WE HELP FAMILIES RESOLVE CONFLICT PEACEFULLY


Thursday, April 30, 2009

Why doesn't my agreement say [fill in the blank]?

I recently updated by iTunes software and saw the following warning:

"You also agree that you will not use these products for any purposes prohibited by United States law, including, without limitation, the development, design manufacture or production of missiles, or nuclear, chemical or biological weapons." (iTunes EULA: Section 10, Paragraph 8)

Apparently, Apple is worried I am going to use my newest edition of iTunes to manufacture my own MIRV's. (There's an app for THAT?!) I suppose it's possible to figure out a way to launch a first strike from an iPhone (it can do practically everything else), but the likelihood of me trying, or even wanting to is, as we say, de minimus.

A good lawyer will go to great lengths to make sure that his client is protected, but sometimes, we fail to distinguish between "what might possibly happen" and "what will probably happen". A good attorney should not try to insulate you from every abstract contingency; rather, he or she should assist you in identifying risks, then recommend the things you can do to minimize those risks without the need for cumbersome arrangements or worse, confusing and unenforceable agreements. Keeping a legal solution simple and straightforward does not mean leaving you exposed to risk, loss or harm - it means making sure you are protected and still able to improvise, adapt and overcome what life throws at you after your case is complete.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Mandatory Discovery Expanded to Include Separate Support and Paternity Actions

Effective May 1, 2009, Supplemental Probate and Family Court Rule 410 will now require mandatory self-disclosure in Paternity and Separate Support cases similar to that already required in Divorce cases.

Under the old Rule 410, parties in divorce cases are required to, within 45 days after the date of service of the Summons, serve on the other party specific documents designed to disclose the basic financial information necessary to settle the case. This includes tax returns for the past three years, last four (4) paycheck stubs, bank account statements, health insurance documentation, retirement account statements and more.

Under the new Rule 410 effective May 1, 2009, parties in Divorce and Separate Support cases are required to, within 45 days after the date of service of the Summons, serve said documents (tax returns for the past three years, last four (4) paycheck stubs, bank account statements, health insurance documentation, retirement account statements, etc.). In addition, new Rule 410 requires parties in Paternity cases to produce tax returns for the past three years, last four (4) paycheck stubs, and health insurance documentation, within 45 days of service.

The old rule was enacted to save parties valuable time and energy filing discovery requests for documents that are likely necessary in every divorce case. Unfortunately, the failure of the old rule to include paternity and separate support cases meant that we still had to file the requests in those cases (sometimes just requesting all documents required under Rule 410).

The new rule expands this convenience and is a welcome change, which will hopefully save lawyer's time and client's money.

Lawyers particularly vulnerable to E-mail Scams

By now most of us have heard of the Nigerian/Check Cashing E-mail scams (hopefully). The basic outline of the scam is as follows:

You receive an email that offers to assist you in obtaining money that belongs to you, or offers to buy something from you for a price greater than you advertised it for (typically received when you put something for sale on Ebay or Craigslist or similar sites). The hook is that they are offering to pay YOU money. Once you receive the check and cash it, you just have to send them back a portion of it. The trick is that the check is a bad check, even though your bank may let you draw funds on it after three days. These out of state, or out of country bank checks take advantage of a banking loophole that most banks will allow you to draw on a check after three days, but the bank doesn't actually receive the funds on the check for up to ten (10) days. Once the check bounces, the bank will hold you responsible for the money (often just taking it out of your account).


THE TWIST FOR LAWYERS:

A Houston lawyer learned the hard way that lawyers are not immune to these scams. The scam works essentially the same way, but instead of offering unknown riches or an unexpectedly high price, the scammer offers the lawyer something much less unusual, a case. Of course, if the case sounds too good to be true it probably is, but as lawyers and business people we feel obligated to respond to every client inquiry.

I was inspired to write this because not long after our firm posted a website, we received a seemingly typical inquiry regarding a collections case. The redacted inquiry follows:

"Attention Counsel:

I have previously sent you an email; please confirm the receipt of this mail due to the urgency of this matter. If you are not in position to represent us at the moment kindly advice immediately. After a careful review, we decided to contact you to represent our company in North America. ---------------- Ltd is a manufacturing company in Asia.

