WE HELP FAMILIES RESOLVE CONFLICT PEACEFULLY


Thursday, December 29, 2011

I Just Got Divorced, How Do I Change My Name?

While there is a separate Petition for Change of Name in the Probate and Family Court, you can also change your name pursuant to a divorce judgment if your name change happens to be due to a divorce. There is a $150 filing fee plus a $15 surcharge for filing of a Petition for Change of Name. Technically there is only a $100 fee for changing your name pursuant to a Divorce Action, but this fee is seldom enforced.

If you are not sure if you want to resume a former name during a divorce you may still change your name later by filing a Petition for Change of Name with the court, starting a new court case specifically for that purpose.

Whether you change your name pursuant to a divorce case or pursuant to a Petition for Change of Name, there are some important logistics that you should be aware to record the name change with various agencies and organizations.

The court will not contact the Social Security Administration on its own. You will need to obtain a certified copy of your divorce decree (discussed further below), fill out and submit Form SS-5, and mail them both to your nearest social security office. The Internal Revenue Service will be notified automatically by the Social Security Administration concerning your name change.

You will need to go to the Registry of Motor Vehicles in person to have your license and registration changed.

To obtain a new passport, you will have to fill out a different form depending on the status of your current passport:
• If your passport is valid, you have had it for more than one year, and you were over age 16 when it was issued to you, fill out Form DS-82 and follow the directions for submittal. You will need a certified copy of your divorce decree for this form.
• If your passport is valid, you have had it for less than one year, fill out Form DS-5504 and follow the directions for submittal. You will need a certified copy of your divorce decree for this form.
• If you do not have a valid passport, you will need to fill out Form DS-11. You will need a certified copy of your divorce decree for this form. Additionally, you will need to submit this documentation at an Acceptance Facility or a Passport Agency, and not by mail.

To change your name on the voter registration rolls, you can go to the town hall, or some websites such as www.RockTheVote.com allow for name change submission.  You may also be able to do this at the RMV when you update your license.

You might also want to change your name at the Post Office. You can do this in person, or online.

Finally, regarding actually obtaining a divorce decree, the court does not automatically send you a copy of your official absolute divorce decree (the final decree that becomes available 90 days after the issuance of the Judgment of Divorce Nisi). You can obtain a copy by mail or in person at the court. The fee for a certified copy of the divorce decree is $20, plus $1 for each page except for the first. You can call the court and ask how many pages it will be, and mail in the appropriate payment.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Modification under the Alimony Reform Act of 2011: Updated Flowchart.

UPDATE: The SJC reached a decision on 1/30/2015 on three cases that interpreted the modification provisions of the Alimony Reform Act.  The SJC disagreed with our interpretation below and decided that the provisions on retirement age and cohabitation can not be read retroactively.  To read more on these decisions check out our post here: Lifetime Alimony is Back (for some)! - Chin v. Merriot.  To see an updated flow-chart on modification visit this post: Can I Modify my Alimony? Updated Flowchart.

Original Post:

The following flow-chart depicts the decision tree for determining whether you qualify for a modification of a Massachusetts alimony order under The Alimony Reform Act of 2011. You always have the ability to reach an agreement for modification, but in the event that you and your ex-spouse disagree about whether a modification order should be changed, this chart can help you figure out whether a court will change your order.

The new law becomes effective March 1, 2012 but to prevent a rush to the courthouse steps, the Act provides for delayed implementation of some of the provisions.  The dates are as follows:

March 1, 2012 - the Act takes affect for current cases; previously adjudicated cases can be modified if the recipient spouse is cohabitating as defined in the statute;

March 1, 2013 - Modifications allowed for marriages of less than 5 years or if the payor will reach Social Security Retirement Age by March 1, 2015;

March 1, 2014 - Modifications allowed for marriages of less than 10 years;

March 1, 2015 - Modifications allowed for marriages of less than 15 years;

September 1, 2015 - Modifications allowed for marriages of less than 20 years.



You may reprint or distribute this Infographic on your website so long as the copyright and contact information for Kelsey & Trask, P.C. remains attached to the bottom of the image.

Click here for more information about Modifications in Massachusetts.

Friday, December 23, 2011

It's Our First Holiday Season After the Divorce: How Do We Make It Easier on the Kids?

The holiday season is usually thought of as being a time to exchange gifts with loved ones, and gathering with friends and family. For families transitioning through a divorce or separation, the holidays can mark a melancholy season. What once was a time to spend with family has now taken on a new form.  For divorcing or separated couples with children, the holidays are now a time where the children are being shuttled to and from different parents' homes instead of spending the whole time with both parents together.

While we are not therapists, we recognize the stress that is unique to divorcing couples with children. Family therapist Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW, wrote on Family Education's blog about how parents can approach the first separate holiday season with their children. Below is his advice and highlights:


  • Show them you understand their feelings and worries: "I know you're going to feel sad sometimes this Christmas and maybe a little angry and worried too. It's going to feel different not being together like we have been. Things will be different this year."
  • Offer them encouraging words: "You know, we all know how to have a good time together at Christmas. Your dad and I are going to think about all those good times, and we'd like you both to think back to them too. Even though it won't be the same, I know we can all enjoy each other at Christmas time and that your dad and I can each do some fun things with you over vacation. It's not going to be the same but we're going to make it good."
  • Be cordial with your ex over the holidays. Your behavior during this traditional family time can provide your kids with some hope that you two can and will be cordial with each other in the future.
  • Talk with your ex about gifts so your children won't be overindulged or let down.
  • Your kids are old enough to ask directly how they want to celebrate the holidays, given your changed family structure. Asking them what they want to do can lead to a natural discussion of what they're thinking and feeling.
  • Create some new holiday traditions that your kids can look forward to doing with you. Encourage your ex to create his own different traditions as well.
  • Keep all extended family, grandparents, etc. involved during the holidays (even if it can only be through email, cards, phone calls). They are still an integral part of your children's lives and provide them with continuity and security in the face of your changed family structure.
  • If you have done so before, continue to help your children select a present for your ex.
  • Don't communicate negative feelings about your ex through your words or behavior. Your kids will be taking their cues from the both of you.



Read more on FamilyEducation: http://life.familyeducation.com/divorce/holidays-and-seasonal-events/40637.html#ixzz1hCQOS0h0

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Should I Sign My Divorce Agreement?

Many individuals come to our office having gone through mediation with their soon-to-be-ex-spouse, asking us to review the separation agreement that they have negotiated. Whether we ultimately advise a client to sign a proposed agreement or not depends on the contents of the document and the individual's particular set of circumstances,

1. Has the marriage been irretrievably broken down with NO CHANCE OF RECONCILIATION?
2. Does the Agreement completely resolve all issues relevant to the marriage in a fair and reasonable manner?
3. Is this an agreement that you can live with?

In the end, it is not our life but yours, and the divorce agreement will govern some important aspects of your life in the future, especially when there are children involved. Being able to "live with a divorce agreement" means not only being happy or satisfied with it, but also being able to perform any of the agreement's obligations. If the agreement is not something that you can live with, and/or live up to, you might find yourself back in court in the near future.

When we draft agreements to propose for settlement, and when we review proposed agreements brought to our office, we believe it is necessary to gauge both the fairness of the agreement and the likelihood of our client falling into contempt.  Ultimately, whether the agreement is fair and reasonable is up to you, but if we don't think you can afford the commitments you are making we will not give the proposal our endorsement.

