Divorces are not just a breakdown of a relationship and partnership; they are often also a financial uncoupling. Making the wrong decisions may cause you not only additional emotional stress but financial loss.

If you ultimately decide you want a divorce, you may ask yourself, “What’s next? Where do I start?” Consider the following steps:

  1. Consult with an experienced divorce attorney.

Divorce is complicated. Knowing your rights and obligations under the statutes and case law for divorces in Massachusetts is critical to making a fully informed decision and getting the best deal possible. An experienced divorce attorney … Keep reading

Divorce Choose Your Own Adventure: Exploring Alternative Dispute Resolution Options

There are very few certainties in the divorce process. Even though you can draw generalizations from the law or experience, no two divorce matters will ever be exactly the same. For divorce practitioners, the variability from one case to the next is what makes matrimonial law a dynamic area of practice. One thing is for certain – eventually, the divorce process will end. It may not always be a happy ending, and there are numerous ways to arrive at the outcome. For example, the parties could reconcile and stay married, either side or both could die (it’s happened), the parties could go to trial or end up with a negotiated separation agreement. The vast majority of divorce matters – some estimate up to 95% of cases – end with the latter, though the journey to arrive at that final agreement can follow any number of paths with an incredible range in terms of time, money, and emotion expended along the way.

One approach to arriving at a negotiated separation agreement is through the parties’ participation in some form of alternative dispute resolution. Alternative dispute resolution (or “ADR”) is a broad term that encompasses options such as mediation, conciliation, and … Keep reading

Divorce Litigation: Preparing for a Deposition or Trial Testimony

If your divorce goes to court, what you say will make a difference, and your opportunity to speak may include both deposition and trial testimony. What are these procedures, how do they differ, and how can you best prepare? Attorneys Tiffany Bentley and Ronald Barriere will demystify the process, covering what to do and what to avoid, and what to expect from in-person versus remote testimony via Zoom.

Click here to watch the full webinar.… Keep reading

Division of Retirement Benefits at Divorce

Retirement accounts and benefits can be among the most valuable assets owned by parties who are divorcing. While parties can agree within their Separation Agreement to divide retirement assets between themselves in a particular way, the Separation Agreement itself is not a directive to the plan administrator (the person or company responsible for managing a retirement fund or pension plan on behalf of the participants) and will not suffice on its own to accomplish a division of retirement assets. Another separate order signed by the judge and sent to the plan administrator is necessary to effectuate the division of certain retirement benefits.

ERISA qualified retirement plans

ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974) is a federal law that sets standards and provides protection for people participating in retirement and health plans in private industry. ERISA covers both defined benefit plans (pensions) and defined contribution plans (401(k), certain deferred compensation plans, and profit-sharing plans) offered by private employers. When a private defined benefit plan or defined contribution plan is divided as part of a divorce, a Qualified Domestic Relations Order or QDRO is needed.

A QDRO is a specialized court order that directs the plan administrator to allocate all … Keep reading

Demystifying Myths About Dividing Assets in Divorce: Part 3 – The Contribution Factor – Celebrity Edition

Perhaps growing up in Los Angeles took some of the fun out of celebrity gossip, but I never understood the fascination with stories about what is in the shopping cart of the (often shorter than advertised) celebrity standing in front of me at the grocery store.  One aspect of celebrity gossip that has piqued my interest in recent years has been celebrity divorces, or more specifically, the public’s reaction to celebrity divorces and how it mirrors a lot of the same misconceptions we hear as divorce practitioners.

The fairly recent divorce between Amazon founder (and the reason most celebrities no longer go to the grocery store), Jeff Bezos, and his now ex-wife, MacKenzie Scott, comes to mind as a situation in which everyone seemed to have a “hot take” about the couples’ divorce financials.  Given the staggering wealth being divided in the divorce, one of the comments I regularly saw on social media was “what did she do to deserve that much of his money?”  Despite the misguided gender stereotypes being at an all-time high, the short response (as confirmed by Mr. Bezos, himself) was “a lot.”

In the third edition of this series about demystifying myths on dividing … Keep reading

Protecting Marital Assets During the Pendency of a Divorce

One of the biggest concerns parties have when going through a divorce is that their spouse will dissipate, hide, or move assets without their knowledge and consent. The fear is that once assets are gone, they can no longer be divided in the divorce.  While the dissipation, hiding, or moving of assets is unfortunately not uncommon during a divorce, there are three main protections available to protect assets during a divorce: (1) Rule 411 Automatic Restraining Order; (2) Trustee Process; and (3) ultimate property division.  A summary of each of these protections is as follows:

  1. Rule 411 Automatic Restraining Order

In addition to prohibiting a divorcing party from incurring debt which would burden the credit of the other party and from changing the beneficiary of any insurance policy or retirement plan, the Supplemental Probate and Family Court Rule 411: Automatic Restraining Order prevents both spouses from taking actions which would affect marital property without the other spouse’s consent.  It provides that neither party to a divorce “shall sell, transfer, encumber, conceal, assign, remove or in any way dispose of any property, real or personal, belonging to or acquired by, either party.”

The Rule 411 Automatic Restraining Order becomes effective … Keep reading

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

Demystifying Myths About Dividing Assets in Divorce: Part 2 – The Treatment of “Personal” Assets

“What’s mine is . . . yours?” 

Welcome back to the long-awaited second part of my series on demystifying myths about asset division in divorce.  I started this incredible year by addressing the most common of misconceptions about the divorce process – the impact of an extramarital affair in asset division.  Since then, the world has seemingly turned upside-down.  So for those of you yearning for simpler times, go back and check out the first part of this series before diving into Part 2.

In this second part of the series, we consider another of the common misconceptions about dividing assets in the divorce process, what happens to “personal” assets?  By “personal” assets, I am generally referring to those premarital assets (including real estate) titled in one spouse’s name, inherited assets received by one spouse prior to or during the marriage, personal business interests, and those investment and retirement accounts that you worked so hard to grow over time.  Basically, anything you would think of as “mine” instead of “ours.”  As you can imagine, the divorce process heightens this sense of personal ownership of these assets, which makes what I am about to say next all the more painful … Keep reading