We would require your legal representation for our North American delinquent Customers. We are of the opinion that a reputable attorney is required to represent us in North America in order for us to recover monies due to our organization by overseas customers, and as well follow up with these accounts. In order to achieve these objectives a good and reputable law firm like yours will be required to handle this service.

We understand that a proper Attorney Client agreement must be entered into by both parties.
This will be done immediately we receive your letter of acceptance.

Awaiting Response.
Yours Faithfully,
--------------------"

I immediately become suspicious due to how vague the message was, and the fact that they had not previously sent me an email that I was aware of. When I Googled the company, however, they had a real website that looked legitimate on first glance. What seemed odd when I spent some time on their website was that I could not find a phone number to call.


WHY LAWYERS SHOULD BE EXTRA CAREFUL (CLIENT FUNDS)

As lawyers we have to be extra extra careful with the retainer's paid to us by our clients. We are required to keep them in a specifically designated Client Funds account (in Massachusetts called an IOLTA account) and any co-mingling of these funds with non-client funds can mean serious trouble with the Bar.

If a lawyer deposits a scammer's bad check in their Client Funds Account and then pays out on that check, that lawyer is essentially using other clients' money to pay the scammer, a BIG MISTAKE.


HOW DO YOU PROTECT YOURSELF

First and most importantly, never pay out on a check until after ten (10) days has passed, especially if you don't know the bank and/or it is not a local bank (if it is a major or local bank then you can call them directly, and at least confirm that the check is good, never call a number on the check because it could be a fake).

This can be difficult for a lawyer who has a "client" asking them to pay funds out, especially if, for example, the "client" was asking for a return of their retainer check because they wanted to hire another attorney. You can prevent having to deal with this type of misunderstanding by warning a client when they give you a check of the delay, and by notifying them of the ten (10) day waiting period in your Retainer Agreement.

Second, you can try to avoid scams by being diligent about screening clients. Don't let a client hire you by e-mail, talk to them on the phone and meet them in person. Even if it requires traveling to another country, if it's a potentially significant client shouldn't you meet them in person anyway, and if they have a business, visit their operation? Often just sending an adequately inquisitive reply email asking for more information can sniff out a scam. Here's a sample of our reply to the above inquiry:

"Mr. --------

First off, I would like to note that I have not previously received an email
from you. Regardless I am happy to respond to your recent email, copied below.

I am licensed as an attorney in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts only and am therefore only able to practice in Massachusetts. If you have any collection suits from customers in Massachusetts then I would be able to handle those matters for you. Please provide me with a phone number or call our office at (508) 655-5980 to discuss these matters directly.

I would also like to note that your company, -------------------------- Ltd, is not registered with the Secretary of State of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Please be aware that if you perform any business activities with customers in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts then you should immediately register as a foreign corporation with the secretary of state. The forms and information relating to said registration are available on the Secretary of State's website at http://www.sec.state.ma.us/COR/coridx.htm .

Please notify us once you have completed this registration or if you have any questions regarding same.

In addition, as I stated above, I would only be able to work with your company if you had business dealings with customers in Massachusetts. Can you please provide me with more information about your potential collection suit(s) so that I can appropriately evaluate whether we are able to take the case on a contingency or hourly rate basis.

In addition, please provide us with the names and addresses of any business or individual customers that you are seeking to initiate action against. This information will be kept confidential but is necessary for us to ensure that we do not have any conflicts (i.e. we may have represented one of your customers in the past and would therefore be precluded from suing them).

Thank you for your attention to these matters and if you should have any questions or concerns. Looking forward to potentially working with you, I remain,

Very truly yours,

Justin L. Kelsey, Esq."

Of course, the reply I received made it clear this was a scam, because for starters they didn't answer any of my questions. For more information about electronic scams or to report a scam check out the FBI's Cyber Investigations website.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Q of the Week: What is the Stevenson-Kelsey Spousal Support Calculator?

UPDATE: There is pending legislation for major changes to the alimony statute in Massachusetts. The Alimony Reform Act of 2011 was filed on January 18, 2011 and you can learn more about the Act at MassAlimonyFormula.com or in our recent blog post highlighting the differences between the bill and the current law.