While there are certainly legal implications to the various parts of a divorce agreement, if you are satisfied that you understand and can meet the commitments you are making, then you must still ask yourself if the agreement is something that you can live with. The goal of a divorce agreement should be transitioning to the next stage in your life, and avoiding a return trip to court.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Financial Statement and the Importance of Honesty

As part of any family law case in Massachusetts (including divorce, paternity, child support, modifications, etc.), Massachusetts Supplemental Probate Court Rule 401 requires that each party file a complete, true, and accurate financial statement. For individuals earning less than $75,000 per year, their financial statement is the "short form." Individuals earning more than $75,000 are required to fill out the "long form."

A surprising number of individuals don't take the financial statement seriously, only to be surprised when their financial statement is scrutinized by the opposing party or the judge. When we receive a financial statement prior to a court hearing, we compare the income versus the expenditures, as well as to any previous financial statements. In addition, we review whether the opposing party has listed items such as interests in trusts and businesses, digital assets, patents, valuable collections, and whether the reported income is consistent with previous tax returns and loan applications.

When you sign a financial statement, you are signing under oath that it is complete, true, and accurate. When the opposing party shows the judge that your financial statement is misleading, your credibility comes into question. As countless grade school teachers have lectured, honesty is the best policy.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Is there NO CHANCE OF RECONCILIATION?

California Attorney Mark B. Baer started another great discussion on a LinkedIn group I belong to entitled:

ARE THERE OTHER FAMILY LAW ATTORNEYS WHO TRY AND HELP THEIR CLIENTS TO IMPROVE THEIR MARRIAGES BEFORE DISSOLVING THEM?

The answer is yes, and here were my comments in response to this discussion:
In Massachusetts the standard for a no-fault divorce is irretrievable breakdown and the party (or parties) requesting the divorce must testify under oath that their marriage has irretrievably broken down with no chance of reconciliation. Whenever I provide an initial consultation, I ask that question very seriously and slowly, emphasizing the "no chance of reconciliation." In many cases it is clear that the potential client hadn't considered their desire for a divorce from that standpoint, and in many cases they have difficulty stating that there is no chance of reconciliation. 

Because of the hesitation that so many potential clients show, I always inform them that I am not in the business of ending marriages, but rather in the business of helping dissolve the business partnership of a marriage when spouses have already come to the decision that their marriage is over. I am also not trained as a therapist, and so I recommend that if they are not sure about their decision, that they consult with a therapist either individually or as a couple before deciding whether to move forward with a divorce. 


Any attorney that doesn't ask that question, in my opinion, doesn't understand that the role of a family law attorney is different than in other areas of the law. We have to be sensitive to the fact that the decisions and positions we help advocate for have impacts far beyond the courtroom, both on the emotional well-being of our clients, and especially on their children. 

- Justin L. Kelsey, Esq.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Visit the Office of the Future in the World of Tomorrow!


Thanks to FirmFuture presenter Gabriel Cheong for inspiring us to make better use of our iPad in the office.


Now when you schedule an initial consultation we can use our iPad, displayed on the flat screen TV (pictured above), to show you:


And if you want any of the information printed out so you can take it home, our new laser HP printer can print directly from the iPad right in our conference room, using WiFi magic.

These are just some of the ways that we are trying to design our new office, at 160 Speen St, Suite 202, Framingham, MA, to be as friendly, convenient and useful to current or potential clients.  If you are interested in checking it out, give us a call at 508.655.5980 or set up an appointment online here.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Is my iTunes Account a Marital Asset?

In Massachusetts, everything that either party to a divorce action owns or owes, regardless of whether it was acquired during the marriage or not, is subject to division in a divorce case. How it might be divided is a different question, but in order for that evaluation to happen, all assets and liabilities must first be disclosed. Massachusetts requires individuals involved in divorce cases to submit financial statements disclosing all of their assets and liabilities within 45 days of opening a divorce case.

The assets to be listed on a financial statement are to include everything. This includes the most commonly thought of assets, such as physical assets (artwork, automobiles, jewelry, houses, etc.) and financial accounts (bank, investment, stock, retirement, etc.). This disclosure should also include items which you might not think about as assets.

One example of an asset that many people don't typically think about is their frequent flyer miles, which was parodied in the beginning of the movie Wedding Crashers (warning: link includes profanity).

In the digital age there are other digital assets (such as a significant iTunes library) which you may also not think of as a typical asset, but which should be disclosed. These are becoming more common as digital libraries can now include, games, movies and even books. A recent article on TechCrunch, What If You Could Legally Resell Your Digital Music? ReDigi May Have Found The Solution., suggests that companies may start brokering digital accounts, which could result in them being even easier to transfer, and therefore more similar to a traditional (non-digital) asset. Essentially your iTunes account of 200 CDs would be similar to actually owning 200 CDs. Of course, there may be restrictions on transferring these assets and any agreement should be mindful of recent legal decisions concerning the distribution of digital copyrighted materials.

While, a digital asset is subject to division in the resolution of a divorce case, they will not always have significant value and may be a non-issue. Failing to disclose an asset, however, could be a significant issue and open you to criticism and possible fraud or perjury allegations. Therefore, when completing your Financial Statement we always advise, err on the side of disclosure even if you have to include explanatory footnotes regarding value or restrictions on transfer.

To read more visit our post: The Financial Statement and the Importance of Honesty.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Does the Staggered Duration Formula for Alimony Mean that Lawyers Will Encourage Potential Clients to File for Divorce?

Hopefully not! However, it does make anniversaries more important than they already are.

Under the Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act of 2011, which becomes officially effective on March 1, 2012, general term alimony will now have a time limit, determined by the length of the marriage.



  • For marriages lasting 5 years or less, general term alimony will last no longer than one-half of the number of months of the marriage.
  • For marriages lasting more than 5 years but less than 10 years, general term alimony will last no longer than 60% of the number of months of the marriage.
  • For marriages lasting more than 10 years but less than 15 years, general term alimony will last no longer than 70% of the number of months of the marriage.
  • For marriages lasting more than 15 years but less than 20 years, general term alimony will last no longer than 80% of the number of months of the marriage.
  • For marriages lasting more than 20 years, the court may order that general term alimony will last indefinitely.


There are circumstances that would justify a deviation from this staggered scheme, such as the recipient spouse co-habitating with a significant other, and the death of either spouse, and I would encourage you to speak to an attorney if you have questions about the Alimony Reform Act of 2011.

The staggered scheme creates a jump in the duration of an alimony order for each five years of marriage. This creates a dilemma for individuals who are approaching a five, ten, fifteen, or twenty year anniversary and are struggling with whether to seek a divorce. Waiting until after one of these pivotal anniversaries, should their situation be one where alimony is later awarded, would result in paying alimony for a longer period of time.

This puts attorneys in an uncomfortable position. Any respectable family law attorney would never advise or encourage an individual that is struggling with the decision of whether to remain in a marriage and commit to repairing any existing damage to get a divorce. For individuals that come into our conference room for an initial consultation, walking through our door is often one of the most difficult decisions that they have made. It is not the attorney's job to make that decision any more difficult.

The dilemma lies with individuals who are seeking legal advice but have not yet made a final decision as to whether they will file for divorce. Part of our job as attorneys is to inform our clients, and potential clients, what the law is. With the staggered scheme for calculating the duration of alimony, this means that remaining married past a five, ten, fifteen, or twenty year anniversary could result in a longer alimony order.  It is up to the individual whether this is a tipping point for filing, or just a consequence of not yet being sure whether their marriage is over.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Does Reducing and Limiting Alimony Force Primary Caretakers into the Workforce?

