Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Massachusetts House of Representatives to Vote on CORI Reform

On Wednesday, May 26, 2010, the Massachusetts House of Representatives will vote on legislation to reform Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) laws (House No. 4703).

According to the MBA "The purpose of CORI reform is to better facilitate the rehabilitation of offenders back into society and thereby increase public safety. We support efforts to correct some of the unfairness and injustice which occurs by the continued presence and use of inaccurate CORI. CORI laws need to be revised to provide our citizens with greater accuracy, earlier sealing of records and greater clarity in the reports."

The Massachusetts Senate has already passed sentencing legislation that included similar CORI reform and passage of the House Bill will result in a committee being formed to iron out the differences between the two bills (the next step towards having the legislation enacted).

These reforms to the CORI system are supported by the MBA and you should call your state representatives and ask them to vote in support of this bill on Wednesday, May 26 at 11am.

To find who your Rep is, go to www.wheredoivotema.com or call 1-800-462-VOTE (8683) and enter your address.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Should your Mediator draft Court Paperwork?

Once an agreement is reached, a mediator who is also an attorney can help the individuals prepare court documents, such as the Separation Agreement. If you need assistance preparing your Financial Statement, or you need advice as to whether an Agreement is in your best interest then you should consult with an individual attorney. Although, a Mediator can help you prepare an Agreement, they cannot provide you with individual legal advice.

Some attorneys do not believe it is appropriate, or "kosher", for attorney/mediators to prepare any court documents because it is too close to the services performed by individual legal counsel. At Kelsey & Trask, P.C. we assist our mediation clients in completing the necessary court forms to ensure that they have been adequately informed about how to successfully present a Joint Petition for Divorce. We believe the goal of a divorce mediation is to reach this successful conclusion and part of that is correctly filling out a Joint Petition for Divorce and the appropriate and required pleadings.

For other opinions on this issue check out the Email Exchange entitled Is it Kosher for an Attorney/Mediator to Draft Court Paperwork for Clients? located on page 22 of the Spring 2010 issue of the Family Mediation Quarterly.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

What do you think of Hampshire County's "Special Procedure's for Cases Involving Children"

On April 7, 2010, the Chief Justice of the Probate and Family Courts in Massachusetts, Paula M. Carey, signed Standing Order 1-10: Special Procedures for Cases Involving Children. That order sets out the details for a pilot program in the Hampshire Division of the Probate and Family Court. The pilot program is intended to provide special services and requirements related to the resolution of child-related issues in any case involving children (such as Divorce, Separate Support, Paternity, Support/Custody/Visitation, Modification, Contempt, Guardianship and Termination of Parental Rights cases).

The order requires, among other things, that attorneys and parents/care-givers attempt to solve parenting related problems before seeking the assistance of the court, and to conduct themselves in a way that recognizes the unique issues involved in child-related cases.

More specifically, the order requires that parties and their attorneys participate in an "Introductory Meeting", no later than 45 days after the filing of Answer and/or prior to any Motion hearing. Essentially, the court is requiring a 4-way (similar to that required prior to a Pre-Trial) to try and force parties to work out parenting issues prior to presenting them to the Court.

The order also encourages people to seek the assistance of other professionals as necessary to assist in the proper development of parenting and care-giver plans.

These requirements will increase initial attorney's fees and costs to clients. The benefits to the children, however, could be substantial by focusing early on how a court case (such as a divorce case) affects the children, and trying to address these issues early.

For further information on this program, its origins and its goals readThe Origins of a Child Focused Family Court Model. written by Gail L. Perlman, the First Justice of the Hampshire Division of the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court. The article is available on page 3 of the Spring 2010 issue of the Family Mediation Quarterly.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What if I can't take the Parent Education Course? Is there an alternative option?

Under Standing Order 4-08 of the Probate & Family Court, if you have any minor children at the time of the filing of your divorce case, you are required to attend the Court-sponsored Parents Apart education program before you can present either a settlement of your case, or present your case for trial. A brochure which lists the names, addresses and telephone numbers of the various organizations that provide this program, in alphabetical order by town, is available by clicking here.

You should immediately enroll in and attend this course because your case cannot end until you have completed the course, which consists of two 3 hour sessions. After completion of the program you will be provided with a golden Certificate of Completion, which you must provide to the Court. If you give this golden copy to your attorney, they can ensure that it is properly filed with the Court and this requirement fulfilled.

But, what if you can't attend?

I have worked on numerous cases where one of the parties had moved to another country or state and was unable to return to Massachusetts to take the course, usually due to financial constraints. In those limited circumstances, Judge's will sometimes allow a Motion to Waive Attendance.  The court may suggest use of a DVD as a replacement for participation in the program (as a an alternative to a complete waiver).

According to the Press Release: "On a limited basis, use of a DVD program entitled KidCare for Co-Parents: An Educational Program for Divorcing Families is now available when a judge is considering a waiver.

KidCare for Co-Parents is a four and a half hour multimedia, interactive program which can be used with a DVD player on either a personal computer or a television screen. Completion of the interactive aspects of the DVD is required in order to obtain the Certificate of Attendance which must then be provided to the Court."

Monday, May 17, 2010

Latest iPhone App now available in the App Store: Alimony 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.

