Pets and Divorce. Custody or Property?

Do you think worrying about what happens to a dog or cat, when there is a divorce, is silly? Probably not if you are a pet lover.

When a couple decides to divorce, the question of who gets the pets is very common. Pet lovers do not buy an animal, they adopt a family member. However, while the law focuses on the best interests of human children, it sees pets as personal property. Therefore, courts tend to work under this strict interpretation.

Courts will typically start by deciding if the pet belongs to the couple or an individual. If the pet was acquired or shared during a marriage, then it is ordinarily considered marital property. The court then goes through the same steps as it would other property, such as assigning a value.

As reported by the Official Blog of the Massachusetts Trial Court Law Libraries, “…legally, pets are still property. And overburdened courts are unlikely to take on the challenge of supervising how divorcing couples deal with their pets…. [D]on’t for a minute think that court is a good place to resolve your disagreements about who gets the dog….[C]ourts do not treat custody battles over pets like they do child custody cases; they will not consider the ‘best interests of the pet’.” [Read more…]

Divorce Mediation- An Effective Way To Move Forward

Mediation is a popular option for couples in Massachusetts when they have decided to divorce.

A couple who has agreed that their marriage has reached a point of “irretrievable breakdown” according to Massachusetts General Law Chapter 208, due to no particular fault of either party, may want to consider mediation. Mediation may be more affordable for some and take less time than a contested, litigated divorce.

Sitting down with a trained and experienced mediator, often an attorney or retired judge, provides the divorcing couple an opportunity to develop a fair and equitable memorandum of understanding covering all of the requirements of ending their marriage contract and dividing their assets. Mediators are able to help agreeable couples through simple or complex financial situations including child support and child custody agreements. [Read more…]

Divorce Mediation For Small Business Owners In Massachusetts

Divorce is never easy, and it gets more complicated when a couple begins a successful business after their marriage. There are very few people who divorce and then are able to manage working together on a daily basis, so splitting the company or leaving it is generally best for one spouse. Using mediation rather than going to court is an effective way of ensuring both parties continue to profit from the successful business.

Splitting the Business Down the Middle
There are some businesses where splitting a company is relatively easy, and each person has their own territory. Mediation helps to decide which partner gets a particular territory, and this is usually done when both people enter an agreement willingly. Each partner retains their own share of business, and they negotiate physical territories so they do not steal each other’s customers. This is acceptable under Massachusetts law, and most judges deem it as a reasonable distribution of a family business. [Read more…]

What Can Be Modified in a Massachusetts Divorce Agreement

Having the provisions of a divorce agreement modified under Massachusetts law is possible, based on how the separation agreement was written and the circumstances bringing about the request for a modification. Before bringing your modification request to the court, you should consult with an experienced divorce attorney.

The first thing to realize is that there must be a material change in circumstances to request a modification, such as an employment change or a significant change in income.

When drafting a separation agreement, there are two types of provisions addressed in the agreement: surviving and merging. Merging provisions are open to modification. Merging provisions are generally child specific issues like custody arrangements, support, and health insurance. Sometimes alimony can be a merging provision. Surviving provisions are generally not open to modification. An example of surviving provision is the division of property. [Read more…]

Massachusetts Divorce and Separation Agreements

Divorce is a complicated and emotional ordeal. Divorcing parents with young children have additional considerations over childless couples. The many complexities involved in reaching a desired outcome during a divorce, are weighed according to a number of different factors. In some cases, it can be helpful to ask an attorney to draw up a Separation Agreement.

A Separation Agreement is a written document that determines how the divorcing parties will handle matters relating to the end of the marriage. This Agreement can serve to clarify and simplify the overall divorce process. Normally, the agreement deals with child custody issues, parental access, child support, alimony and division of assets and similar issues. The Agreement is only good if both parties agree to its terms and sign it freely, voluntarily, knowingly and without duress or intimidation. The Separation Agreement usually becomes part of the final divorce judgment. It should be noted that a judge can refuse to accept a Separation Agreement if he or she deems it unfair according to the circumstances under which it is presented.

If you are considering divorce and would like to discuss the importance of a Separation Agreement, please contact our office to schedule your consultation with an attorney.

Preparing For Divorce Mediation

Divorce is always a painful process. Splitting assets for its cash value is often a difficult end to a relationship that did not work out. Emotions run high, even in an amicable divorce. Being prepared is the best way to ensure both parties receive their fair share of the marital assets and debts. Listing shared properties of value, dividing properties with written evaluations by a neutral party and listing all goals for the divorce mediation are important to avoid costly mistakes.

List All Items of Value
Every couple has items of value. A family home is a piece of real property. Vehicles, jewelry, family heirlooms and furniture may all have monetary value. Family businesses or savings and retirement accounts are part of the marital assets as well. Credit card or loan debt is part of the equation too. These items are all part of the property settlement for the divorce. Dividing them equitably between the partners is the goal of mediation. Having a list of all valued property makes division easier and ensures both parties receive their fair share.

Evaluating the Property
Written evaluations by a neutral third-party can be extremely useful to the mediation. This helps establish actual values and equity of the property. It keeps the mediation on a successful track for both parties.