When a child is born out of wedlock, either parent may initiate a court proceeding to establish certain rights and obligations that come with raising a child. Such rights include visitation, the ability to make significant life decisions for the child, and child support. The purpose of child support is to provide a measure of financial security for a child from a parent that might not be living with the child full-time.

When a child is born into a marriage that later dissolves, child support may be ordered, and usually is. The purpose of child support for children born into a marriage, or out of wedlock, is identical: to provide for the financial costs of raising a child.

However, when marriages dissolve, the finances of the couple might be such that a court will order alimony as well. The purpose of alimony is to provide for the financial well-being of a former spouse. The issue of alimony always has been, and will likely always be, controversial. The rationale behind it is that in a marriage, both people contribute in (ideally) complementary ways. When one spouse devotes time to furthering his or her career, it is (ideally) with the contribution of support from the other spouse. For example, if one spouse is picking up extra hours at work to get a promotion, he or she is doing so while his or her spouse is taking care of the home, or the kids. Often times, one spouse is not as able to further his or her career while their partner does. When the marriage dissolves, courts want the spouse who was not as able to further his or her career to smoothly transition into a financially independent unit, and the tool through which this is accomplished is alimony.

In Massachusetts, alimony is still officially a matter of great discretion for judges. The Alimony Reform Act of 2011 does not become effective until March 1, 2012, although many judges are issuing orders consistent with its new limits. The Act, for the first time in Massachusetts, creates a formula for calculating alimony, much like the existing child support guidelines in Massachusetts. One of the more important provisions of the Alimony Reform Act is that no income included in the calculation of child support will be then included in a calculation of alimony. The child support guidelines in Massachusetts are limited to a combined income of $250,000. Thus, unless the combined income in a marriage where there are minor children is more than $250,000, absent circumstances that would convince a judge to vary from the formulas, there will be only child support and no alimony order (provided that the lesser earning spouse is the primary caretaker of the minor child or children -- judges still have a good deal of discretion, and I would encourage you to speak to an attorney if you have any questions or concerns about your specific case).

This muddies the waters a bit from the varying justifications for child support (provide for the child) and alimony (provide for the former spouse). One justification for this is attrition. For couples earning less than $250,000 combined, there is usually not enough income to justify both child support and alimony. What the court will label as "child support" (and the IRS and Department of Revenue will treat as "child support") does assist the primary caretaker into transitioning into a financially independent unit.

However, it is not enough to provide for the economic quality of life enjoyed during the marriage. When a couple divorces, the expenses once shared (one home, one electricity bill, etc.) are now separated. Now there are two homes to pay for, and two electricity bills. Even if the combined income stays the same, the combined expenses will increase. For many individuals, receiving child support will not be enough. They will need to transition back into the workforce, or focus more time on increasing their income to meet their expenses. The "child support" will provide a measure of financial security to the recipient spouse as he or she transitions to devoting more energy towards furthering his or her career. This, unfortunately, comes at the cost (usually) of spending time at home with the children.

You have been appointed as Guardian, do you need to be appointed as Conservator, too?

When an individual is determined to be incapable of making independent decisions necessary for proper management of his or her life, a guardianship is often necessary. The form, or limits, to the scope of the guardianship (meaning what management authority is being transferred from the "incapacitated" individual to the guardian) depends on the circumstances of the individual. A guardianship may be permanent, temporary, or limited to particular decision-making authority.

A guardianship does not provide for the authority to manage the incapacitated individual's assets, unless the incapacitated person's only assets stem from monthly income. In order to manage existing assets of an incapacitated individual, a conservatorship is necessary.

Under a conservatorship, the incapacitated individual may actually lose the legal ability to manage their bank accounts, enter into contracts, or accrue debt, so that the conservator is responsible for these responsibilities. A conservatorship may be limited to certain financial decisions, such as the authority to pay for medical expenses.

If you would like more information on guardianships or conservatorships, or you would like to schedule a one-hour consultation, contact the attorneys at Kelsey & Trask, P.C. by email or by calling 508 655-5980.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Is Alimony Always Tax Deductible?

Generally, alimony is tax deductible to the payor and taxable income to the recipient. The purpose of this tax treatment is to treat the alimony as a transfer of income from payor to recipient. However, there are requirements for alimony payments to qualify for this favorable tax treatment.

The IRS defines alimony as: "a payment to or for a spouse or former spouse under a divorce or separation instrument. It does not include voluntary payments that are not made under a divorce or separation instrument."

Agreements executed after 1984 have different requirements than agreements executed before 1985. For purposes of this post we are only going to discuss post-1984 agreements:

Under a post-1984 agreement, judgment, or order, alimony is only tax-deductible to the payor if the following requirements are met:


  • The parties file separate tax returns; 
  • The payments are in cash; 
  • The agreement, judgment or decree does not indicate that the payments are not alimony; 
  • The spouses are not members of the same household at the time the payments are made. This requirement applies only if the spouses are legally separated under a decree of divorce or separate maintenance (i.e. doesn't apply to temporary orders). You are not treated as members of the same household if one of you is preparing to leave the household and does leave no later than 1 month after the date of the payment; 
  • Payments end upon death of the recipient spouse; and 
  • The payment is not treated as child support (which includes making the payment contingent on an event relating to your child).


For more information and examples that pass or fail these requirements read IRS Publication 504.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Response to "What Triggers Violence in Custody Battles in the United States?"

A colleague in California, Attorney Mark B. Baer, recently wrote a post discussing some horrific and recent tragedies of domestic violence that have occurred during the process of divorce or child custody court cases.

Attorney Baer points out that our courts are not designed to deal with all of the emotions that come with a divorce, or a child custody dispute, and neither are most attorneys. Attorney Baer then posits a direct connection between these cases of violence in divorce or child custody disputes, and concludes that the family law system in the United States is to blame for that violence.

We respectfully but strongly disagree. The frustrating delays and other inefficiencies of the court system are not the cause of domestic violence. Abusers, making their own choices, are the cause of domestic violence.

The following response was written jointly by Jonathan Eaton, Esq. and Justin Kelsey, Esq. as a reaction to Attorney Baer's article:

Attorney Baer's post describes two problems: (1) frustration borne from an extended court process and (2) domestic violence. He then assumes that one can lead to the other, and that therefore the alternatives to one (alternative dispute resolution instead of the traditional court process) would be an effective way to prevent or solve the other problem (domestic violence, particularly extreme cases of domestic violence). Attorney Baer's rationale is faulty because frustration with the court process is not the root cause of domestic violence.

Domestic violence is on the extreme end of the spectrum of controlling behavior. It occurs when one partner in a relationship desires to control the other, which may escalate to acts of emotional or physical violence. Although frustration with the court process could trigger a specific act of violence, simply avoiding court does not remove the underlying problem.

Furthermore, in cases where the controlling behavior has been an issue prior to the start of the divorce process, alternative dispute resolution could be used to continue a pattern of intimidation and abuse.

Mediation and collaborative divorce are voluntary, consensual processes. They require open and honest participation and if either individual is dissatisfied with the process, he or she may end it at any time. If an emotionally controlling individual is feeling that he or she is not getting his or her way in mediation or in the collaborative law process (in other words, feels as if he or she is not in control), then that process is likely to fail. If control is more important than resolution to a spouse, then they will revert back to their controlling behavior, regardless of the process being used.

