Divorce in Massachusetts

Table of Contents

The Divorce Process

Divorce is never an easy process, but understanding the legal steps and requirements can make the journey smoother. If you’re thinking about a divorce in Massachusetts, you’re in the right place. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the divorce process in the state, covering essential aspects such as residency requirements, types of divorce, child custody and support, property division, and more.

When a marriage reaches a point where reconciliation is no longer possible, the divorce process in Massachusetts provides a legal framework to dissolve the marriage and address important matters like child custody, support, and property division. The divorce case typically proceeds through the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court system.

Understanding the Massachusetts Divorce Process

When a marriage reaches a point where reconciliation is no longer possible, the divorce process in Massachusetts provides a legal framework to dissolve the marriage and address important matters like child custody, support, and property division. The divorce case typically proceeds through the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court system.

Residency Requirements

To file for divorce in Massachusetts, you or your spouse must meet the residency requirements. Either one of you must have lived in the state for at least one year before filing, or the reason for the divorce must have occurred in Massachusetts and both parties must have lived in the state when the cause of divorce happened.

Types of Divorce in Massachusetts

Massachusetts recognizes both fault-based and no-fault divorces. Fault divorce requires one party to prove the other person did something wrong that caused the marriage to fail, such as adultery or abusive treatment. On the other hand, the most common type of divorce in Massachusetts is the no-fault divorce based on the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.

Filing for Divorce

To initiate the divorce process, we’ll need to file a divorce petition, also known as a divorce complaint, with the local court. The court will require certain divorce documents, such as a financial statement, affidavits, and a filing fee unless you qualify for a fee waiver. In order to apply for such a waiver, you’ll have to fill out an affidavit of indigency.

Temporary Orders

During the divorce proceedings, either party can request temporary orders from the court to address issues like child custody, visitation, and financial support. These orders will be in place during your divorce. They’re very important not only now, but in the future. If, for instance, you get temporary custody of your children and things go well, a judge may be more likely to award you permanent custody in the final order. 

Property Division and Marital Assets

All assets are subject to division whether they are marital property or separate property.  The judge can divide your house, bank accounts, retirement accounts and other investments whether acquired during the marriage or before.

Massachusetts follows the principle of equitable distribution when dividing marital property. This means that the court aims to divide assets fairly, taking into account factors like:

  • the length of the marriage,
  • contributions made by each spouse, and
  • financial circumstances.

Child Custody and Support

In cases involving minor children, the court’s primary focus is the best interests of the child. Massachusetts law encourages parents to reach a written agreement on custody and visitation arrangements, known as a separation agreement. If the parents cannot agree, the court will make decisions based on the child’s well-being.

Child support are financial payments made from one parent to the other. The amount of support is based on several factors such as:

  • The parents’ income,
  • Child-care costs, and
  • Health-care costs.

The court uses the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines Worksheet to determine the amount of child support. Several factors are entered into the worksheet and the support number is generated. The judge can deviate from that number if there is a good reason to do so, but only slightly.

The Divorce Trial and Final Hearing

If the divorcing couple cannot reach a resolution through mediation or negotiation, a divorce trial may be necessary. The trial court will schedule a hearing date where both parties present their arguments, evidence, and witnesses. After the trial, the court will issue a judgment of divorce nisi, which becomes final after a specific waiting period of 90 days.

Seeking Legal Advice and Alternatives

Navigating the divorce process in Massachusetts can be complex and emotionally challenging. Seeking the guidance of our experienced family law attorneys can provide invaluable support throughout the proceedings. Additionally, alternatives like divorce mediation can help resolve disputes more amicably, reducing stress and costs.

Conclusion

The divorce process in Massachusetts involves various steps and considerations, from residency requirements and types of divorce to child custody and property division. By understanding the legal process and seeking appropriate legal advice, you can navigate this difficult time with more confidence. Remember, each divorce case is unique, so it’s crucial to consult with an attorney to ensure your rights are protected and suitable support is obtained.

Contested vs. Uncontested

Divorce is rarely an easy journey, but in Massachusetts, understanding the difference between contested and uncontested divorce can make a significant impact on the process and outcome. Whether you’re splitting up amicably or facing a more difficult situation, it’s crucial to understand the legal procedures, the rights and responsibilities of each party, and the implications it may have on your life moving forward.

The Basics of Divorce

Before we delve into the contested and uncontested options, let’s go over the fundamentals. In Massachusetts, divorces can be either fault or no-fault-based. The no-fault ground, termed an “Irretrievable Breakdown of the Marriage,” is the most common, signifying that there are irreconcilable differences between the spouses. This ground allows for both contested and uncontested divorce proceedings.

Although the vast majority of divorce cases in Massachusetts are no-fault-based, fault grounds still exist. In situations where fault can be proven, such as abusive treatment or adultery, a fault-based divorce may be pursued. While fault grounds can impact issues like property division and spousal support, most couples prefer the no-fault route to maintain privacy and avoid unnecessary disputes.

Contested Divorce -
When Compromise Seems Elusive

In a contested divorce, the parties cannot agree on the terms of their divorce, such as:

  • child custody,
  • division of assets, or
  • spousal support.

This often leads to court hearings and legal procedures, which can be emotionally and financially draining for both parties. Engaging divorce lawyers becomes essential to navigate this complex terrain.

 

Uncontested Divorce -
A Path to Amicable Resolution

Uncontested divorces, on the other hand, offer a smoother route to the end of a marriage. When both spouses are in agreement about all their issues, they can file a joint petition, stating that their marriage has suffered an irretrievable breakdown. Uncontested divorce cases generally require less time and legal fees, making it an attractive option for those seeking a more cost-effective and less adversarial process.

