The SECURE Act - Considerations for January 2020

Often times in a divorce matter, the two biggest assets the parties have are their house and retirement accounts.  While everyone was busy with the recent holiday rush, President Trump signed the SECURE Act into law as part of the government’s spending bill.  The SECURE Act takes effect on January 1, 2020, and makes important changes to retirement savings.  While not a law directed specifically to divorcing spouses, it is important to understand the changes the SECURE Act has made given that retirement accounts are a significant consideration in most divorce matters.  Some of the most important changes the SECURE Act made are as follows.

The SECURE Act now allows for annuities to be included as 401(k) investments.  Annuities can be complex investments with many different moving parts.  In some instances, an annuity cannot be divided between spouses.  The inclusion of annuities in 401(k) plans will likely complicate the division of retirement assets in the context of a divorce.

The SECURE Act also increases the age for required minimum distributions (RMD) for qualified retirement plans.  Previously, RMDs were to begin in the year in which the account holder turned 70.5.  The SECURE Act has increased the RMD age to … 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

Estate Planning and Re-tying the Knot

If you find yourself lucky in love after a divorce, you have myriad considerations when deciding whether to remarry. If you have children from your prior marriage that you would like to provide for, I recommend that updating your estate plan be top of mind. A carefully crafted estate plan can function to provide for both your children and new spouse in a way that meets your goals.

Trusts are perhaps the most common estate planning tool used to protect assets and benefit different people. For married couples in particular, a qualified terminable interest property (“QTIP”) trust allows a spouse to enjoy access to assets held in trust during his or her lifetime while limiting the spouse’s ability to control the disposition of those assets after his or her death. This is an effective tool for providing your spouse access to assets for the duration of his or her life while preserving the remainder for your children after his or her death. You may also utilize a QTIP trust in conjunction with other trusts or estate planning vehicles to divide your assets.

Additional advantages to QTIP trusts include qualification for the unlimited marital deduction from state and federal estate … Keep reading

Happy Thanksgiving from the Divorce Law Monitor

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  It is a time to spend with family and friends, without the stress of gift-giving as called for by other holidays, and to enjoy delicious food and drink.  I recognize, however, that the holidays can be difficult for my clients going through a divorce, and it may not seem like there is a lot to be thankful for during such a difficult time.  Even on the darkest of days, however, I encourage my clients to practice gratitude.  Finding just one small thing to be thankful for each day can have a huge impact on mindset, outlook, and can be the difference between a swift and amicable resolution to a divorce, versus long protracted litigation.

According to PostivePsychology.com, individuals who practice gratitude are more likely to “experience positive emotions, are more satisfied with life, and experience fewer negative emotions, including depression, anxiety, and envy.”  While it is certainly normal and appropriate to experience and express negative emotions, especially while going through a divorce, looking at day to day life through such emotions and allowing them to become all-consuming can have serious, negative consequences on one’s physical and emotional health.

So, in the spirit of this … Keep reading

Twelve Months in Mass. – Establishing Residency Before Filing for Divorce

“Massachusetts Welcomes You” is a sign that greets you as you make your way into the Bay State, regardless of whether you are just passing through or sticking around for a while.  In addition to Massachusetts being a tourist destination, many people (myself included) decide to relocate to Massachusetts from lands near and far for a variety of reasons. So what happens if you move to Massachusetts and decide to get divorced?  How long do you have to be in Massachusetts before its Probate and Family Court “Welcomes You”?

As we become a more migratory society, issues regarding which state (or even country) has jurisdiction over a divorce have become more common. Based on each state/country having its own laws on the issue, the answer is not always clear as to which jurisdiction is the appropriate one to file a divorce after a recent move or if you are frequently on the move.

Under Massachusetts law, the Probate and Family Court can assert subject matter jurisdiction over a divorce only if: (1) the spouses previously lived together in Massachusetts, and one of them lived here when the cause of the divorce occurred; (2) the plaintiff filing the divorce action … Keep reading

Updating Your Estate Plan in the Event of Divorce

It’s advisable to review and update your estate plan with any change in personal circumstances, financial circumstances, changes in the law, or just the passage of an extended time. But if you’re in the midst of a divorce, or contemplating one, this may be the furthest thing from your mind.  Here are a few key reasons why you should make updating your estate plan a top priority:

Divorce can take a while.  Divorce proceedings often take many months, and you wouldn’t want your soon-to-be-ex-spouse benefitting from or having any rights with respect to your estate if you were to die in the meantime.  While beneficiary designations for certain assets cannot be changed once a divorce proceeding is filed, you may be able to update documents like a Will, Trust, Durable Power of Attorney, and Health Care Proxy at any time, whether or not your divorce is finalized.

