Allocation of College Expenses in Divorce

Saving for education

To the recent high school graduates from the class of 2019, congratulations!  For the parents (particularly divorced or divorcing parents) of the recent high school graduates from the class of 2019, I hope you’ve saved some money.

High school graduates are going off to college at increasingly high rates.  Unfortunately for parents and students, the cost of tuition, room, and board for colleges and universities has skyrocketed within the past decade.  Some schools are now topping out at a whopping $70,000 per year for these costs.  I apologize in advance to our readers who expected a quip about the recent college bribery scandal; as a proud alum of the University of Southern California (was not on the crew team), I will limit this discussion to the publicized retail cost of colleges and universities. Go Trojans!

For family law attorneys, the issue of college costs is invariably at the forefront of our minds when dealing with any case involving children of college age and younger.  Even divorce agreements in which a child is only a toddler will often mention at least some aspirational language regarding the parents’ mutual desire. Such as for little Jimmy to “have the opportunity to attend … Keep reading

Grounds for Divorce – Part 1 - Irretrievable Breakdown

shutterstock_429855238General Laws c. 208, § 1A and G. L. c. 208, § 1B comprise the two Massachusetts no-fault divorce statutes, which allow for divorce on the ground of “irretrievable breakdown” of the marriage. In order to obtain a divorce in Massachusetts, the spouses must join together in a joint petition for divorce, or one party initiates the case by the filing of a complaint.  With a joint petition, both parties must attest via a notarized affidavit that the marriage has suffered an irretrievable breakdown.  With a complaint, the moving party must set forth a ground for the divorce, which can include the no-fault ground of irretrievable breakdown.

What is an irretrievable breakdown?

There is no test to be met to prove an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. All that is required is for one spouse to feel, subjectively, that the marriage is over.  Neither G.L. c. 208 §1A nor §1B contain a requirement that a spouse enumerate any objective factors that would lead a court to the conclusion that a marriage is irretrievably broken.  Rather, a party (or both) can simply attest that the relationship has ended with no hope of reconciliation.  In adopting no-fault divorce grounds in 1975, … Keep reading

Talking To Your Kids About Prenuptial Agreements

If you have been divorced, you may be excited and yet anxious when your child decides to marry.  You may be happy that she has found love, but you may also be painfully aware of the difficulties she may encounter if the marriage ends in divorce.   How to protect your child from a possible divorce while still showing excitement for the marriage and welcoming her fiancé into your family can be a difficult balance.

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Raising the issue of a prenuptial agreement is not an easy discussion, and should not be had right after the engagement is announced.  Ideally the discussion was had many years ago.  By the time the happy couple decides to wed, your child should already know that she needs a prenuptial agreement.

I tell my clients to talk to your kids about prenups around the time they start dating, or when they start to get serious with someone.  The earlier you talk to kids about prenups, the better.   If you wait until the wedding plans are announced, your child may be reluctant and the fiancé may be offended.  It may cause your relationship with your daughter or son-in-law to start out on a sour note.

Talking … Keep reading

Child Support and Gifting

As a divorce lawyer who also does some probate litigation and trusts and estate work, I have always been interested in the interplay between divorce and trusts and estates.  Recently, the issue of whether gifts are considered income for purposes of calculating child support came across my desk.

Now in talking about gifts, I don’t mean the ugly reindeer sweater grandma sends you for Christmas every year.  When speaking of gifts, I am referring to a specific estate planning strategy where wealth is transferred to others via use of a gift tax exclusion.  Gift tax exclusion, sounds scary, but it is actually a pretty simple concept.  A gift tax exclusion is the amount of money, or other assets, one person can give to another person in any given year without incurring a gift tax (simply put, how much dough grandma can give you before it has to be reported to taxing authorities).

For 2019, the annual gift tax exclusion is $15,000, which means any one person can give another person cash or assets totaling $15,000 in 2019 without triggering a gift tax.  It is common in families where there is money to spare for parents to gift children, spouses, … Keep reading

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
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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