The Role of Separation Agreements

Whether it’s a contested or uncontested divorce, a separation agreement is immensely important. This written agreement addresses important issues such as: 

  • child custody,
  • division of property,
  • spousal support, and more.

It’s at the very core of your divorce. It spells out your rights and obligations. It is vital to consult with family law attorneys to ensure that all crucial aspects are covered, protecting your rights and the best interests of the child.

The Uncontested Divorce Process - From Filing to Finalization

In an uncontested divorce, the process starts with one party filing a “Joint Petition for Divorce” with the Probate and Family Court. There are several other documents you need to file as well including a:

  • Financial Statement;
  • Separation Agreement; and,
  • Child Support Guidelines Worksheet among others.

There is also a filing fee that is paid to the court.

The Nisi Period - Patience Required

Once the court reviews the documents and ensures they meet the requirements, a hearing date is set. After the hearing, the court issues a Judgment of Divorce Nisi, which becomes absolute after a waiting period, typically 90 days. During the nisi period, any objections to the divorce can be raised, and both parties must adhere to the terms of the divorce agreement.

Conclusion

Divorce, whether contested or uncontested, is a significant life event that requires careful consideration and understanding. In Massachusetts, the type of divorce you pursue can greatly impact the process, time, and costs involved. While uncontested divorces offer a smoother and more affordable route, contested divorces may be necessary in certain circumstances. Regardless of the path, consulting family law attorneys and approaching the process with good faith and a willingness to compromise can help both parties achieve a fair resolution.

Dividing Property

In Massachusetts, the division of assets follows the principle of equitable distribution. This means that the court will strive to divide the property and assets in a fair and just manner, considering various factors specific to each case. In this blog post, we will delve into the intricacies of dividing assets in a Massachusetts divorce, exploring the key considerations and offering insights to help you navigate this process effectively.

 

Understanding the Concept of Separate Property

When going through a divorce in Massachusetts, it’s crucial to understand the distinction between separate property and marital property. Separate property refers to assets or property owned by one spouse before the marriage or acquired during the marriage through specific means, such as inheritance or a gift intended solely for one spouse. Separate property generally remains with the original owner and is not subject to division during divorce proceedings, but not always. Even separate property can be divided by your judge.

On the other hand, marital property encompasses assets and property acquired during the course of the marriage, regardless of whose name is on the title. This includes: 

  • income earned,
  • investments made, and
  • property acquired by either spouse.

Massachusetts courts consider the entire marital estate for division, ensuring a fair distribution that accounts for both parties’ contributions.

Equitable Distribution:
The Massachusetts Approach

Massachusetts follows the principle of equitable distribution when dividing marital property in a divorce. This means that assets are divided fairly, but not necessarily equally. The court takes into account several important factors to determine the most appropriate distribution. Some of these factors include:

  1. Length of the Marriage: The duration of the marriage is a significant consideration. Longer marriages tend to involve a more extensive commingling of assets and joint financial responsibilities, thus influencing the division.
  2. Conduct of the Parties: While Massachusetts is a no-fault divorce state, the conduct of the parties during the marriage may still be considered by the court in exceptional circumstances. Conduct such as domestic violence or financial misconduct may have an impact on the division of assets.
  3. Financial Situation: The financial situation of both spouses, including their sources of income, earning potential, and liabilities, is crucial in determining an equitable distribution. The court seeks to ensure that both parties can move forward with reasonable financial stability.
  4. Child Custody and Support: If children are involved, the court takes into account the best interests of the child when dividing assets. This includes ensuring a suitable living environment and addressing the financial needs of the children through child support arrangements.

The Importance of
Full Financial Disclosure

During a divorce, both parties are required to provide a complete and accurate financial statement. This financial disclosure is crucial for the court to make informed decisions regarding asset division. Failure to disclose assets or provide accurate financial information can have serious consequences and may impact the court’s judgment of divorce.

Exploring Different Methods
of Asset Division

In Massachusetts, divorcing couples have various options for dividing assets. It’s important to explore these options and select the one that suits your situation best. Some common methods include:

  1. Negotiated Settlement: This involves working directly with your spouse, possibly with the assistance of attorneys, to reach an agreement on asset division. It allows for greater flexibility and control over the outcome, but both parties must be willing to cooperate and compromise.
  2. Mediation: Mediation involves a neutral third party who helps facilitate discussions between you and your spouse. The mediator assists in reaching a mutually acceptable agreement. This approach encourages open communication and can be more cost-effective and less adversarial than going to court.
  3. Collaborative Divorce: In a collaborative divorce, both spouses, along with their respective attorneys, commit to resolving issues outside of court. They work together to reach a settlement that meets the needs and interests of both parties and their children.
  4. Litigation: When all other methods fail, litigation becomes necessary. In this scenario, a family court judge will make the final decisions regarding asset division. Litigation is often more time-consuming and costly compared to other methods, but it may be the best option in cases involving high conflict or complex financial situations.

Factors Affecting
Division of Specific Assets

Certain types of assets require special consideration during the division process. Let’s explore a few of them:

  1. Retirement Accounts: Retirement accounts, such as 401(k)s, IRAs, and pensions, are subject to division in a divorce. The court may issue a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) to divide these accounts between the spouses.
  2. Stock Options: Stock options acquired during the marriage may be considered marital property and subject to division. Evaluating the value of stock options can be complex, and the expertise of financial experts may be required to determine their worth accurately.
  3. Marital Home: The family home often holds significant sentimental and financial value. Decisions regarding the marital home can be challenging, involving considerations such as who will retain possession, how its value will be divided, and the impact on child custody arrangements.

