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Don’t Be Blindsided By The Division of Marital Property in Your Divorce

Many people fail to realize divorce requires more than simply signing a few documents. If you’re divorcing in Massachusetts, don’t be blindsided by the many decisions you’re about to face regarding the division of your marital property. Not all property is valued or taxed in the same way; therefore, the process can be long and confusing without the help of a knowledgeable attorney at your side. It’s important to consider that even though different financial accounts are valued at the same amount, the account owner may receive different withdraw amounts. This is because withdrawals will not be taxed in the same way from a money market, for example, as other accounts would be. The division of retirement accounts can be particularly daunting. There are currently no tax codes or other regulations in place regarding IRA accounts. This has allowed courts to permit IRAs to be divided between divorcing couples. Regarding real estate property, if one spouse is granted full control of the marital home, for example, or vacation properties, then he or she is usually expected to pay taxes on those properties as well. Debt is another matter you will need to be well-informed about when dividing property. No matter who is awarded the property, debt owed is still the responsibility of both parties, if the property was jointly owned. This means in the event the awarded party cannot fulfill payment obligations, the bank or other entity holding the debt will expect the second named party to fulfill payment obligations.

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What is Collaborative Divorce?

More and more couples, facing divorce or legal separation, are already turning away from contentious court proceedings and long-lived litigation to legal mediation. Yet, there is a third option, separate from litigation and mediation: the collaborative divorce process. This method is only a few decades old, but it already boasts a worldwide network of legal practitioners. Mediation involves a couple meeting with a trained and licensed mediator to work out the terms of their divorce, consulting separately with their respective attorneys and financial professionals as needed. On the other hand, collaborative family law involves the two partners’ attorneys meeting directly and separately from their clients. This approach can be beneficial when clients do not trust themselves to talk directly with each other, or where there is a concern about spousal abuse. The “collaborative” in the collaborative divorce process refers to attorneys working together to create an agreement in the best interest of both their clients. Collaborative family law has a scope beyond that of divorce cases. It can also help cohabiting couples separate, or with post-divorce financial issues that arise such as college tuition or support for adult children. Though it is not widely known in public consciousness, collaborative family law practice is not fringe, nor is it risky. Thousands of families worldwide have benefited from the collaborative divorce process in a way they would not have if they had undergone mediation or litigation. The collaborative divorce process originated in the Midwest United States in the early 1990s. Over the

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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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