Post-Divorce

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

Catherine Spanu, Burns & Levinson

Catherine Spanu, Burns & Levinson

When summer and school vacations approach, many divorcing spouses wonder: what happens with the children and the parenting plan? Do I get to take them for vacation, and sign them up for camps? What happens if my coparent refuses to let me take the children to my family reunion that only happens once every ten years?

Summers and school vacations can be stressful due to the changes in routine alone. That stress can be exacerbated by issues communicating with your coparent, or by uncertainty about vacation parenting plans and travel arrangements.

There are no hard and fast rules on these issues under Massachusetts law. However, to minimize stress and disruption for you and, most importantly, for your children, it is useful to know what is typical for coparenting and parenting plans during school and summer vacations, as well as how to address issues that may arise around vacations and coparenting.

A preliminary issue to consider is what is typically ordered by a judge, or agreed to between divorcing parents, as far as summer and school vacation parenting plans:

  • February/April Vacations: Massachusetts public schools typically have two week-long vacations, one in February and one in April. These vacations are
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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

Tax Time is Here

The deadline for filing 2019 federal and state income tax returns is right around the corner – July 15, 2020. If you were divorced in 2019, here are a few things to think about:

Filing Status – Your marital status as of December 31st controls whether you are considered married or single for purposes of filing your tax returns. Remember the Nisi period discussed in a prior post?  Under Massachusetts law, a party is not considered divorced until the Nisi period expires. This means that even if the Judgment of Divorce is dated December 1, 2019, due to the Nisi period, you remained married for another 90 days. If you were still married as of December 31, 2019, you can file your 2019 tax returns as married filing jointly or married filing separately. There are risks and benefits to either filing option, so consult with your attorney. There is also an option to file as head of household where you are “considered unmarried” due to living apart from your spouse for six months or more during the tax year. To qualify as head of household, you must also have paid more than half the cost of maintaining your … Keep reading

As people scramble to purchase Powerball tickets for a chance (however small) at the 1.3 billion dollar jackpot, the largest in U.S. history, I couldn’t help but think about the practical considerations that come into play when dealing with divorce and lottery winnings, especially for those who are divorcing, or already divorced. Sure, it’s nice to fantasize about buying a second (or third, or fourth) home in the most exotic of locales, or giving thousands of dollars to charities and every person you’ve ever met, but lottery winnings could also affect property division in a divorce, or a child support and/or alimony obligation.

Can my former spouse claim any of my lottery winnings?

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Have you ever wondered if a divorce is always final or whether a divorce judgment can be “undone” or “modified?” The short answer: Like everything else, it depends.

In general, divorce and divorce judgements are final. You can’t “undo” a divorce, so to speak. The finality of a divorce is critically important. Imagine the horror if your spouse was suddenly able to reverse the divorce decree and you found yourself still married!

Why would you want to undo divorce decrees in the first place? Common reasons include:

  • You reconciled after all
  • You didn’t like the trial judgement
  • You believe the terms of the final divorce settlement were unfair
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My first exposure to military divorce came not as an attorney, but rather as a child raised on a military base for most of my formative years. Any “Army/Navy/Air Force/Marine/Coast Guard Brat” can attest that there are a number of stressors associated with “base life.” Divorce was commonplace, though never easy.

Base life comes with benefits beyond unity of purpose, a sense of community and pride. There are also some surprising financial perks as well. Reduced cost housing is a well known benefit of living on a military reservation, but base life also has reduced-cost health insurance, entertainment and shopping. Military reservations are free from most state taxation, which can result in substantial savings to military families. Interestingly, one of the more hot button topics in a military divorce is whether the divorcing spouse of a service member is able to access the perks of base life.… Keep reading

Hi there,

I just learned that this is National Estate Planning Awareness Week. One of our terrific attorneys, Christine Fletcher, has written a quick piece explaining the importance of having your estate planner working on a team with your other “people” when making financial decisions. Some may consider this a dry or morbid topic, but in reality it’s a hugely important one. Post-divorce, everyone should immediately change their will, change the beneficiaries on their retirement accounts and, if you haven’t already, change your health care proxies and durable powers of attorney.
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All too often after a divorce trial, one or both parties is unhappy with the decision reached by the trial judge. It could be about property division issues, custody and parenting, support or other matters within the Judgment. Not all hope is lost, though! You have the right to appeal a final judgment of the Probate and Family Court, by filing a Notice of Appeal in the trial court within 30 days of entry of the judgment. Keep in mind that being disappointed with the terms of the judgment is not a legitimate basis for seeking an appeal.… Keep reading

Hi there,

I hope you all had as good a Fourth of July weekend as I did! My weekend was filled with family, horses and some extreme gardening. Just coordinating the activities of an intact three-generation family is hard. It can seem insurmountable when you’re struggling to coparent post-divorce, especially during the summer when school is out. Summer camps, baseball, ballet, sailing lessons, time with both parents, how do you keep it all straight? Many conflicts can be avoided with the use of proper planning tools.… Keep reading