In addition to the Kelsey & Trask MOBILE web site at http://mobile.kelseytrask.com, our Massachusetts Child Support Calculator App, and our Means Test App, we are now offering the Divorce Spousal Support Calculator as an iPhone App.

You can calculate alimony the same as in the full calculator located on our website, but you can also save your calculations, e-mail them, and view the accompanying Article.

And the App is FREE!

Don't worry Droid and Blackberry users, you can still use the mobile calculator in your web browser here.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

How can I calculate Child Support AND Alimony?

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.

Dealing with a case that includes the potential for both child support and alimony can be quite complicated. For purposes of this discussion, I will assume that the person receiving alimony is also the custodial parent (i.e. the person receiving child support).

First let's get some definitions:

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

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.

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. The Divorce Spousal Support Calculator which includes all of these formulas and can be accessed by clicking here.

What happens when a case warrants both alimony and child support?

Just as there is no formula for calculating alimony in Massachusetts, there is also no bright-line rule for breaking down how much an order should be alimony and how much should be child support when a case warrants both. The interplay of these two figures can be very complicated because the tax effect to both the payor and the recipient is very different depending on how a support order is broken down.

We have a few observations based on three possible ways of making this calculation.

Option 1: If one were to calculate child support (using The Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines) and alimony (using The Divorce Spousal Support Calculator) and simply add them together, the overall support figure would likely be too high for the payor. For example, suppose a couple where the payor/non-custodial parent, Chris Jones, earns $125,000 per year, and the recipient/custodial parent, Pat Jones, earns $25,000 per year. Assuming no health insurance cost, 1 child (and no other child support orders), and no day care costs, the child support order would be $759 per week. Assuming a 20 year marriage, the average of the first five alimony formulas is $644.60 per week. Simply adding these together results in a total support order of $1403.60 per week ($72,987.20 per year), which is 58% of Chris' gross income (resulting in Pat receiving 65% of the total family income). This would likely leave Chris with not enough funds to support Chris' household.

Option 2: Some Judges have indicated at recent conferences that they are inclined to figure out an appropriate alimony order first, and subtract child support from that figure. In our example above, the child support was greater than the alimony, so there would be no alimony order. Chris would pay only the $759 per week in child support resulting in an annual income to Chris of $85,532 (taxed as $125,000) and an annual income to Pat of $64,468 (taxed as $25,000). After taking into account taxes these incomes are relatively close together, though Chris ends up with more than 50% of the income.

Option 3: Another possibility, suggested by one Judge to the author, is to estimate alimony, and then run the child support guidelines on the post-alimony incomes. In this example, if Chris pays $644.60 per week in alimony, Chris' post-alimony income is $91,480.80 and Pat's post-alimony income is $58,519.20. The Child Support using these figures is $558 per week. The resulting income to Chris would therefore be $62,464.80 (taxed as $91,480.80) and to Pat would be $87,535.20 (taxes as $58,519.20). Although resulting in a lower figure than Option 1, this may still result in too high an order for may Judges (and payors).

These examples demonstrate the difficulty of trying to use these formulas together without reviewing some common-sense evaluation of the budgetary needs of each party. For the example case the likely fair figure is somewhere between Option 2 and Option 3. It makes sense to have some of the order be alimony in order to move some of the taxable income to the lower tax bracket. It may not be practical, though, for the total order to be as high as $1,202.60 per week.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Fight for Gay Marriage and Gay Divorce

As described in a recent article on CNN Living (Serious legal hurdles for gay divorce), just because gay and lesbians can get married doesn't mean they can get divorced.

Gay and Lesbian couples who marry in one of the few states that allow gay marriage may not be able to get divorced if they move to another state. Currently only Massachusetts, Iowa, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, and the District of Columbia issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

As the CNN article describes, the Texas Attorney General is appealing a ruling by a Texas Judge allowing a lesbian couple (who had been married in Massachusetts) to get a divorce in Texas. An attorney who represents a gay couple awaiting the Texas decision noted "Ironically, if the attorney general [of Texas] is so against gay marriage, why is he trying to hard to keep these two men together?"

Regardless of the ruling in that case, getting divorced in other states isn't the only hurtle facing gay and lesbian couples who want a divorce. DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, denies same-sex spouses access to many federal benefits. In a same-sex divorce case, even in Massachusetts, the couple will not be able to accomplish certain typical divorce resolutions in the same way as an opposite sex couple.

For example, a typical division of an asset in a divorce is to transfer a portion of one party's retirement asset to the other. This can be accomplished without tax consequences via a Qualified Domestic Relations Order, but since the IRS does not recognize same-sex marriage, this same transfer would have significant tax consequences in a same-sex divorce. Another example is the tax treatment of alimony. The payment of alimony by the payor to the recipient is taxable to the recipient and tax deductible to the payor. This allows for a shifting of the tax burden, and also usually for a lower tax burden overall because some of the income is shifted to a lower tax bracket. Again because the IRS does not recognize same-sex marriages, same-sex couples who have an alimony order will not receive this tax benefit.

For a further description of how DOMA affects same-sex marriages and the current cases challenging it ( ) check out this article written by our Law Clerk, Jonathan R. Eaton: Defense of Marriage Act: Ability of the Federal Government to Deny Access to Benefits to Spouses in Same-Sex Marriages.

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