Discovering Digital “Dollars” in Divorce, Part 2

Part 1 of this two-part series covered a basic overview of virtual or “crypto” currencies, such as Bitcoin, and the rise and significance of the currency as an asset, subject to division, within the divorce context. In this installment, we will explore the tools divorcing spouses and attorneys can utilize to discover these virtual currencies during the divorce process.

Let’s imagine that, during a divorce proceeding, you suspect or learn that your spouse has a “digital wallet” as large as George Costanza’s infamous wallet in Seinfeld. What should you do? Well, despite the recent creation of these virtual currencies (more recent than the Seinfeld reference), many of the established techniques to gather information and documentation during a divorce proceeding can be effective in learning more about a spouse’s virtual currency portfolio.

Per the Supplemental Probate and Family Court Rules, within 45 days of the commencement of a contested divorce in Massachusetts, each spouse is supposed to provide the other with a Rule 401 Financial Statement completely and accurately declaring all of her/his income, expenses, assets, and liabilities, as well as an initial exchange of relevant financial documentation, commonly known as Rule 410 documents. This initial information and documentation can … Keep reading

For the Love of Pets

I grew up in a family where pets were always present. My dad was known to just randomly show up at home with a new puppy.  At one point in my childhood, I think there were two dogs, two cats, two hamsters and a few fish living in our house.  I have continued to share my home with pets in my adulthood – with always at least one cat (ok, often two). I have had my pets photographed with Santa (it was for charity!). I am known to give birthday cards from my dogs. At least I don’t dress them up in costumes – well, not usually.

Many people – myself included – consider their pets to be much more than property and love those pets almost as much as they love their children. Pets can become non-judgmental friends, companions for long walks, and a shoulder to cry on during difficult times. As my colleague, Andrea Dunbar, wrote in her recent post, pets are considered property in the Probate and Family Court when it comes to who will keep a pet after a divorce.  But, where there is abuse, the Court can give a victim care and control … Keep reading

Discovering Digital “Dollars” in Divorce, Part 1

For as long as there has been money, people have come up with creative ways of hiding it from others.  As one could imagine, there have been more than a few instances of a divorcing spouse concocting an imaginative scheme to hide or disguise assets that are subject to division in a divorce proceeding.  Historically, these scheming spouses resorted to hiding assets in offshore accounts in Switzerland and the Grand Cayman Islands or literally stuffing cash under a mattress.

These days, elevating one’s mattress with cash or taking a “ski trip” to the Alps are not the only ways spouses seek to hide assets in divorces; the age of “virtual currency” is upon us, and opportunistic spouses may think these new currencies will be the best way to maintain their hidden assets since the Swiss Banking Law of 1934.

By now, many of you have heard of Bitcoin, the first and most famous of the virtual or “crypto” currencies, which has experienced meteoric rises and precipitous drops in market value even within the past year.  Here is a basic overview of this complex and relatively new form of currency:

  • Bitcoin, first introduced in 2009, is just one example of
Keep reading
Who Gets Custody of Fido After a Divorce?

As a mother of a three (3) year old, I spend a fair amount of time (more than I’d like to admit) immersed in animated television programs. I am struck by how many of these programs revolve around pets.  From Chase from “Paw Patrol” being “on the case,” to Caillou’s cat Gilbert going to the vet (is there really a more polarizing cartoon character than Caillou?), to the summer blockbuster “The Secret Life of Pets,”which follows the lives pets lead when their owners are at work or school (sequel coming soon), pets are an important part of daily existence.

A dog owner myself, I can appreciate how a pet becomes a central part of a family. Given the love people have for their pets, it is understandable that “Fido” can factor heavily into a divorce. Much to animal lovers’ chagrin, however, most states (including Massachusetts and Rhode Island), consider domestic animals to be personal property subject to division between parties to a divorce matter, just like cars, boats, furniture, salad spinners, etc. An informal, personal poll of several family court judges in Massachusetts suggests that judges are loathed to spend time thinking about the best interest of a pet, … Keep reading

Prenuptial Agreements 101

With wedding season just around the corner, here is a primer on what a pre-nuptial agreement can and cannot do for you:

What a prenup is:

A prenuptial agreement is a private agreement between a couple signed before they get married which sets forth the division of their assets in the event of divorce and death.  Each state has its own laws regarding the enforcement and validity of prenuptial agreements.  Which state’s law to apply depends on where the marriage will take place, where the couple will live during the marriage, and what state law the agreement says to apply.