Child custody battles can be the most emotionally charged family law disputes. Attorney Baer illustrates three examples of child custody disputes ending when one parent allegedly murdered the other (and sometimes the children and bystanders). It is impossible to know for sure whether any of these tragedies would have been avoided had the respective couples engaged in alternative dispute resolution, but it is unlikely that a person who is willing to resort to murder when they don't get their way was going to be satisfied with compromise. It is far more likely that an abuser would take advantage of alternative dispute resolution to get their way. Allowing abusers to control a situation so as to avoid outbreaks of violence is not a solution, it is tantamount to condoning their behavior and perpetuates the pattern of control.

Attorney Bear is correct that for many cases alternative dispute resolution can greatly increase the likelihood of a peaceful resolution, and successful co-parenting plans. However, in cases where there is a history or risk of domestic violence, the delays and frustrations of the court system are far outweighed by the protections that the court can provide to abuse victims (such as orders from protection from abuse).

Like Attorney Bear we encourage potential divorce litigants to consider the alternative ways to get divorced, but at the same time we feel it is very important to recognize that his article significantly misrepresents the causes of domestic violence:

The court does not create abusers, and there is no excuse for domestic violence.

At Kelsey & Trask, P.C., we pride ourselves in our mediation and our collaborative law practice, and we hope that it becomes more widespread as more individuals become aware of the alternatives to the traditional litigation track. In general, we feel that it is the most effective forum for accomplishing what is in the best interests of the children. However, we recognize that it is not "one size fits all."

In Massachusetts, our probate and family courts have become so backlogged with cases that clerks and registers have cut their hours working with the public in order to allocate more of their hours to performing the administrative work necessary to move the existing cases along. The traditional litigation process is too long, and often very frustrating for people already transitioning through a difficult period. If you and your spouse are willing to participate openly and honestly in mediation or collaborative divorce, then we encourage you to learn more about these processes.

But if you are a victim of domestic violence, your first priority should be the safety of you and your children. You should explore all of your options, including the protections offered by the court. If you or someone you know suffers from Sexual or Domestic Violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE, or if you live in Massachusetts check out these resources available on the Massachusetts State website, and seek help.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Self-Employment Income & Child Support: Massachusetts vs. the National View

We are pleased to link to an Article published by a colleague of ours, Jason V. Owens, Esq. of Stevenson & Lynch, P.C., in the June 2011 edition of the Suffolk Journal of Trial & Appellate Advocacy entitled Determining Self-Employment Income for Child Support Purposes: the Massachusetts View Compared with the National View. The article focuses on the thorny problem of calculating “income” for child support purposes in cases involving self-employed parents who operate a business over which the parent exerts financial control.

Much of the article explores the differences and similarities between “business income”, as defined by federal tax law, and “self-employment income”, as defined by child support guidelines in Massachusetts and other states. Much of the impetus behind this “compare and contrast” approach is practical. Determining a business owner’s “income” for child support purposes almost always begins with an examination of the business’s state and federal tax returns. The challenge for attorneys, parties, and judges often lies in determining which sections of the business’s tax returns can be applied to the child support analysis – and which sections must be carefully scrutinized or rejected altogether when analyzing the return from the child support perspective.

How does “business income” on a tax return differ from “self-employment income” on a financial statement filed in a child support case? Which tax deductible business expenses are most likely to be abused and manipulated by a self-employed parent? When can a business expense be legitimately deductible under the tax code but countable as “income” under child support law? The Article explores the legal underpinnings of these and related questions, identifies and pinpoints the prevailing law and national trends, and acknowledges the ambiguities and approaches taken among the states.

Reprinted with permission from Stevenson & Lynch, P.C.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

And It's All Your Fault! MA "Fault" Based Divorce #7: Impotency

This rarely-used ground for divorce illustrates why "no fault" divorces are heavily favored by modern practitioners. Judges are wary to turn the courtroom into a "Jerry Springer"-type environment. A divorce is an immensely personal transition. Given the social stigma of the word "impotency", there is a high risk that any divorce action citing impotency as its grounds will make it more difficult to come to any agreements with the allegedly impotent individual, and the courtroom could likely become a forum for uncomfortably personal critiques.

In a "no fault" divorce, the judge need only be convinced that there has been an "irretrievable breakdown" in the marriage with no chance of reconciliation. In practical terms, all that means is that one spouse needs to be able to tell the judge just that.

By contrast, in order to obtain a divorce citing impotency, the court needs to be satisfied that your spouse is incapable of having sexual intercourse. This can obviously be embarrassing to one or both spouses. Other than the added embarrassment, and the increased likelihood that the divorce proceedings will become more difficult to resolve, there is nothing else to gain. The division of property, child support, alimony, and visitation will not be affected by impotency. As such, very few practitioners choose to plead impotency when filing a complaint for divorce.

Monday, October 31, 2011

And It's All Your Fault! MA "Fault" Based Divorce #6: Adultery

Of the "fault"-based grounds for divorce in Massachusetts, adultery is probably the most complicated. Many individuals seeking a divorce wish to prove to the court that their husband or wife cheated, and therefore was not a good spouse. This certainly affords an opportunity for those seeking to air their soon-to-be ex-spouse's dirty laundry, even requiring the paramour to be named as a co-defendant. However, it requires proving the existence of an extra-marital affair, and finding out all of the details of an affair could be more hurtful than helpful to the faithful spouse.

Further, the defense of "condonation" has the potential to defeat a complaint for divorce based on adultery. In essence, this defense claims that the faithful spouse forgave the unfaithful spouse, and should be prevented from now seeking a divorce based on adultery. For example, let's say that Pat is married to Alex. Pat has an affair with someone at work. If Alex can prove that Pat had an affair, then Alex could obtain a divorce on grounds of adultery. However, if Pat wishes to defend against the complaint for divorce and remain married, Pat could use the defense of condonation if Pat can prove that after Alex learned of Pat's affair, Alex and Pat continued to live together and continued to have marital relations. If Alex was unsure about proving that the affair happened, or whether Pat could successfully defend by claiming condonation, and Alex really wants to obtain a divorce, Alex should file for a "no-fault" divorce instead.

There is no such defense to a "no-fault" divorce. All that is required is one spouse has to be able to tell a judge that there has been an irretrievable breakdown in the marriage with no chance of reconciliation.

In addition, adultery is still technically a crime in Massachusetts. This means that the defendant in a "fault" divorce based on adultery and the paramour can refuse to testify to any relations based on their 5th Amendment right not to incriminate themselves in a crime. This makes it more difficult to meet the evidentiary burden required to obtain the divorce and in the long run may not be worth the effort over the simplicity of a "no-fault" divorce.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Upcoming Seminars and Workshops: Social Security, Estate Planning, and Divorce

The friends of Kelsey & Trask, P.C. are offering some great upcoming seminars and workshops to help members of the public understand their options better when it comes to legal issues. From time to time we will try to let you know about these opportunities. Here are three that we recommend in November:


Social Security and Retirement Planning: Social Security Workshop at Council on Aging

Concord, MA - Senes & Chwalek Financial Advisors is pleased to present Kurt Czarnowski, former New England Regional Communications Director for the Social Security Administration, who will present “Social Security and Retirement Planning” at the Concord Council on Aging on Monday, November 28, 2011 at 6:30 pm.