Bring a Written List of Goals
Mediation is a form of negotiation. It is important for each person to know their goals. Writing them down gives a person the opportunity to ensure they reach their goals. It is difficult to make changes once a mediation agreement is complete. Referring to a list of properties being split and their value ensures nothing is forgotten in the final mediation agreement.

Mediation is often a cost-effective way for couples to divide their assets without the cost of litigation. Being prepared for the mediation is the best way to achieve a fair settlement in a timely fashion for both parties. If you are considering divorce mediation, please call our office to learn more.

How Child Custody Is Determined Under Massachusetts Law

In Massachusetts, several factors are used to determine child custody between two parents seeking divorce or between unmarried couples who cannot come to custody terms following separation.

Massachusetts law recognizes four different types of custody:

• Sole legal custody
• Shared legal custody
• Sole physical custody
• Shared physical custody

In the first and third statuses, only one parent has the right and responsibility regarding the child’s welfare, including education, medical care, and emotional, moral and religious development. Shared custody allows both parents to make decisions. Physical custody status goes one step further by determining whether children will live with only one or spend time living with both parents in addition to determining who will be responsible for their welfare. [Read more…]

An Intro to Filing for Divorce in Massachusetts

Many couples start out in marriage with great hopes and expectations, only to end up in a relationship that unfortunately does not work. There are many steps in the divorce process in Massachusetts and just as many avenues to take depending on your situation. Here is a brief introduction to filing for divorce in Massachusetts and some of what you may encounter.

  • A divorce can be categorized as “no-fault” or “fault.”
  • If both parties agree on the categorization, the divorce is called “uncontested.” If one of the two parties disagrees with it, though, it is then called “contested.”
  • A fault divorce can be more costly and drawn out than a no-fault one. This is because of the process required to prove the fault of the accused spouse.
  • There are seven categories of a fault divorce: adultery, impotency, desertion, cruel and abusive treatment, gross and confirmed habits of intoxication, a prison sentence of five years or longer, and non-support.
  • There are two categories of a no-fault divorce. They are “Irretrievable Breakdown of Marriage 1A,” and “Irretrievable Breakdown of Marriage 1B.”
  • 1A means that both spouses agree that neither are to blame for the end of the marriage, and they have reached an agreement regarding any alimony, asset distribution, child support, or custody arrangements. (AKA- Uncontested no-fault divorce)
  • 1B means that both spouses agree that neither are to blame for the end of the marriage, but they cannot reach an agreement on assets, custody arrangements, etc. (AKA- Contested no-fault divorce)
  • A 1A divorce is final 120 days from the date of judgement.
  • A 1B divorce is final 90 days after the hearing so long as a judgement is entered. (You will have a hearing for a 1B case because the accusing spouse must prove the fault of the other spouse.)

These are just a few of the terms and categories that you will run into when filing for the dissolution of your marriage. An experienced divorce attorney will help make the process go as smoothly as possible. We will advise you on how to proceed with your case in the most cost effective and time efficient manner. Call our office to speak with an experienced divorce attorney and learn your options.

Massachusetts Child Support Law

In the event of a divorce, one parent may be ordered by the court to pay child support. Under Massachusetts law, both parents are required to support their children—and this is true regardless of marital status (whether the parents are married, divorced, separated, or were never married). The parent the child lives with a majority of the time is termed the primary custodial parent. The noncustodial parent may be required to pay child support.

Massachusetts child support law is complicated, but there are several things you should know.

One, child support may be used to pay for housing, food, clothing, education, and insurance and medical costs.

Two, if one parent has received an order for child support and the other parent is not paying it, payment can be compelled. The procedure is to file a Complaint for Contempt with the court. This means that, if the other parent does not obey the child support order, he or she can be held in contempt and is subject to penalties. [Read more…]

Massachusetts Family Law and the Divorce Process

Massachusetts family law covers the divorce process, which begins when one of the spouses actually files a legal petition, or “complaint,” which advises the court he, or she, wishes to end the marriage, and this petition is  “served” on the other spouse.

Legal requirements for divorce in Massachusetts (MA) can be found in Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 208, sections 1-5 and 21, and include “residency requirements,” such as:

  • “Spouses must have lived together in MA as husband and wife,”
  • The plaintiff (the person petitioning) “must have lived in MA at least one year,
  • The actions/inactions that have brought about this divorce action must have occurred in MA, and
  • If the causal actions/inactions happened in another state, the spouses must have “lived together in MA,” and at least one spouse has to be an MA resident.

Because Massachusetts is a state which allows “no-fault” divorce, the petitioner (plaintiff) must merely attest that there has been “an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.” In other words, the plaintiff believes there is “no chance of reconciliation.”  Other “grounds for divorce” are: 1) adultery, 2) the spouse has been away from the household for one year (desertion), 3) drug and alcohol problems, 4) inability to conceive, 5) nonsupport, 6) being sentenced to prison “for at least 5 years” after a criminal conviction, and 7) a long absence (leading to “presumption of death”). [Read more…]