Alimony, also called spousal support, is paid by the wage-earning spouse (the spouse who has traditionally earned the majority of the income during the marriage) to the non-wage-earning spouse to allow the non-wage-earning spouse to continue to live in the lifestyle to which he or she has become accustomed during the marriage assuming their is enough income to do so.


There is not currently any formula enacted or endorsed by the Massachusetts Legislature or the Courts for the calculation of alimony. The amount of alimony is dependent on the consideration of all of the factors described in M.G.L. c. 208 Section 34. You should consult an attorney to discuss how the facts in your case fit the factors of Section 34.


Some states use formulas to calculate presumptive alimony. And notwithstanding Section 34, some Judges in Massachusetts have suggested doing the same in Massachusetts. A Joint Task Force of the Massachusetts Bar Association and the Boston Bar Association has prepared a draft report which also suggests a formula to calculate the maximum alimony award possible.


Although the Court has no obligation to follow these formulas they can be a valuable resource in helping parties understand a reasonable potential range of spousal support orders. Attorney Justin L. Kelsey of Kelsey & Trask, P.C. in Natick, Massachusetts, in a joint project with Attorney Scott R. Stevenson, Esq. of Hingham, Massachusetts, has created the Stevenson-Kelsey Spousal Support Calculator which includes all of these formulas and can be accessed by clicking here.


The sources for each formula are referenced in the accompanying article which can be accessed by clicking here.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Kelsey & Trask has gone MOBILE

Check out the Kelsey & Trask MOBILE web site at http://mobile.kelseytrask.com. You can see the link on our main page in the upper left-hand corner:


Our NEW on-the-go site is just the basics for when you need our address or phone number or want to use one of our handy calculators on a minute's notice, such as from the Courthouse when you don't have access to your computer.

Need help filling out the Child Support Guidelines Worksheet at the courthouse, or just want to get a figure quickly? Check out the mobile K&T Child Support Guidelines Calculator.

The mobile Stevenson-Kelsey Spousal Support Calculator and Chapter 7 Means Test Calculator are available as well for quick reference on your cellphone or PDA.

And if you have an IPhone and want access to the Kelsey & Trask Calculators NOW - THERE'S AN APP FOR THAT, a web-app. Just type in mobile.kelseytrask.com into safari, your IPhone's web-browser; click the "+" sign and click "Add to Home Screen", edit the title you want and note that we have provided a slick new icon just for you IPhone users.

If you're anything like me, and enjoy your social networking, then your homepage might look like this:


Oh and if there are any Blackberry users out there, let us know how it looks on your browsers.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Q OF THE WEEK: How do I calculate child support?

Child Support is the amount of money paid by the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent for the support of the children. Child Support is calculated using a formula called the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines. The formula is presumptive, and Judges can only vary from the formula in specific circumstances. You should consult an attorney to discuss what facts in your case might warrant a variation from the formula.

To view the formula and calculate your Child Support click here.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

New, Improved and on-line: kelseytrask.com

After a nearly month of planning, programing, coding, compiling, and complaining (not to mention more than a few late nights), the new and improved website for Kelsey & Trask, P.C. is up and running. Our attorneys, Justin L. Kelsey and Matthew P. Trask, are proud of our new website and feel it represents the true face and personality of our firm.

We have purposefully posted a large amount of content at http://www.kelseytrask.com. We want our website to be a resource for you, not just a signpost or an advertisement for our firm. We encourage you to take a look around and learn more about us, the law, how we practice, and the ways we can help you or your business in these less-than-certain times.

All of the content in our page regarding divorce, paternity, child support, bankruptcy and civil practice are presented in a simple, intuitive question-and-answer format. We have resources for both attorneys and the public, including calculators for the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines, the Stevenson-Kelsey Spousal Support Calculator (as seen in TurboLaw), and a Means Test Calculator for bankruptcy cases filed in the United States Bankruptcy Court, District of Massachusetts.

Finally, we hope that our site shows that despite the problems some of us might be facing, there is help out there...don't go alone.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: Bankruptcy or Divorce, which should come first?