Spousal Support and Alimony

In some divorces, spousal support, also known as alimony, may be awarded to ensure financial stability for one spouse. Massachusetts law provides guidelines to determine the amount and duration of alimony. Factors such as: 

  • the length of the marriage,
  • health of the parties,
  • earning capacity, and
  • contributions to the family unit 

are considered when determining spousal support.

Protecting Your Interests:
Prenuptial and Post-Nuptial Agreements

Prenuptial agreements, signed before marriage, and post-nuptial agreements, signed during the marriage, can play a significant role in asset division. These agreements allow couples to establish their own rules regarding the division of property and assets in the event of a divorce. However, the enforceability of these agreements depends on several factors, and it’s essential to consult with an experienced divorce attorney to ensure compliance with Massachusetts law.

The Role of the
Massachusetts Court System

In Massachusetts, divorce cases are  heard in the Probate and Family Court. The court’s primary focus is the best interests of any children involved and the fair division of marital assets. If either party is dissatisfied with the trial court’s decision, they can appeal to the Massachusetts Appeals Court or the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

Conclusion

Divorce is a challenging journey, but understanding the process of dividing assets in a Massachusetts divorce can help alleviate some of the stress and uncertainty. Seek the guidance of experienced divorce attorneys, gather accurate financial information, and explore different methods of asset division. Remember, every divorce case is unique, and the court considers several important factors to ensure an equitable distribution of property. By being well-informed and proactive, you can navigate the division of assets successfully and start the next chapter of your life with confidence.

Who Gets the House?

The family home, full of memories of holidays, birthdays and all those ordinary days that mean so much. Now that your marriage is ending, you have to decide what to do with it. Besides the emotional attachment to your home, it’s probably your largest asset. There are many practical considerations, including your mortgage payments and the equity in the home. You have to take a close look at your bills and your income to see if the marital home can even be saved. You may have a fight on your hands with your spouse if they don’t think you’re making the right choice. Maybe you both want the house. We can help you through this without costing you a fortune.

Is The House Marital Property?

The first thing that must be analyzed when deciding who keeps the house in a divorce, is when did you buy it? If you bought your house before getting married it may not be considered marital property. It could be considered separate property. If it is separate property, generally, whoever bought the house keeps the house. However, a judge can divide separate property if it is equitable to do so.

But it isn’t always easy to determine if it is marital property. Even if you bought the house prior to the marriage, a court could still decide that it is divisible. The Court will look to see:

  • if the home increased in value during the course of the marriage,
  • if the non-owning spouse helped to improve or maintain the home,
    • e.g.: Did that person pay for a new roof, or heating system?
  • if the non-owning spouse’s funds were used to pay the mortgage.

If you used money you had prior to the marriage to pay for a down payment, you may receive a credit for that even if the property is considered the marital home.

Who Gets to Stay in the House
During a Divorce?

A common question is, “[C]an I kick my spouse out if I own the house?” A Family and Probate Court Judge can order one party to have sole use of the marital home during the course of the divorce. This is true not only for instances of domestic abuse and/or restraining orders. Also, a judge can order one party to leave the home if there is a danger that you or your children will be harmed.

Temporary Orders

While you’re going through your divorce, the court may impose temporary orders. These are court orders put in place during the course of the divorce. They spell out:

  • Who gets to live in the house,
  • Who has to make the mortgage payments,
  • Who has to pay the property taxes, and,
  • Who is responsible for home improvements.

Awarding House as Permanent Order

Awarding the home to one party or the other is usually the biggest property division issue in a divorce. In making that decision, a judge will look to several factors including the:

  • Length of the marriage,
  • Conduct of the parties during the marriage,
  • Age and health of the parties,
  • Occupation and income of the parties,
  • Opportunity of each of the parties to earn income,
  • Present and future needs of children,
  • Contribution of the parties to the acquisition and preservation of assets and contributions as a homemaker.

Let’s take a look at some of these factors more closely:

Conduct of the parties during the marriage: A judge may consider how each spouse acted during the marriage when awarding assets. Those actions could have affected the marital estate. For instance:

Conduct of the parties during the marriage:

A judge may consider how each spouse acted during the marriage when awarding assets. Those actions could have affected the marital estate. For instance:

  • If one spouse had a gambling problem and lost a lot of money,
  • If one spouse gave away assets without the other spouse knowing,
  • If one spouse contributed more to increasing the marital estate.

Age and health of the parties:

The age and health of the parties to a divorce can have an impact on how property is divided. If one party is older or in poor health, that may prevent them from being able to acquire property in the future. Therefore, a judge might lean their way when awarding the marital home.

Needs of the children:

A court will consider the needs of your children when awarding a marital home. Judges want to keep children in their home if possible so as to avoid additional trauma. So whoever gets custody of the children will have an advantage in getting the house.

The divorce court can order a deferred sale of your home. This allows the children to stay in the home until they reach a certain age. Although possible, deferred sales are rare.

Outcomes

Basically there are four outcomes when dividing a marital home:

  • One spouse buys out the other,
  • The house is awarded to one spouse,
  • You and your spouse continue to own it jointly, or
  • You can sell the house and divide the proceeds.

For financial reasons, selling the house is the most common.

Whether or not one spouse can buyout the other’s interest in the marital home depends on each party’s financial situation. Anyone buying out the other must be able to come up with the funds to do so. That person typically has to get a mortgage in his or her own name, which is often difficult to do. Oftentimes, two parties together must pool their income to qualify for a mortgage.

If one party is awarded the house, there will likely be an offset. An offset means that since that spouse received the value of the equity in the home, the other spouse should receive more from other assets. That’s assuming there are enough assets to make that offset.