Social Security's retirement program has been a basic part of American life for more than 76 years. Because we're living longer, healthier lives, we can expect to spend more time in retirement than our parents and grandparents did, and achieving a secure, comfortable retirement is much easier when you plan for your future.

But, despite the age, the size, and the economic impact of the Social Security system, the myths and misunderstandings about what the program is, as well as what it isn’t, are sizable. Social Security benefits were never intended to be someone’s sole source of income. Instead, they should be seen as the foundation on which to build a secure retirement.

Mr. Czarnowski worked for the SSA from 1976 until his retirement in 2010. As Regional Communications Director, Czarnowski was responsible for coordinating the Social Security Administration’s public affairs/public information activities in the six New England states. In this role, he was a frequent speaker at local and regional events for members of the public, and in 2010, he was the featured presenter on “Social Security: Your Retirement Planning Questions Answered,” the Social Security Administration’s national webinar for financial service professionals. He will provide an overview of the Social Security program and will help attendees better understand the important role it plays in achieving their retirement dreams.

Senes & Chwalek Financial Advisors is located at 57 Main Street, Concord. Renee W. Senes and David Chwalek are registered representatives of Investors Capital Corporation, Member FINRA/SIPC. For more information, please contact them at 978-369-2255.


Peace of Mind Planning for Parents Workshop

Hingham, MA - By popular request, Attorney Danielle G. Van Ess, will be repeating her Peace of Mind Planning for Parents workshop in just a few short weeks on Wednesday, November 16, 2011 from 7:30-9pm in Hingham.

If you missed the last one, here's your opportunity to attend. If you have friends who might be interested, please share this with them through email, Facebook, or however you reach them!

Registration is required, attendance is limited, and where applicable, both spouses are strongly encouraged to attend together. So line up your babysitters now and write down some questions you want to ask her.

You can learn more details about the workshop and register online here: http://peaceofmindforparents.eventbrite.com.


Divorce in Massachusetts: A 4-Part Weekly Public Education & Discussion Seminar Series

Needham Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital – Cardiology Conference Room - 148 Chestnut Street, Needham, MA 02492

Nov. 8, 2011 – Dec. 6, 2011; Tuesdays from 7:00 P.M. to 9:00 P.M.

FREE – ($20 per session suggested donation)

Who is the Seminar for?

This 4-Part Seminar Series is intended for people contemplating or going through a separation or divorce. Our members, including attorneys, therapists, mediators, and financial experts will provide you with valuable information about the divorce process in Massachusetts. There is the opportunity for Questions and Answers after each session.

What will you Learn?

Session I – The Divorce Process - Tuesday, November 8, 2011 7-9PM

- Where and how to begin:
- What needs to be filed and where?
- What is Mediation?
- What is Collaborative Law?
- How do I find the right professionals?

Session II – Finances, Assets & Alimony - Tuesday, November 15, 2011 7-9PM

- What is marital property:
- What is an equitable division?
- How do taxes affect the process?
- Will my House be sold?
- What is a QDRO?
- What is alimony?

Session III – Children & Divorce - Tuesday, November 29, 2011 7-9PM

- How much will child support be?
- How long will child support be paid?
- What is a Guardian Ad Litem?
- How do I create a parenting plan?
- What does custody mean in court?
- How do I minimize the trauma on children?

Session IV – After Divorce - Tuesday, December 6, 2011 7-9PM

- How do I get through the Divorce?
- What are some coping strategies?
- Can a divorce judgment be modified?
- How do I enforce the judgment?

REGISTER ONLINE

And It's All Your Fault! MA "Fault" Based Divorce #5: Refusal to Provide Suitable Support

Technically, one can seek a divorce from a spouse by pleading that their husband or wife has "grossly or wantonly and cruelly refuses or neglects to provide suitable support and maintenance." This ground for "fault" divorce has a companion action: an action for separate support. However, a complaint for separate support only deals with support payments, and does not provide for the division of assets and the dissolution of a marriage, as this rarely-used ground for divorce does.

This ground for "fault"-based divorced is rarely used for a few reasons. First, there is no advantage gained when compared to a "no fault" divorce. Second, proving that your spouse has either grossly or wantonly and cruelly not provided suitable support is a very difficult. Simply putting one spouse on a very limited allowance or refusing to allow access to bank or credit card statements doesn't meet this evidentiary burden. You also have to prove that the spouse who has allegedly refused or neglected to provide suitable support actually has "sufficient ability" to provide support. This needs to be an intentional (and I would argue complete) economic abandonment.

When dealing with alimony and the division of property, any divorce action claiming that one spouse has grossly or wantonly and cruelly refused to provide suitable support and maintenance, or one filed on "no fault" grounds but with identical facts, will likely have a motion for temporary orders filed soon after the complaint seeking temporary alimony payments.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

And It's All Your Fault! MA "Fault" Based Divorce #4: Intoxication

In order to prove this "fault"-based ground for divorce, you need to convince the court that your spouse has "gross and confirmed habits of intoxication caused by voluntary and excessive use of intoxicating liquor, opium, or other drugs." The potential benefit of filing for divorce on this ground is to highlight the issue of drug or alcohol use which could also be relevant to any custody arrangement for children.

This is not to say, however, that a court would treat a case filed on "no fault" grounds any differently if one parent has an addiction that might affect his or her ability to care for the children. If custody is contested, the court will have to look at both parents to determine what is in the best interests of the children, regardless of whether the case if filed as a "no fault" divorce or a "fault"-based divorce. Because of this, along with the difficulty of proving a "gross and confirmed habit of intoxication," this ground for divorce is rarely used in favor of "no fault" divorce.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

And It's All Your Fault! MA "Fault" Based Divorce #3: Imprisonment

This "fault"-based ground for divorce goes hand-in-hand with a finding of "guilty" in a criminal matter, followed by a sentence of five years or more in prison. It is not the amount of time that is actually served, but rather what the sentence is that matters. Proving this grounds for a fault divorce is generally straightforward.

Interestingly, if after a divorce, the imprisoned spouse is pardoned for his or her crime(s), the marriage is not restored.

As with most grounds for divorce, there is no advantage over "no fault" divorce. Proving that a spouse has been sentenced to five or more years in prison is slightly more difficult than meeting the evidentiary burden required in a "no fault" divorce (only that one spouse is able to tell the court that his or her marriage is irretrievably broken down with no chance of reconciliation).

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

And It's All Your Fault! MA "Fault" Based Divorce #2: Desertion

Desertion is one of two "fault"-based grounds for divorce that is used with some regularity in Massachusetts (the other being cruel and abusive treatment). In order to prove desertion, you need to be able to show that your spouse voluntarily left home without justification at least one year prior to filing the complaint for divorce, and has no intention of returning home. The spouse seeking a divorce needs to be able to testify that, during the one year period after his or her spouse left the marital home, there was hope of reconciliation.

Service of the complaint where personal service by a constable is impossible (because the location of the deserting spouse is unknown to the deserted spouse) is accomplished by publishing notice of the divorce case in a newspaper located in the location where the now-missing spouse was last known to reside.

The advantage of pleading "desertion" over a "no fault" divorce is that the act of deserting could warrant an unequal distribution of the assets. If successful, you have convinced a judge that your ex-spouse did not have justification for leaving, but left anyway, and that could result in the Judge awarding you property that they deserted as well.