Your estate plan may no longer reflect your wishes.  In Massachusetts, a final divorce automatically revokes any beneficial provisions for and fiduciary appointment of your former spouse (or his/her family members) in documents like your Will and Trust, but leaves the rest of these documents in-tact.  The “back-up” individuals named in your … Keep reading

The Price of Peace

The Price of Peace: a concept that arises in nearly every divorce matter, but you will likely never read about in any legal treatise on divorce law. You commonly hear about transactional costs (I.e. legal fees) and the cost of alimony or child support, but the price of peace is not commonly spoke of in mainstream divorce literature.

So what is the price of peace? To use a common lawyer answer, “it depends.” Generally speaking, the price of peace is a tangible or intangible cost for moving on. It is individual to every person or couple going through a divorce. It is that thing that a person is willing to forego in order to be done.

An example of a tangible price for peace is the following: Jane and John Doe are involved in heated negotiations to resolve their divorce matter. They have agreed on all matters, except they both want the new bbq grill that was purchased just before they separated. Recognizing that the transactional costs are steep, and that there is great value in resolving the divorce matter and moving on, Jane agrees to allow John to keep the bbq grill. The price of peace for Jane … Keep reading

Divorcing With Special Needs Children

Divorce is hard.  Along with all the emotional upheaval associated with the end of a relationship, the legal wrangling and disputes over division of assets, allocation of liabilities, parenting plans and the appropriate amount of support can be challenging.  When special needs children are involved, parenting and support issues become even more complex.

Special needs children can place extraordinary demands on their caretakers.  In fact, taking care of a special needs child often becomes a full time job for one of the parents.  The parent who sacrificed his/her career to care for the child is likely to be faced with on-going caretaking responsibilities beyond the child’s age of majority.  Determining spousal support for the caretaker-parent must account for the lost career opportunities both in the past, as well as in the future.

Where a child suffers from a physically debilitating condition, there can be challenges involved in meeting the child’s daily care needs, equipment, and specialized treatments that need to be considered.  Parents may not have the financial ability to have two sets of necessary equipment to allow a child to safely spend time in each parent’s home.  This creates additional problems when it comes to fashioning a parenting … Keep reading

How To Read A Trust

If you are getting divorced, you may find that your marital assets include interests in one or more trusts.  It could be that you and your spouse established the trusts during your lifetime, or perhaps a family member created the trusts for the benefit of you or your spouse.  Either way, you need to know what the trusts say.  They may play a crucial role in the division of your assets or the support you will receive.

It is not uncommon for folks to know little about what the trusts say or do.  It happens all the time and is no reason for embarrassment.  It is a good idea to begin to read the trusts yourself and to ask questions about them.  You should rely on the advice of a trusted estate planning attorney.  If your divorce lawyer does not have an estate planning lawyer that he or she works with, you will need to find one.   Here are a few tips in reviewing your trust:

Familiarize yourself with the terms.  There are basic terms of the trust that you will need to know.  (Hint: A lot of this information will be found on the first page of … Keep reading

Living Together While Divorcing?

My colleague, Jordan Bowne, recently explored the issue of whether the marital home should be retained by a party or sold when assets are divided in a divorce.  Before getting to the point in the process where that decision can be made, parties often find themselves in the uncomfortable position of living together after their relationship has soured and contested litigation is underway.  Going through a divorce is hard, but it is even harder when you are still sharing a bathroom with your soon-to-be ex.  Clients sometimes think that one party is required to move out once a divorce matter is filed with the Court, but that is not the case.  When the stress of living together gets to be too much, the question often asked is – how do I get my spouse out of the house?

The easiest, and best, option for separating is to have an adult conversation about who should stay living in the shared residence and who should move out.  This will necessarily include consideration of finances in the short-term, how time and relationships with the children will be impacted, and how long the divorce process will take.

When a mutual decision is not … Keep reading