Essential components:

In most states, the agreement has to be fair, the parties have to fully disclose their assets, and each party needs to have their own attorney.

The idea of fairness depends on the unique facts and circumstances surrounding each couple.  Would it be fair if after 20 years of marriage, the “poorer” spouse walked away with only the small amount of cash she brought into the marriage and no alimony?  Probably not, particularly if she was a stay at home parent raising the children.  It is to the “wealthier” spouse’s advantage to give the agreement … Keep reading

To Post or Not to Post, that is the Question

A prenuptial agreement is designed to give parties control over the financial aspects of their lives in the event the marriage unfortunately ends in divorce. In addition to divorce situations, prenuptial agreements also give couples control over their rights to pass assets at death – allowing a party to disinherit a spouse or obligating a spouse to leave certain assets to their partner. Prenuptial agreements can also place restrictions and obligations on financial behavior during a marriage, for example, by requiring the filing of joint income tax returns and allocating the tax obligations, by requiring a party to obtain and maintain health or life insurance benefiting the other party, and even getting into the nitty gritty of who will pay the mortgage or buy the groceries. But what about control over other behavior during a marriage?

One thing high profile couples are now looking to include in prenuptial agreements are restrictions on social media posts, with financial fines imposed if a party breaches those provisions. The restrictions on social media posting are designed to contractually prohibit a spouse from making private arguments public, from sharing embarrassing photos, and from disparaging their spouse during a marriage and after divorce. With … Keep reading

Is a Permanent Restraining Order Really Permanent?

It is the public policy of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to protect citizens from the devastating impact of domestic violence. General Laws c. 209A provides “a statutory mechanism by which victims of family or household abuse can enlist the aid of the State to prevent further abuse” through court orders prohibiting a defendant from abusing or contacting a victim, or requiring a defendant to stay away from the victim’s home or workplace. Commonwealth v. Gordon, 407 Mass. 340, 344, 553 N.E.2d 915 (1990). See G.L. c. 209A, § 3. A 209A restraining order, also known as an abuse prevention order, can be issued ex parte, meaning without the defendant present in court, if the victim shows a substantial likelihood of immediate danger of abuse. An initial order issued without the defendant present then must be reviewed within 10 days to allow the defendant an opportunity to be heard by the court. After the hearing, the temporary abuse prevention order may be extended for no more than one year if the plaintiff proves, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the defendant has caused or attempted to cause physical harm, committed a sexual assault, or placed the plaintiff in reasonable … Keep reading

“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

Estate Planning After Divorce

Divorce attorneys saw a wave of divorces last year due to the changes in the tax laws that took effect on January 1, 2019. If you were one of the masses whose divorce was finalized in 2018, now is the time to revise your estate plan. Here are the issues you should discuss with your lawyer:

  1. Make sure your estate planning attorney has a copy of your Divorce Agreement. Your attorney will need to know what obligations you have to your ex-spouse in the event of your death.
  2. Update your Health Care Proxy. The health care proxy allows you to name someone to make health care decisions for you if, for instance, you were in a car accident or had a health emergency and were unable to communicate. You may want to name an adult child, a friend, or another relative.
  3. Update your Power of Attorney. If you had an old power of attorney naming your ex-spouse, that should be revoked. You should also execute a new power of attorney naming a friend, relative or trusted advisor to act as your agent regarding your finances and assets.
  4. Update your Will and Trust. Remove the provisions for your ex-spouse, and
Keep reading
Rethinking the Amount of Alimony

As I wrote in a prior blog piece, under M.G.L. c. 208, sec. 53, the amount of alimony paid to support a former spouse should generally not exceed the recipient’s need or 30 to 35% of the difference between the parties’ gross incomes established at the time of the order being issued.  While the Court has authority under the statute to deviate from the percentages, the 30 to 35% range provided an easy measure that helped many parties come to agreement on alimony. Then came the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act signed by President Trump in 2017 included provisions eliminating federal tax consequences for alimony payments made pursuant to judgments issued and agreements entered into after December 31, 2018. Many people with pending divorce actions rushed to get their divorce agreements signed and approved by the Court before year-end 2018 to ensure that their alimony payments would be deductible by the payor and taxable to the recipient. For those who will begin paying alimony in 2019 or future years, alimony payors will no longer be able to deduct alimony from income reported on a federal income tax return and recipients will no longer … Keep reading