If You Sell the House

If you sell the house, several obligations must be paid. Such obligations include:

  • The mortgage,
  • Home equity loans,
  • Real estate broker fees,
  • Closing costs, and
  • Taxes

Any equity in your home will generally be split between you and your spouse. Because Massachusetts isn’t a community property state, the split doesn’t have to be 50/50. It must be equitable. 

What If You Have to Sell a House in Divorce With No Equity?

You may have to sell the house at a loss. That is to say, you owe more money than the house is worth. In that case, the debt needs to be split as well. Again, that could be an even split or one party may be ordered to take a larger portion. 

Conclusion

Dividing your house can be difficult both financially and emotionally. It’s hard to say goodbye to your home. It seems harsh to have to discuss this special place in terms of money, but, sadly, that’s the reality of it. As with all things having to do with your divorce, it’s best to get as much information as possible. 

Dividing Debts

Divorce is not just about dividing assets; it also involves untangling debts accumulated during the course of the marriage. Debt division can be a complex and often overlooked aspect of the divorce process. In Massachusetts, the division of debts is governed by specific laws and requires careful consideration. In this blog post, we will explore the division of debts in a Massachusetts divorce, shedding light on the key factors, common misconceptions, and best practices to ensure a fair and equitable resolution.

Understanding Debt Division
in Massachusetts

When it comes to dividing debts in a Massachusetts divorce, the general rule is that both marital assets and liabilities are subject to division. Marital debts include any debts incurred by either spouse during the marriage, regardless of whose name is on the account or loan. It is crucial to note that this includes not only traditional debts like credit card debt and loans but also less obvious ones such as medical bills or tax liabilities.

Factors Considered by the Court
When Dividing Debt

When determining how to divide debts in a Massachusetts divorce, the court takes into account various factors. These factors typically align with the principles of equitable distribution, ensuring a fair and just resolution for both parties. Some key considerations include:

  1. Length of the Marriage: The duration of the marriage plays a role in debt division. Longer marriages often involve more complex financial entanglements, requiring a closer examination of each party’s contributions and responsibilities.
  2. Conduct of the Parties: While Massachusetts is a no-fault divorce state, the court may consider the conduct of the parties in exceptional circumstances. For instance, if one spouse has incurred excessive debts due to reckless spending or gambling, it could impact the division of debts.

Differentiating Marital Debts
From Separate Debts

In Massachusetts, it is essential to differentiate between marital debts and separate debts. Marital debts are those incurred during the marriage and are subject to division, while separate debts belong solely to one spouse and are generally not divided in the divorce proceedings. Your judge can still divide debts even though they are separate debts.

Separate debts typically include debts incurred before the marriage, debts incurred after the date of separation, and debts that are specifically assigned to one spouse in a prenuptial or post-nuptial agreement. It’s important to provide accurate documentation and evidence to support claims of separate debts during the divorce process.

Impact of Debt Division on
Property Division

Debt division can have a significant impact on the overall property division in a Massachusetts divorce. The court considers both assets and debts when determining a fair division. For example, if one spouse assumes more debt, they may be entitled to a larger share of the marital assets to offset the imbalance. Conversely, if one spouse is burdened with a disproportionate amount of debt, they may receive a larger portion of the assets to alleviate the financial burden.

It is crucial to note that property rights and debt division are interconnected. A comprehensive understanding of the total value of the property and the associated debts is necessary to ensure an equitable distribution.

Options for Debt Division

In a Massachusetts divorce, there are several options for dividing debts. The divorcing couple can reach their own agreement through:

  • negotiation,
  • mediation, or
  • collaborative divorce.

These alternative dispute resolution methods allow for more control and flexibility in determining how debts will be divided.

If the couple cannot agree, the court will make the final decision regarding debt division. Massachusetts courts follow the principle of equitable distribution, which means that debts should be divided fairly, taking into consideration the specific circumstances of the case. Equitable does not necessarily mean equal, as the court will assess the factors mentioned earlier to determine an appropriate division of debts.

Impact of Debt Division on Credit

Divorce can have a significant impact on your credit. It is essential to address any joint debts and take steps to protect your credit score during and after the divorce process. Closing joint accounts or transferring debts into individual accounts can help separate your financial responsibilities. Additionally, monitoring your credit report and addressing any inaccuracies or discrepancies is crucial to safeguarding your financial well-being.

Student Loans and
Other Complex Debts

Student loans are a particular type of debt that often pose unique challenges in divorce cases. In Massachusetts, student loan debts incurred by one spouse before the marriage are typically considered separate debts. However, any portion of the student loan that was used to pay for household expenses or to benefit both spouses may be subject to division.

Other complex debts, such as:

  • business interests,
  • real estate investments, or
  • retirement accounts with outstanding loans,

require careful evaluation and consideration during the debt division process. Consulting with financial experts and debt division attorneys can provide invaluable guidance in these complex situations.

Moving Forward: A Clean Break

Once the debt division has been determined, it is crucial to document the agreements in a legally binding manner. This can be done through a separation agreement or a court order, depending on the circumstances. Having a clear and enforceable agreement ensures that both parties understand their financial responsibilities moving forward and helps prevent future disputes.

Alimony a.k.a. Spousal Support

What is the Meaning of Alimony?

Alimony is money a judge orders one spouse to pay the other when a couple divorces. The money is to help support the spouse who gets it. The goal of alimony is to provide spousal support in order that they continue the lifestyle to which they are accustomed to after the divorce.

How Does Alimony Work?

Alimony is paid by one spouse who has the ability to pay to the other spouse in need of support for a period of time. Only people who are divorcing or are divorced can ask for and receive alimony. If alimony is ordered, it can be in the form of:

  • a lump-sum payment,
  • a property transfer, or
  • periodic monthly payments.

Periodic alimony awards are the most common and require one spouse to pay a certain amount to the other each month.

Do I Have to Pay Alimony?

