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Family Law Resources

What factors do courts consider when determining child custody?

Courts primarily base their decision on what is in the child’s best interest, using the Child’s Best Interest Standard. Factors vary from state to state, but the overall goal is to make a decision that promotes the health and wellbeing of the child. Parents are encouraged to come to an agreement on matters of child custody and visitation to submit to the court. However, if the judge finds the settlement agreement is not in the child’s best interest, it can be rejected. Courts will generally determine the stability of each parent’s home environment and their interest and commitment to caring for the child. Other factors include the health of each parent, both physical and mental; the special needs of the child, if any; the child’s own wishes if they are old enough to say so; whether there is evidence of illicit drug use, or drug/alcohol abuse; and adjustment to the community, such as where they go to school, proximity to other caretakers, etc. In Massachusetts, the best interests of the child are the overriding guiding principle for judges making custody decisions. State law also says that the child’s “happiness and welfare” are paramount and that the parents’ rights are equal unless a parent has been found to be currently unfit. Child custody cases can be complicated and always require extensive knowledge of family law. When facing a child custody issue, you will probably have several questions. Please call our office for experienced advice regarding your family law concerns.

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What is the difference between a fault and no-fault divorce?

In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the grounds for divorce depends on whether you decide on a no-fault or fault divorce. A no-fault divorce does not require parties to prove blame for the breakdown of the marriage. Either or both parties can file to begin the process for a no-fault divorce merely pleading that the marriage is beyond repair, and it is time to move on. The ground for this action is “irretrievable breakdown of marriage”. A fault divorce is more involved. In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, you have the option of filing for divorce and claiming one person is to blame for the failure of the marriage. Common grounds for a fault divorce include cruelty and abuse, desertion for one year or more, adultery, impotence, excessive use of drugs or alcohol, failure to provide support or maintenance, and sentences of five years or more in a penal institution. Proving a fault divorce can be difficult. It is recommended the accusing party have solid proof of any fault grounds. Make sure to consult with a knowledgeable attorney before taking any divorce action to understand your options. Contact our office to have your questions answered today.

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Protecting Assets in a Divorce

Divorce is as much a financial blow as it is an emotional one. Alimony and child support may take a large, even unreasonable amount out of your monthly paycheck. Conversely, if your income is much smaller than your soon-to-be-ex-spouse’s, or if you stayed at home to look after the family, you might find yourself in dire financial straits if you are not awarded a just settlement. You deserve a divorce settlement that takes into account your circumstances and your contributions to the marriage— and financial, logistical, or emotional. In this article, you will find three steps to follow to protect your assets in divorce and reach the settlement that is best for you. I. Be Open and Honest—and Savvy On your end, it is important not to hide any of your assets. Hiding your assets, or even appearing to hide your assets, may be used against you in court by your spouse and his or her counsel. In fact, most people’s attempts to hide their assets—by spending large amounts of cash—fail to improve their divorce outcomes. This is for two reasons. First, because Massachusetts family courts take into account income (earnings) rather than expenditure (spending). Second, because assets are defined as more than cash, excessive spending fails to protect non-liquid holdings like stocks, bonds, and even intellectual property. To understand the full scope of your assets, it is worth investing in professional help to you value and locate them. This way you can have the knowledge you need to II.

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My spouse and I have just moved to Massachusetts from another state. Do we need to get our marriage license transferred to Massachusetts?

Moving to another state can be a legally frustrating process. Aside from the logistics and expense of moving your possessions across state lines, you will likely find yourself waiting in line or on the phone with government offices as you transfer the legal documents that make up your life. Vehicle registration and title, voter registration, insurance policies and more must be transferred. Luckily, marriage licenses issued by one state are valid in all forty-nine others. A number of court cases have affirmed that one state must recognize a marriage license issued by another. Most famous are Loving v. Virginia, which struck down bans on interracial marriage in 1967, and the more recent Obergefell v. Hodges, which made it illegal to discriminate against same-sex couples in the issuance of marriage licenses. The courts tend in favor of interstate validity of marriage licenses as a way of promoting the integrity of marriage and protecting families. Welcome to Massachusetts—and take transferring your marriage license off your moving-in checklist. If you have questions regarding out of state marriages or any other family law related matter, please contact our office to speak with an experienced Massachusetts family law attorney.

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I was married and last lived in Massachusetts with my spouse but do not live in Massachusetts now, can I get divorced in Massachusetts?

While marriage laws are based on where the parties are at the time of marriage, divorce is based on where the parties live at the time of divorce. The answer to this question depends on how long you’ve resided outside of Massachusetts. While most states require you to be a resident before you may file divorce papers, the required length of residency varies per state. In most cases, it’s at least a minimum of six months. To file for divorce in the state of Massachusetts, one of the following must apply: You, or your estranged spouse, have lived in the state for a year, OR You lived with your spouse as a married couple in Massachusetts when your “grounds” for divorce happened. You should be aware that whatever court handles the initial divorce settlement has jurisdiction over all other residual issues such as child custody, child support, and any amendments to these arrangements. Because divorce laws can vary dramatically between the states, it is important to understand how residing in different locations may impact your right to marital property, child custody, alimony payments, and child support payments. Make sure to consult with a knowledgeable attorney before taking any action to avoid any filing issues. Contact our office to have your questions answered today.