The disadvantage is that proving desertion is somewhat more complicated than a "no fault" divorce. You must prove the elements of desertion to be divorced on those grounds, and if you fail to prove that the deserting spouse left without good reason, for example, then the Judge could deny your divorce. "No-Fault" divorce is much easier to prove because the evidentiary burden is met when one spouse simply tells the court that the marriage has been irretrievably broken down with no hope of reconciliation.

Monday, October 24, 2011

And It's All Your Fault! MA "Fault" Based Divorce #1: Cruel and Abusive Treatment

Since August 2010, "no fault" divorce has been available in all fifty states. Prior to the creation of "no fault" divorce, an individual seeking a divorce would need to file and prove a "fault"-based ground for divorce, proving to the court that it was the other spouse's fault. This resulted in bringing an often already-contentious relationship into the adversarial forum of a courtroom.

"No fault" divorces shift the focus from who is at fault to facilitating the transition to life after marriage. Basically, the court cares about who gets what, planning for where the kids are, and whether there is a support order (child support or alimony), and less about whether the husband or wife ruined the relationship.

In Massachusetts, "no fault" divorce has been the law since the 1970s, and has become favored by judges and attorneys. However, Massachusetts does retain the following traditional "fault"-based grounds for divorce:

1. Cruel and Abusive Treatment
2. Desertion
3. Imprisonment for More than Five Years
4. Gross and Confirmed Habits of Intoxication
5. Grossly or Wantonly and Cruelly Refusal or Neglect to Provide Suitable Support and Maintenance
6. Adultery
7. Impotency

While only the first two are still used with any consistency, the other five "fault"-based grounds still exist. Over the next few days, we will break down all seven "fault"- based grounds for divorce in Massachusetts, and the advantages and disadvantages of each, starting with cruel and abusive treatment:

Cruel & Abusive Treatment:

Cruel and abusive treatment is the most common "fault"-based ground for divorce in Massachusetts. Prior to "no-fault" divorce, cruel and abusive treatment was used in most divorce cases because the standard is vague enough to allow a divorce when there was no other alternative. Today, cruel and abusive treatment cases usually involve a history of domestic violence.

As with any "fault"-based ground for divorce, this ground could put the defendant spouse on the defensive and will likely prevent settlement. Although cruel and abusive treatment does not require proving a crime, it does require admission or proof of some behavior that amounts to the standard and not too many people will readily admit to being abusive. For these reasons it is usually advisable to plead "no-fault" divorce even when there has been cruel and abusive treatment. Conduct can still be admitted as evidence if relevant to the property division, but by beginning the case as a "no-fault" case you make settlement much more likely.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Can I Modify my Alimony under the New Law? - A FlowChart

UPDATE: This infographic has been updated for greater accuracy: http://kelseytrask.blogspot.com/2011/12/modification-under-alimony-reform-act.html

The following flow-chart depicts the decision tree for determining whether you qualify for a modification of a Massachusetts alimony order under The Alimony Reform Act of 2011. You always have the ability to reach an agreement for modification, but in the event that you and your ex-spouse disagree about whether a modification order should be changed, this chart can help you figure out whether a court will change your order.



You may reprint or distribute this Infographic on your website so long as the copyright and contact information for Kelsey & Trask, P.C. remains attached to the bottom of the image.

To reprint copy and past the following code:



Click here for more information about Modifications in Massachusetts.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Infographic: The Alimony Reform Act of 2011 - Simplified



You may reprint or distribute this Infographic on your website so long as the copyright and contact information for Kelsey & Trask, P.C. remains attached to the bottom of the image.

To reprint copy and past the following code:



Click here for more information about Alimony in Massachusetts.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

How long does it take to get Divorced?

The length of time between the beginning of a divorce case and the completion of the case varies greatly. The shortest amount of time it can take you to get divorced is about 5 months, while the longest can be years (my longest case so far was almost 6 years). The variation is mostly due to how you choose to resolve your divorce case, and how much you and your spouse disagree about the division of assets or custody of children.

Variation due to Type of Case: Private Resolution v. Court

You and your spouse can resolve your case by settlement out of court in three primary ways:

  1. Direct Negotiation: Either directly with each other, or though counsel, you and your spouse can negotiate a divorce settlement without going to court. If you can reach an agreement on all issues, then you will still have to present a written agreement to the court which details your agreement.
  2. Collaborative Divorce: If you cannot negotiate directly, and want to use counsel, the Collaborative Divorce process allows you to negotiate with an assurance that your attorneys are also committed to out-of court settlement (because they agree not to go to court as part of the Collaborative process agreement). The goal of a Collaborative Divorce is also to result in a written agreement which is then presented to the court for approval.
  3. Mediation: Mediation is a process that allows you to negotiate directly with your spouse, but still have the assistance of a neutral person to help provide information about the process and referee disputes. The goal of a mediation is also to result in a written agreement which you present to the court for approval.

In all of these scenarios the agreement is filed with a Joint Petition for Divorce under Section 1A of M.G.L. c. 208. The Court will set a date and time for an uncontested divorce hearing. In most cases, both you and your spouse must attend the uncontested divorce hearing and testify under oath that your marriage has suffered an irretrievable breakdown. The Judge will then issue Findings of Fact and if the Judge finds that your marriage is irretrievably broken down, then a Judgment of Divorce Nisi will issue after thirty (30) days, and it will become Absolute after a further ninety (90) days.

This means that if you file a Joint Petition for Divorce you are not legally and officially divorced until 120 days after the divorce hearing date.

Total Time to Get Divorced = Time to Settle + Hearing Date Waiting Period (20-30 days) + 120 days.


Court Resolution:

Under Section 1 or 1B of M.G.L. c. 208, if only one person in the marriage is ready to tell the Court that the marriage is over, or if you cannot agree with your spouse on other issues related to the divorce (such as the division of property, custody of children, amount of support, etc.), then you must file a Complaint for Divorce. The Court has time standards that govern the range of time that your case should take to get from filing to trial. Time standards requires that a case be heard within 14 months, but application of these standards varies and if discovery takes longer than usual then you may not be heard within 14 months.

If the parties are unable to settle their divorce case, then at the end of discovery a trial will be held, and after reviewing both parties' proposals and the evidence, the Court will issue a Judgment of Divorce Nisi and it will become Absolute after a further ninety (90) days.

Total Time to Get Divorced = Time between Complaint for Divorce filed and Settlement or Trial Date + 90 days.


Variation due to the length of the FIGHT:

Whether you settle or go to trial your case will take longer if you make it difficult for the other person to obtain information or if there are complicated issues. When settling out of court you control how quickly your case moves based on how quickly you provide each other with information and how quickly you reach agreements.

The divorce process in court can take much longer because when disagreements arise, you must wait for the court's schedule to allow for resolution. At the very least, absent an emergency, it usually takes at least a few weeks to get into court, even just to deal with one contested issue. Furthermore, court is often delayed by discovery issues that require more time, such as business valuations or custody investigations.

What is the average length of time these issues take?

A simple case, with only some contested issues, will still typically take 8 months to 1 year to settle through court. Through mediation or collaborative divorce, a simple case will usually require 2-3 meetings, which typically takes 2-3 months to resolve.

A complicated case or a case with numerous contested issues will obviously take longer. On average these cases still resolve through court in 1-2 years, but can go longer. Through mediation or collaborative divorce, a complicated case will require more meetings but will still likely be shorter than the court process.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The New Massachusetts Alimony Law in a Nutshell

As expected, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed into law the Alimony Reform Act of 2011 yesterday.