Alimony is not ordered in every divorce case. It’s awarded on a case-by-case basis. It depends on the financial circumstances of the parties. In deciding whether to award alimony, a judge will look to several factors such as:

  • the length of the marriage
  • the age and health of each spouse
  • each spouse’s income
  • each spouse’s employment and employability (including whether additional training is necessary for a spouse to become employed)
  • each spouse’s economic and non-economic contributions to the marriage
  • the couple’s lifestyle and standard of living when married, and
  • any economic opportunities either spouse lost as a result of the marriage.

In addition, the court may consider any other factors it deems relevant.

Types of Alimony

There are 4 different types of alimony that may be awarded:

  • General term alimony. The periodic payment of support to a an ex-spouse who is economically dependent. The length of time general term alimony is paid depends in part on the length of the marriage. This type of alimony ends when either spouse dies, or if the receiving spouse gets remarried
  • Rehabilitative alimony. Support paid regularly to an ex-spouse who’s expected to be able to support themselves by a predicted time. This type of alimony will allow the divorced spouse time to “rehabilitate” him or herself and become completely self-supporting.
  • Reimbursement alimony. Support paid regularly or one time after a marriage of no more than 5 years to make up for costs that the ex-spouse paid to help the paying spouse, such as such as enabling the spouse to complete an education or job training. This type of alimony is to pay one spouse back for the time, money, or effort he or she put into the other spouse’s financial resources
  • Transitional alimony. Support paid regularly or one time after a marriage of no more than 5 years to help the spouse receiving the alimony to settle into a new lifestyle or location as a result of the divorce. It’s awarded when the economically disadvantaged spouse needs assistance to adjust to the economic consequences of a divorce.

How Much is Alimony?

There is no set formula to determine alimony payments. However, the amount of alimony should generally not exceed the recipient’s need or 30% to 35% of the difference between the parties’ gross incomes.

How Long Do You Have to Be Married to Get Alimony?

In Massachusetts, the duration of a marriage is a significant factor considered when determining alimony, but there isn’t a strict minimum duration required to qualify for alimony. Instead, the length of the marriage often influences the type and duration of alimony awarded. Typically, shorter marriages might not result in long-term or permanent alimony awards. However, in cases where a marriage lasted for a few years but one spouse significantly relied on the other for financial support or sacrificed career opportunities for the marriage, the court might still consider temporary or rehabilitative alimony to help the dependent spouse get back on their feet.

How Long Does Alimony Last?

How long general term alimony lasts usually corresponds with how long the marriage lasted.

  • Marriages of 5 years or less — Alimony can’t be required for more than 50 percent of the time you were married. For example, if you were married for 60 months, you could be ordered to pay or receive alimony for up to 30 months.
  • Marriages of 10 years or less — Alimony can’t be required for more than 60 percent of the time you were married.
  • Marriages of 15 years or less — Alimony can’t be required for more than 70 percent of the time you were married.
  • Marriages of 20 years or less — Alimony can’t be required for more than 80 percent of the time you were married.
  • Marriages of more than 20 years — The court can award alimony for as long as the judge thinks is fair.

Besides the time limits already mentioned, alimony normally stops if:

  • Either spouse dies
  • The spouse receiving the alimony gets re-married or lives with a partner for at least 3 months, or
  • The spouse paying the alimony reaches “full retirement age” (unless the judge orders something different).

Can Alimony be Extended?

Judges can choose to continue alimony for a longer period of time if there’s a good reason. If alimony is supposed to end, but you feel you need to receive alimony for longer, you can file a Complaint for Modification. The court may give you an extension if you have:

  • A material change of circumstances after your alimony was decided, and
  • The reasons for the extension that are supported by clear and convincing evidence.

What Happens if You Can’t
Pay Your Alimony?

In order for you to change the amount of alimony you are paying, you must first show that there has been a “material change in circumstances”. There are many changes that can effect your ability to pay alimony such as:

  • Loss of a job,
  • Illness,
  • A decrease in pay.

Refusing to pay alimony is different than being unable to pay. Alimony is a court order that is enforceable unless it is modified. If you willfully refuse to pay, you can be held in contempt. That means you could be fined or jailed for a short period or until it is paid.

 

Conclusion

Alimony is money paid by one spouse to another in a divorce. There are different types of alimony, each with a different purpose. But the overall idea is to keep the receiving spouse in a lifestyle similar to when they were married. The length of time alimony is paid is largely based on the length of the marriage. The longer you were married, the longer alimony will be available. Generally, alimony ends after a certain length of time. If you want to change an alimony order, you must first show that there has been a substantial change in circumstances. If you refuse to pay alimony, you could end up in jail.

Child Custody

Going through a divorce is undeniably challenging, especially when children are involved. The well-being and happiness of the children should always be at the forefront of any child custody decision. In Massachusetts, like in most states, child custody matters are resolved based on the child’s best interests. Understanding the legal framework, the different types of custody, and the factors that influence custody decisions can help parents navigate this emotional journey with greater clarity and confidence.

Types of Custody in Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, child custody can be classified into two main types: 

  • physical custody and 
  • legal custody. 

Physical custody refers to where the child lives, while legal custody pertains to major decision-making authority regarding the child’s life. Under each type you can have sole custody or joint custody.

  1. Sole Physical Custody: When one parent has sole physical custody, it means the child primarily resides with that parent. The non-custodial parent usually has visitation rights and a set visitation schedule.
  2. Sole Legal Custody: Sole legal custody grants one parent the authority to make all major decisions in the child’s life, including matters of education, healthcare, and religious development. The non-custodial parent may still have visitation rights, but they do not have decision-making power.
  3. Shared Physical Custody: In this arrangement, the child spends time with both parents. It may be a 50-50 split or one parent will be the primary custodial parent.
  4. Joint Legal Custody: Joint legal custody is a common arrangement in Massachusetts, emphasizing shared decision-making responsibilities. It allows both parents to participate in important decisions concerning the child’s life. Joint legal custody can be granted even if the physical custody arrangement is different.