If I am facing both divorce and bankruptcy, should I file for bankruptcy before, during, or after filing for divorce?
Answer: When a bankruptcy is filed, all lawsuits against the debtor are immediately stayed. If a bankruptcy is filed during a divorce case, the automatic stay applies to the divorce case as well. The divorce Judge may proceed on issues of child support, alimony and custody of children, but may not make any decisions relating to the division of assets and debts without the permission of the bankruptcy court, and any decisions made by the divorce Judge are reviewable by the bankruptcy Judge.
Finishing the divorce action before beginning the bankruptcy filing allows the divorce action to proceed to its natural conclusion without interruption by the bankruptcy court. It is still possible, though, for the Bankruptcy Court to undo the Agreement or Judgment of the Divorce Court if it appears the parties were attempting to defraud creditors (for instance if all of the assets were transferred to the non-debtor spouse rather split equitably). Despite this risk, it is unlikely if the division is equitable that there would be any issue, and both cases would like proceed more smoothly one after the other, rather than simultaneously.
Likewise, there are certain circumstances where it might make more sense to file for bankrutpcy prior to filing the divorce. For instance in a case where both spouses had significant debt, they can file as joint debtors so long as they are still married.
Even if only one of the parties intended to file, there is a recent case which suggests that some of the protections for the debtor extend to the non-debtor spouse (protections that might not apply if the parties are already divorced). For an excellent explanation of this case visit the Bankruptcy Law Network post titled: Actions Taken Against Non-Debtor Spouse Violate Discharge Injunction.
You should consult with an attorney that is familiar with both bankruptcy and divorce law to determine the best course of action in your specific case. The facts of your case, such as the terms of the proposed property settlement or transfers of property under the agreement may be hurtful to your bankruptcy case if you plan on filing for bankruptcy shortly after the conclusion of your divorce matter. Having an attorney that can explain the bankruptcy consequences of your decisions during your divorce will be critical in helping you get your fresh start.

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: Why do divorces get so contentious?

One Lawyer's Opinion: Last week, I was having a casual conversation about settlement of divorce cases, and commented: “each side chooses their weapons. The husband will use custody to push the wife’s buttons; the wife will use financial issues to push his. Wind blows, fire burns. It’s just the way it is.”
I don’t think there are any lawyers or clients out there that openly admit to following this playbook. Kids are people, after all, not the wedding china, the plasma TV, a 401K or the myriad of other things that family law attorneys use to equitably divide assets during a divorce. Still, my recognition and arguable acquiescence to “the way it is” proved problematic to my preferred practice model.
Where does this assumption come from, then?
While I don’t use this strategy to leverage a settlement, it is still prevalent in practice, so much so that I subconsciously admitted that that was inherent to divorce and family law practice. The answer, it seems, would be more complex. Certain biases are ingrained in all of us and show when the emotions of divorce, litigation, and the ultimate fear of loss causes us to shed our talents for rational analysis and appeal to our more basal "fight or flight" responses. In effect, we "go for the jugular", and hit the other side where it will hurt the most.
I’m not saying the traditional wage-earning parent cares less for the children, or vice versa. Rather, the "money-versus-custody" mindset plays on the biases regarding the traditional wage earner vs. caregiver roles. Divorce forces the parties out of their individual role in the family and forces each side to accept new responsibilities; to a certain degree, each parent is now a caretaker and a wage-earner.
At its lowest common denominator, these claims are usually not a fight over money or children, but a fight over identity and what makes each of us who we are. The emotional threat (or fear) of taking away purpose or identity is the biggest stick any of us can wield, and not surprisingly, it can make any process far more contentious than necessary. We (both attorneys and clients) should be aware of it, prepare for it, and most importantly, provide clients with the peace of mind to know that although the climb might be difficult, the views from the summit are pretty good.

Friday, April 3, 2009

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: What happens if my spouse files for BANKRUPTCY in the middle of our DIVORCE?

When a bankruptcy is filed, all lawsuits against the debtor (the person filing the bankruptcy) are required to immediately stop. This is called the "automatic stay." If your spouse files for bankruptcy during your divorce case the automatic stay applies to the divorce case as well.

The divorce Judge may proceed on issues of child support, alimony and custody of children, but may not make any decisions relating to the division of assets and debts without the permission of the bankruptcy court, and any decisions made by the divorce Judge are reviewable by the bankruptcy Judge.

You should consult with an attorney that is familiar with both bankruptcy and divorce law and is admitted to practice in federal court because it may be neceesary to file Motions in the bankruptcy court to ensure that your rights to marital property are protected.
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