The new law, which becomes effective March 1, 2012, makes significant changes to alimony in Massachusetts. Here are just some of the changes:

The new law defines multiple types of alimony:

Types of Alimony Defined:

General Term Alimony: periodic payment of support to a recipient who is economically dependent.

Rehabilitative Alimony: periodic payment of support to a recipient spouse who is expected to become economically self-sufficient by a predicted time, such as, without limitation, reemployment, completion of job training; or receipt of a sum due from the payor spouse pursuant to a judgment.

Reimbursement Alimony: periodic or one-time payment of support to a recipient spouse after a marriage of not more than five years and for the purpose of compensating the recipient for economic or noneconomic contributions to the financial resources of the payor spouse, such as enabling the payor spouse to complete and education or job training.

Transitional Alimony: periodic or one-time payment of support to a recipient spouse after a marriage of not more than five years and for the purpose of transitioning the recipient to an adjusted lifestyle or location as a result of the divorce.

The new law defines the maximum amount of Alimony:

Except for Reimbursement Alimony or circumstances warranting deviation for other forms of alimony, the amount of alimony should generally not exceed the recipient's need or 30% to 35% of the difference between the parties gross incomes.

The new law also limits the duration of General Term Alimony:

General Term Alimony Ends Upon:
  • Remarriage of the recipient;
  • Death of the recipient;
  • Death of the payor (though the court may order life insurance or reasonable security for payment of sums due to the recipient in the event of the payor's death during the alimony term);
  • Except when the court finds that deviation is warranted, upon the expiration of the duration formula calculated above;
  • Upon the cohabitation of the recipient spouse with another person for a continuous period of at least three months (may also result in suspension or reduction instead of termination;
  • Upon the payor attaining the full retirement age when he or she is eligible for the old-age retirement benefit under the United States Old-Age, Disability, and Survivors Insurance Act, 42 U.S.C. 416.

The deviation factors which could result in a different amount or duration are:
  • Advanced age; chronic illness; or unusual health circumstances of either party;
  • Tax considerations applicable to the parties;
  • Whether the payor spouse is providing health insurance and the cost of heath insurance for the recipient spouse;
  • Whether the payor spouse has been ordered to secure life insurance for the benefit of the recipient spouse and the cost of such insurance;
  • Sources and amounts of unearned income, including capital gains, interest and dividends, annuity and investment income from assets that were not allocated in the parties divorce;
  • Significant premarital cohabitation that included economic partnership and/or marital separation of significant duration, each of which the court may consider in determining the length of the marriage;
  • A party's inability to provide for his or her own support by reason of physical or mental abuse by the payor;
  • A party's inability to provide for his or her own support by reason of a party's deficiency's of property, maintenance or employment opportunity; and
  • Upon written findings, any other factor that the court deems relevant and material.

Other Notable Provisions:

Factors to Determine Type, Amount and Duration of Alimony: the length of the marriage; age of the parties; health of the parties; both parties' income, employment and employability, including employability through reasonable diligence and additional training, if necessary; economic and non-economic contribution to the marriage; marital lifestyle; ability of each party to maintain the marital lifestyle; lost economic opportunity as a result of the marriage; and such other factors as the court may deem relevant and material.

Gross Income Shall Not Include: Capital gain income and dividend and interest income which derives from assets equitably divided between the parties under Section 34; and Gross Income already used to calculate Child Support.

Attributing Income: In determining the incomes of parties with respect to the issue of alimony, the Court may attribute income to a party who is unemployed or underemployed.

Remarriage of Payor: income and assets of the payor's spouse shall not be considered in a redetermination of alimony in a modification action.

Overtime or 2nd Job: shall not be considered if first job is full time, and additional income started after initial order.



Click here to learn more about Divorce, Mediation and Alimony.

Monday, September 26, 2011

New Same-Sex Divorce Resource

In Massachusetts, same-sex marriage is a right, and that means, for some, same-sex divorce will follow. When the unfortunate happens, can same-sex spouses hire any divorce attorney? Do all the same laws apply to these couples?

You might think that the legalization of same-sex marriage means that these couples have all the same rights as opposite-sex couples, but you would be wrong.

Even in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the discriminatory laws and practices of the federal government and other state governments can cause legal problems for same-sex couples who are married here. In addition, because gay marriage is a relatively new right in the Commonwealth, we are still learning how the laws of divorce and separation will be applied to these marriages.

There is a new site dedicated to providing information about the specific issues involved in Same-Sex Massachusetts Divorce cases called: SameSexMassDivorce.com.

SameSexMassDivorce.com is a resource where same-sex spouses considering divorce or already involved in a divorce can learn about the differences that face a same-sex couple in a divorce case, custody case, child support case, or an alimony case. There is also a same-sex version of our unique Parenting Plan Worksheet tool.

How do I serve Divorce Papers on my spouse (at Fenway Park)?

As Red Sox pitcher Erik Bedard recently found out, how your ex chooses to serve you with family court papers can be private or very public. As described by the New York Post, Bedard was served with a child-support case by a constable (who happened to be a Yankees fan) at Fenway Park before taking the mound for the Red Sox last week. Serving him at work was not required, but might be your preference if you're a Yankees fan.








What are the requirements for service of Divorce or other Family Court Complaints?

Whether or not you tell your spouse you want a divorce before you serve them with the divorce papers is a personal choice (covered by our previous post: How should I tell my spouse that I want a Divorce?). Once a divorce (or other domestic relations) action is begun, though, there is a legal process to ensure that the opposing party is properly served with the Complaint. The Court will provide you with a Summons which must be served on the Defendant.

In Massachusetts, the requirements for service are covered by Massachusetts Domestic Relations Procedure Rule 4.

Rule 4 requires that service of the summons:
  • be performed by a "sheriff, by his deputy, or by a special sheriff; by any other disinterested person..." We typically use the "other disinterest person" in the form a Constable;
  • be accompanied by a copy of the Complaint; and
  • be made by having the Defendant accept service by signing in front of a notary, or by having the summons delivered to the Defendant personally (in their hands directly), except in the case of some types of complaints which can left at their last and usual place of residence and mailed (see Rule 4(d)(2) for a list of these complaints).
Once served, the Summons must be returned to the Court with proof of service (such as the notarized signature of the Defendant or a sworn statement of the serving constable). The Summons must be served within 90 days after the filing of the Complaint or the action could be dismissed.

If your spouse won't accept service then where you have them served is a matter of choice. Usually we serve people at home, but if we expect them to avoid service (by hiding or not answering their door) then we may be forced to serve them at work or some other public place they are known to hang out often. You may want to consider how serving your spouse at work or in front of their friends could be embarrassing. Although it was satisfying for the Yankees fan to serve Bedard at Fenway Park, it's probably not going to help the chance of that case settling.

Of course, this could also be a unique opportunity for the Jumbotron...

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Budget Cuts Force Many Massachusetts Courts to Close Early

Starting this past Monday, thirty-eight courts in Massachusetts began cutting hours for clerks and registers due to budget cuts, staff shortages, and backlogs. The reduction in hours are said not to affect court sessions and that staff offices will be available for emergencies.

The following district courts will have restricted counter and telephone coverage: Attleboro, Barnstable, East Brookfield, Fall River, Framingham, Haverhill, Ipswich, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn, Malden, Natick, Newburyport, Palmer, Somerville, Springfield, Stoughton, Taunton, Uxbridge, Waltham, Westborough, Woburn and Wrentham.