Factors Influencing Custody Decisions

The court’s main focus in custody decisions is, what is in the best interest of your children. In doing so, the court wants to do what’s best for your child’s: When making this decision, the judge will look to several factors including:

  • welfare,
  • emotional health, and
  • overall well-being.

When making this decision, the judge will look to several factors including:

Your ability to meet your child’s needs.

Are you a capable parent? You’ll want to show that you can take care of your kids if they’re with you. You need to demonstrate that you can care for your child’s physical, emotional and psychological needs.

Your willingness to support your child’s
relationship with your spouse.

The judge wants to see if each parent encourages your child to have a relationship with the other parent. Don’t speak negatively about your spouse to your kids. Encourage them to be in contact with their other parent. Make sure you’re not interfering with the other parent’s time with the child. Such behavior works against you and makes it less likely that you’ll get custody.

Your relationship with your children before divorce.

The judge wants to see that you participated in raising your child on a daily basis. Did you spend time with your kids, put them to bed, get them to school and so forth. If one parent has been the primary caregiver, that person is more likely to get custody.

History of abuse or neglect

Obviously, any such history is a red flag for the judge. If your spouse is guilty of this, we need to make sure to let the judge knows. If your spouse is accusing you of such behavior, we have to show that those allegations are untrue or perhaps you’ve taken action to rectify the situation such as getting counseling.

Continuity and stability

Judges don’t want to upset your children’s lives any more than is necessary. Divorce is stressful enough for your kids. The court doesn’t want to cause further trauma by making them move and disrupting their routine. Courts prefer to leave things as they are unless there is a good reason not to. Of course, there are situations where major changes have to be made. Such changes will be ordered if the judge thinks it’s in your child’s best interest.

Your child’s preference

Sometimes, a judge will want to hear from your child as to where they would like to live. These cases are the exception rather than the rule. The court is very cautious about asking this question. The reason is that they don’t want to put your child in that very difficult situation. In essence, it’s putting them in the position of choosing mom or dad. There is no specific age when your child can make this choice. It’s a matter of maturity. The older your child, the more likely a judge will be to listen to them. Judges are also on the lookout to see if your kids have been coached by either you or your spouse. If the judge does want to hear from them, it’s usually in the judge’s chambers rather than having your child testify from the witness stand.

Guardian ad Litem

Sometimes a court will ask a third party to do an investigation to get more information. That person is called a guardian ad litem, or GAL. It’s usually a lawyer or social worker. They will meet with you, your spouse and your children. They will also meet with other people who are in your child’s life such as teachers, doctors and family members. They will do home visits to your and your spouse’s homes to see if they are safe and appropriate places to live. The GAL will usually write a report for the judge to review. Although the judge is not required to accept what the GAL has presented, it usually carries a lot of weight.

Parenting Time/Visitation

Divorce is never easy, especially when children are involved. As parents, it’s essential to prioritize your child’s best interests throughout the process. In Massachusetts, parenting time, also known as visitation, plays a crucial role in determining the child custody arrangement. This blog post will guide you through the ins and outs of parenting time in a Massachusetts divorce, providing valuable insights and tips to help you navigate this challenging journey.

Understanding Parenting Time
and Court Orders

When parents decide to part ways, the court steps in to ensure the child’s best interests are protected. The court order outlines the custody arrangement and establishes parenting time for the noncustodial parent. These orders are based on what the court believes is best for the child, taking into account various factors such as: 

  1. The age and needs of the child
  2. The physical and emotional health of the parents
  3. The child’s relationship with each parent
  4. The ability of each parent to provide for the child’s basic needs, including food, clothing, and shelter
  5. The ability of each parent to make decisions regarding the child’s education, medical care, and religious upbringing
  6. The geographic location of each parent’s residence and the distance between them

Joint Custody:
Working Together for Your Child

Joint custody is often favored by Massachusetts family courts as it encourages both parents to be actively involved in their child’s life. In joint custody, both parents have shared decision-making responsibilities and parenting time. This arrangement recognizes the importance of maintaining a meaningful relationship with both parents and promotes the child’s overall well-being.

Temporary Orders:
Maintaining Stability During the Process

While the divorce proceedings are underway, the court may issue temporary orders to ensure the child’s immediate well-being and stability. These orders outline temporary custody arrangements and parenting time schedules until a final decision is reached. Temporary orders play a crucial role in ensuring both parents have access to the child and can be modified if circumstances change.

Common Issues in Parenting Time

There are several issues that commonly arise during the parenting time process. These include:

  1. Parental Alienation: Parental alienation occurs when one parent tries to turn the child against the other parent. This can include speaking negatively about the other parent or withholding information about them. Parental alienation can be harmful to the child and can affect their relationship with the other parent.
  2. Relocation: If one parent wants to move out of state or a significant distance away, it can affect parenting time. The court will consider the reason for the move and how it will affect the child’s relationship with the other parent.
  3. Holidays and Vacations: Holidays and vacations can be a source of conflict between parents. The court may establish a schedule for holiday and vacation parenting time to ensure that each parent has time with the child.
  4. Parenting Plans: A parenting plan is a written agreement between the parents that outlines the schedule for parenting time, decision-making responsibilities, and other issues related to the child’s well-being. If the parents cannot agree on a parenting plan, the court will create one for them.
  5. Modifications: Parenting time orders can be modified if there is a significant change in circumstances. For example, if one parent moves out of state, the parenting time order may need to be modified to reflect the new circumstances.