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I’ve been estranged from my husband and want to remarry. Will Massachusetts grant me a Bifurcated divorce?

Bifurcation of divorce allows spouses to become legally divorced before the divorce details have been finalized. The option to remarry is the most common use of bifurcation; however, some couples seek a bifurcation to distinguish between marriage or pre-marriage property. In states that permit bifurcation, the court will handle the end of the marriage separately from the other divorce matters to permit the parties to remarry while providing additional time to resolve the remaining issues. This means all other resolutions such as child custody, visitation, support, distribution of property, and attorney fees are determined at a later date. Individual states such as Texas, New York, Michigan, and Arizona do not allow bifurcation in divorce cases. Even if you are living in Massachusetts, if you were married in a state that does not allow bifurcation, it will not be granted, and all issues of the divorce must be resolved before the divorce is finalized and the couple can claim legal single status. The process of bifurcation generally requires the filing of legal documents; however, both parties must agree to a bifurcated divorce before a court will grant one. There is an exception to this if the requesting party shows good legal cause for bifurcation and the court agrees that the action would not jeopardize the interests of the other party. You should consult with a knowledgeable attorney before taking any action, as there are certain restrictions in place that can affect the process in various ways.

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How do courts determine if relocation of a child to another state during a divorce is acceptable?

In situations where a custodial parent wishes to relocate with a child, the court will determine whether child custody relocation is in the best interests of the child. While a parent is free to relocate out of state themselves without the child or with the permission of the other parent to take the child, the state of Massachusetts requires a judge ruling regarding relocation contested by a parent. Depending on the current custody agreement, the judge has two different processes for determining if relocation is in the child’s best interest. For joint or shared custody the judge will take into account the following: Whether or not the quality of the child’s life will be improved and if the child will endure similar benefits as the parent from the move. Adverse effects of altering visitation schedule and the extent to which the child’s relationship to the non-moving parent will be compromised. How the child’s emotional, physical, or developmental needs will be impacted by moving or not moving. If there is a way to create a new visitation order to allow the non-relocating parent to maintain a close and enduring bond with the child. In the event a parent with primary custody is requesting relocation, the judge will apply what is known as the “real advantage” standard as the child’s well-being is more closely intertwined with the parent’s welfare in these situations. In this case, the judge will examine evidence of economic benefits, availability of extended family, and the desire to relocate

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Does Massachusetts divide property equally between the spouses during a divorce?

Under Massachusetts’s law, marital property is divided equitably. Massachusetts defines “marital property” as any property—be it income, assets, real estate, or everyday items—that comes into possession of the couple or either of the spouses individually during the course of the marriage. This could include trade secrets, stock holdings, and artistic creations. For individuals of high net worth, or those who make their living by possessing valuable intellectual property, it is especially valuable to have a prenuptial agreement in place to keep this property separate from that held in common in the marriage. In deciding what is an “equitable” division of property, the court will consider a number of factors. These include if the divorce is no-fault or at-fault, the relative incomes of the parties involved, and the financial contributions made by each party during the marriage, including contributions made as a home maker and caregiver. If you are seeking to protect your hard-earned assets from someone who wants more than his or her fair share, or if the value of your contributions to the marriage and household are being downplayed, call our office today to discuss your case. We’ll help you find peace of mind.

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If I make my living in the arts, does my spouse have a fifty percent share in rights to my artworks and the income they produce?

Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that artistic works, along with patents, trade secrets, and many other “intangible” properties, constitute intellectual property. And intellectual property, in Massachusetts, is marital property. No, in that Massachusetts does not assume “equal” (fifty-fifty) distribution of property between partners at the dissolution of a marriage, but rather “equitable.” Intellectual property falls under the requirement for equitable distribution. In dividing something intangible, such as the rights to artistic works, Massachusetts family judges will, as with other forms of property, assess the relative contribution of partners to the marriage financially, emotionally, and logistically. Intellectual property has two sorts of value to be divided. The first is the rights to income from future royalties on a work or idea. Second, the present monetary value of a work or idea. For creators or inventors, it may be wise to include provisions in a prenuptial agreement to protect your intellectual property. If you need help drawing up a prenuptial agreement, or if you are currently involved in a divorce without one, call our office today for expertise in handling intellectual property division.

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Wait–what do you mean I can’t deduct alimony on my federal taxes?

Alimony is a series of monetary payments to an ex-spouse that may be mandated as part of a divorce decree. Paying alimony can be an expensive and painful process—and it is about to get much more painful, thanks to changes to the federal tax code. At present, those paying alimony may deduct the payments on their federal taxes, while recipients must report them as income. However, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) reverses this. Beginning in 2019, alimony payments may not be deducted from the paying party’s federal income taxes. However, alimony payment recipients will no longer have to report them as taxable income. If your divorce has been finalized, or will be finalized before December 31, 2018, you need fear not. The TCJA only applies to divorces finalized beginning on January 1, 2019, or to divorce agreements renegotiated on that date or later. If you are currently considering, or undergoing, divorce, think of the change to tax law as fresh impetus to bring the process to completion. You need the counsel of an experienced tax lawyer to make sure that your alimony agreement is reached before the cut-off, and that the payments agree with the complex requirements of current tax law to qualify for deductions.

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