The Western Division of the Housing Court and the Springfield Divisions of the Juvenile Court and Land Court will similarly have restricted counter and telephone coverage.

All Probate & Family Courts will have restricted hours after 3:00 P.M.


Source: The Patriot Ledger: "38 Massachusetts courts reduce public office hours because of budget cuts"

Friday, September 16, 2011

Update: Massachusetts Alimony Reform Closer to Becoming Law

Yesterday, the Massachusetts House of Representatives passed the Senate version of the Alimony Reform Act of 2011, meaning that its only remaining hurdle before becoming law (although it has an effective date of March 1, 2012) is Governor Patrick's signature. Governor Patrick has previously indicated his support for the bill.

For more information about the Alimony Reform Act of 2011 check out MassAlimonyFormula.com

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Custody Reform Summary: The Good, The Bad, and The Compromise


There are currently six pending bills which would make significant changes to the current Massachusetts custody statute and they have all been reviewed in depth in this forum over the last few weeks. If you need a quick cheat sheet for how they compare, below you will find a table that summarizes the proposed changes in each bill.

For our recommendations, keep reading after the table.

Current Law

Proposed Bill

Proposed Change

P1 – P5 Definitions of Custody

S.659

Shared physical custody definition changed to state “child shall reside equally”, and adds definition of “parenting plan”.

S.847

Definitions Deleted Entirely

H.1306 & H. 2684

No Change

H.1330

H.2244

P6 – Rights of Parents held equal absent misconduct. Court shall consider adverse effects of past or present living situation.

S.659

Delete Paragraph Entirely

S.847

Delete Adverse Effects Language, Add Requirement of Equal Time, Minimum Guaranteed Time Required

H.1306 & H.2684

Delete Adverse Effects Language Only, Adds Parties are equal, and court should maximize exposure to each so far as practical

H.1330

Add requirement to consider who is responsible for adverse conditions, and Add requirement for court to consider “rights of parents”

H.2244

Delete Adverse Effects Language Only, Add Requirement of Equal Time

P7 – Presumption of temporary Shared Legal Custody absent emergency conditions, abuse or neglect (requires written findings for sole legal). No presumption of shared physical custody.

S.659

Add Presumption of Shared Physical Custody

S.847

H.1306 & H.2684

H.1330

H.2244

P8 – Court shall consider best interest of the child, and all relevant facts, including alcohol or drug abuse, and willingness of parties to cooperate.

S.659

Delete willingness of parties to cooperate as factor

S.847

Standard for overcoming presumption is greater: “immediate physical or emotional danger” to children

H.1306 & H.2684

Standard for overcoming presumption is greater: must show child would be harmed by shared custody; Change in availability of a parent or change in developmental state of child shall be sufficient for a Modification

H.1330

If parties unwilling to cooperate order a dispute resolution plan

H.2244

Delete willingness of parties to cooperate as factor, Standard for overcoming presumption is greater: must show clear and convincing evidence that parent is unfit.

P9 – Court must make written findings to order shared legal or physical custody if prior or current 209A restraining order.

S.659

Reverse Presumption - Court must enter written findings as to effects of the abuse on the child to not order shared physical custody

S.847

Deleted

H.1306 & H.2684

Deleted

H.1330

Add that denial or vacating of 209A shall be binding and facts alleged therein shall not be used in custody determination

H.2244

Deleted

P10 – No Presumption of Shared legal or physical custody at trial on merits except under 31A.

S.659

Reversed. Presumption at trial of Shared Legal and Physical custody.

S.847

Deleted

H.1306 & H.2684

Reversed. Presumption at trial of Shared Legal and Physical custody.

H.1330

Reversed. Presumption at trial of Shared Legal and Physical custody.

H.2244

Deleted

P11-13 – Parties shall submit a detailed shared custody plan and court may accept, modify or reject the plan

S.659

Changed to Parties shall agree and if they do court must accept. If parties cannot agree court may issue its own plan.

S.847

No Change

H.1306 & H.2684

Court may only modify or reject the plan if child would be harmed by shared custody; Presumption of shared custody exists even if parties don’t submit proposals

H.1330

Court may only modify or reject if preponderance of evidence shows that agreement would not be in best interest of children.

H.2244

Court may only modify or reject if parent is unfit

P 14 – Award of shared legal of physical custody shall not affect a parent’s responsibility for child support and shall not constitute grounds for modification of support.

S.659

No Change

S.847

H.1306 & H.2684

Reversed: If Shared Physical Custody is ordered court shall revise child support order

H.1330

H.2244

P 15 – Right of Parents to access school or medical records

S.659

No Change

S.847

H.1306 & H.2684

H.1330

H.2244

P16 – Where parents have agreement court MAY enter it, or make specific findings that such an order is not in best interest of children

S.659

Court must accept agreement, or make specific findings that such an order is not in best interest of children

S.847

No Change

H.1306 & H.2684

Court may only modify or reject the plan if child would be harmed by shared custody

H.1330

Court must accept agreement, or make specific findings of clear and convincing evidence that the order is not in best interest of children

H.2244

Court must accept agreement



If you are interested in learning more about why we believe that some of these changes are practical and some aren't, read our previous posts evaluating each of the proposals individually. Based on all of these evaluations, we would propose a hybrid of these bills taking the best parts of each as follows:

Current Law

Our Proposal

P1 – P5 Definitions of Custody

No Change

P6 – Rights of Parents held equal absent misconduct. Court shall consider adverse effects of past or present living situation.

Delete Adverse Effects Language Only, Add Parties are equal, and court should maximize exposure to each so far as practical

P7 – Presumption of temporary Shared Legal Custody absent emergency conditions, abuse or neglect (requires written findings for sole legal). No presumption of shared physical custody.

Add Presumption of Shared Physical Custody

P8 – Court shall consider best interest of the child, and all relevant facts, including alcohol or drug abuse, and willingness of parties to cooperate.

Delete willingness of parties to cooperate as factor, Change in availability of a parent or change in developmental state of child shall be sufficient for a Modification

P9 – Court must make written findings to order shared legal or physical custody if prior or current 209A restraining order.

Add that denial or vacating of 209A shall remove any presumption against shared custody, though court may still consider alleged facts.

P10 – No Presumption of Shared legal or physical custody at trial on merits except under 31A.

Reversed. Presumption at trial of Shared Legal and Physical custody.

P11-13 – Parties shall submit a detailed shared custody plan and court may accept, modify or reject the plan

Court may only modify or reject joint plan if preponderance of evidence shows that agreement would not be in best interest of children.

P 14 – Award of shared legal of physical custody shall not affect a parent’s responsibility for child support and shall not constitute grounds for modification of support.

Reversed: If Shared Physical Custody is ordered court shall revise child support order pursuant to the Guidelines

P 15 – Right of Parents to access school or medical records

No Change

P16 – Where parents have agreement court MAY enter it, or make specific findings that such an order is not in best interest of children

Court must accept agreement, or make specific findings that such an order is not in best interest of children






To read more about Shared Parenting in Massachusetts, check out the following pages:

Parenting Plan Worksheet - Use this worksheet to help compare potential or proposed Parenting Plans on a user-friendly calendar.

Child Custody Mediation
Collaborative Child Custody Resolution
Child Custody Litigation

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