The Importance of Making Major Decisions Together

In joint legal custody, both parents are expected to make major decisions together, considering the child’s best interests. These decisions can include matters related to your child’s:  

  • education,
  • healthcare,
  • religious upbringing, and
  • extracurricular activities.

Effective communication and collaboration between parents are essential to reach agreements that prioritize the child’s well-being.

Sole Custody: When Joint Custody
Is Not Feasible

In some cases, joint custody may not be feasible due to specific circumstances or the inability of the parents to cooperate effectively. In such situations, one parent may be granted sole physical custody, which means the child primarily resides with that parent. However, it’s important to note that even with sole physical custody, the noncustodial parent typically retains visitation rights and is involved in making important decisions for the child.

Crafting a Child Custody Agreement

A child custody agreement is a legally binding document that outlines the parenting time arrangement, decision-making responsibilities, and other pertinent details. This agreement helps establish clear guidelines for both parents, ensuring consistency and minimizing conflicts. While you can create a custody agreement together, it’s advisable to consult with family law attorneys to ensure your rights and your child’s best interests are protected.

Navigating Parenting Time
Across State Lines

Sometimes, one parent may need to move to a different state after the divorce. If you have a court-ordered visitation schedule, it’s important to understand how the move will impact parenting time. The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) provides guidelines for determining the home state and jurisdiction in child custody cases, ensuring the child’s best interests are upheld even across state lines.

Seeking Legal Advice:
Your Child's Best Interests First

Navigating custody issues can be complex and emotionally challenging. It’s crucial to seek legal advice from experienced family law attorneys who specialize in child custody matters. We can provide guidance on the legal process, help you understand your rights and responsibilities, and advocate for your child’s best interests during negotiations or court proceedings.

Conclusion

As parents going through a divorce, it’s important to prioritize your child’s well-being and best interests above all else. Understanding the intricacies of parenting time in a Massachusetts divorce, including court orders, joint custody, visitation schedules, and decision-making responsibilities, is crucial for creating a stable and loving environment for your child. By working together and putting your child first, you can navigate this challenging journey with compassion, empathy, and the support of legal professionals.

Child Support

As parents, it’s crucial to prioritize the well-being of your children and ensure they receive the financial support they need. In Massachusetts, child support is determined by specific guidelines and factors, aimed at securing the child’s best interest. In this blog post, we will explore the ins and outs of child support in a Massachusetts divorce, from understanding the guidelines to addressing modifications and special circumstances. So, let’s dive in and unravel the complexities of child support law in the Bay State.

Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines Explained

Child support in Massachusetts is governed by the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines. These guidelines establish a formula to calculate child support payments based on the gross incomes of both parents. The primary objective is to provide children with a fair and appropriate amount of financial support, considering the parents’ financial circumstances. The guidelines ensure consistency and predictability in child support orders across the state.

To determine the amount of child support, the court considers several factors, such as the number of children, the gross income of both parents, health insurance costs, child care costs, and the number of parenting overnights. The guidelines take into account the child’s living arrangements, health care needs, and other necessary expenses.

Calculating Child Support
in Massachusetts

To calculate child support, both parents’ gross incomes are used as the starting point. Gross income includes: 

  • wages,
  • salaries,
  • bonuses,
  • commissions,
  • self-employment income,
  • rental income, and
  • various other sources of income.

However, it’s essential to note that certain deductions are allowed when calculating child support, such as: 

  • taxes,
  • union dues,
  • health insurance costs, and
  • pre-existing child support obligations.

Once the gross incomes are determined, they are combined to calculate the parents’ total gross income. The child support guidelines provide a table that outlines the appropriate amount of child support based on the total gross income and the number of children. The guidelines take into account the number of children because the financial needs of a single child differ from those of multiple children.

Modifications and Changes
in Circumstances

Child support orders are not set in stone and can be modified when there is a substantial change in circumstances. A substantial change may include:

  • a change in income levels,
  • a change in the number of overnights with the child, or
  • a change in the child’s needs.

To modify child support, the parent seeking the change must file a Complaint for Modification in the family court. It’s crucial to provide specific facts and evidence to support the request for modification. The court will evaluate the circumstances and determine whether a modification is warranted based on the best interests of the child.

Special Circumstances
and Considerations

Massachusetts courts understand that every child support case is unique, and there are situations that require special consideration. For example, if a child has special needs or requires additional financial support for education or medical expenses, the court may deviate from the guidelines to ensure the child’s best interests are met.

Additionally, Massachusetts law recognizes that children may require financial support beyond high school. In cases where the child enrolls in an undergraduate degree program, child support may continue until the child completes the degree or turns 23 years old, whichever comes first. However, it’s crucial to consult with a Massachusetts divorce attorney to understand the specific details of your situation.

Child Support and Child Custody

Child support and child custody are separate legal issues, and one does not depend on the other. Even if parents have an equal or shared parenting arrangement, one parent may still be required to pay child support based on the child support guidelines.

It’s important to note that child support payments are meant to ensure the child’s financial needs are met and are not contingent on the custodial parent’s spending habits or how the child support funds are utilized. The court’s primary focus is on the child’s best interest, regardless of the custody arrangement.

The Role of Family Court Judges

Family court judges play a crucial role in determining child support in Massachusetts. They carefully consider the evidence presented, including the financial information provided by both parents, and make decisions based on the best interests of the child.

While the child support guidelines provide a framework for calculating child support, judges have the discretion to deviate from the guidelines if they find it necessary and in the child’s best interest. It’s essential to present your case clearly and provide all relevant information to the judge to ensure a fair and just decision.

Understanding the New
Child Support Guidelines

It’s important to stay up to date with any changes in child support laws and guidelines. In 2017, Massachusetts introduced new child support guidelines that modified the calculation of child support in the state. The new guidelines aimed to address some of the concerns raised by previous guidelines and provide more clarity in determining child support obligations.

The new guidelines include changes in: 

  • the definition of income,
  • adjustments to health care coverage and insurance costs, and
  • modifications in the treatment of certain expenses.

It’s crucial to consult the latest version of the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines or seek legal advice to understand how the new guidelines may impact your child support case.

Conclusion

Child support is a critical aspect of any divorce involving children. Understanding the child support guidelines, calculations, modifications, and special circumstances is essential to ensure that your child receives the financial support they deserve. By familiarizing yourself with Massachusetts child support laws and seeking the advice of a qualified attorney, you can navigate the child support system with confidence and ensure the best interests of your child are protected.

Health Insurance

In Massachusetts, understanding the implications of divorce on your health insurance benefits is crucial to ensure the continued access to necessary medical care. This blog post will guide you through the intricacies of health insurance and divorce in Massachusetts, providing you with essential information to make informed decisions during this challenging time.

The Impact of Divorce on
Health Insurance Coverage

Going through a divorce often entails significant changes in your personal relationships, financial circumstances, and living arrangements. Among the various aspects to consider, health insurance coverage for both the divorcing parties and their dependents stands out as a crucial consideration. In Massachusetts, the dissolution of a marriage can affect health insurance coverage in several ways.

One of the primary concerns is the impact on the health insurance plan provided through the employer-sponsored group health plan. If you are the dependent spouse and covered under your former spouse’s employer-sponsored group health insurance, the divorce could lead to the loss of coverage. It is important to note that this loss of coverage is not automatic and depends on the terms of your divorce agreement and the applicable state laws.

Protecting Health Insurance Coverage During Divorce Proceedings

During divorce proceedings, it is essential to prioritize maintaining health insurance coverage for yourself and your dependents. This can be achieved through careful planning and understanding the legal options available.

Massachusetts law recognizes the importance of health insurance coverage during and after divorce. To ensure that divorcing parties are adequately protected, state laws provide several options to secure health insurance benefits.

One option is to seek a court order for the continuation of health coverage under the former spouse’s employer-sponsored group health plan. This court order can be included in the divorce decree, making it legally binding. However, it is crucial to consult a family law attorney for guidance on navigating the court system and advocating for your best interests.

Another option is to explore individual health insurance plans. Following divorce, individuals may opt to obtain their own insurance coverage. Massachusetts residents have access to a variety of health insurance plans through the state’s Health Connector, where they can compare different options and choose a plan that best suits their needs and budget.

The Role of Prenuptial
and Postnuptial Agreements

Prenuptial agreements, also known as premarital agreements, are legal documents signed before marriage that outline the financial rights and responsibilities of each spouse in the event of divorce. These agreements can address health insurance coverage and help protect the insured spouse’s benefits.

Similarly, postnuptial agreements are entered into after marriage and can serve as an effective tool to clarify the terms of health insurance coverage in the event of divorce. By specifying the continuation of health insurance benefits or addressing alternative arrangements, such agreements can provide clarity and prevent conflicts during divorce proceedings.

COBRA Coverage and
Transitioning to New Insurance

If you opt for COBRA coverage following divorce, it is important to understand its limitations and plan for a smooth transition to new health insurance coverage. COBRA coverage typically lasts for a limited period, often up to 36 months, depending on the circumstances. During this time, it is essential to explore and secure alternative health insurance coverage to avoid any lapses in healthcare coverage.

To transition to new coverage, familiarize yourself with open enrollment periods and other life events that trigger special enrollment opportunities. These enrollment periods allow individuals to join or make changes to health insurance plans outside of the regular open enrollment period. Ensuring a seamless transition to new coverage will help mitigate the risk of being without health insurance and protect your health and financial well-being.

The Impact on Child Support and Health Insurance

When minor children are involved in divorce proceedings, the issue of health insurance coverage takes on even greater significance. Massachusetts courts typically require the divorcing couple to address the health insurance needs of the children as part of child support arrangements.

The court may order the parent responsible for child support to provide health insurance coverage for the minor children. This requirement ensures that the children have access to necessary medical care and helps protect them from financial risk in case of unexpected medical expenses. Therefore, understanding the connection between child support and health insurance coverage is essential for both divorcing parents.

Self-Insured Plans and ERISA

While many individuals obtain health insurance coverage through employer-sponsored group plans, it is important to be aware that not all plans are subject to state insurance laws. Some employers offer self-insured plans, which are governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), a federal law.

Under ERISA, self-insured plans are exempt from state insurance laws and regulations. Therefore, it is crucial to understand the specifics of your health insurance plan and whether it falls under ERISA. This knowledge will help you navigate the complexities of health insurance and divorce, ensuring that you protect your coverage and financial security effectively.

Exploring Additional
Health Insurance Options

If you find yourself without health insurance coverage after divorce or need to explore alternatives, several options are available to ensure you maintain access to healthcare. One option is to seek coverage through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Marketplace. The ACA provides individuals with a platform to compare and purchase health insurance plans, often with subsidies based on income and family size.

Additionally, if you are eligible for Medicare Part A based on your age or disability, you can enroll in this program for health insurance coverage. It is essential to review your eligibility and consult with the appropriate authorities to determine the best health insurance option for your specific circumstances.

Conclusion

Divorce can be a challenging and emotionally draining experience, and health insurance coverage is one aspect that requires proper planning and consideration. Understanding the impact of divorce on health insurance benefits, exploring available options, and seeking professional guidance can help protect your health coverage and financial security during this life transition.