Skip to main content

What if I want to try Reconciliation? Is there a way to protect myself?

One of the questions that I ask clients in our free 1-hour initial divorce consultation, is whether or not they believe their marriage is irretrievably broken down with no chance of reconciliation. This is the standard in Massachusetts for a Judge granting a divorce. Many potential clients, despite having scheduled a divorce consultation, are actually unable to answer this question because there is still some "chance of reconciliation." In these instances I explain their rights in a potential divorce case but recommend that they try counseling and not come back to my office unless they are sure about their answer. For some, they fear that trying to reconcile will put them in a vulnerable position financially and for those instances there is now a solution: Post-nuptial agreements (also called marital agreements) allow married couples to make contracts that will control what happens if they get divorced.

A post-nuptial agreement can resolve the financial concerns and assure someone they are protected, so they can then focus their energies on a true reconciliation without worrying if they are being taken advantage of. Similar to a pre-nuptial agreement, there are very specific restrictions, on how a post-nuptial must be created for it to be enforceable in Massachusetts.

As delineated by a recent Massachusetts Supreme Court case, there are even more requirements for a valid and enforceable post-nuptial agreement than there are for a pre-nuptial agreement (though many of the requirements are similar). Ansin v. Craven-Ansin, No. SJC-10548, July 16, 2010.

Links to news stories, the opinions of numerous attorneys and mediators as well as the Ansin opinion itself are all available at MaritalMediation.com. As a summary, the Ansin decision requires that a post-nuptial agreement withstand the following scrutiny to be upheld:

  • Both parties must have had the "opportunity for counsel of own choosing."
  • The agreement must be in writing.
  • The agreement must be made with clear knowledge of the specific marital rights being waived.
  • There must not be any fraud or coercion.
  • The agreement must be fair and reasonable in view of M.G.L. c. 208 s 34 and not so different from a division under that statute as to be unreasonable.
  • The agreement must be fair with respect to the impact it will have on the children of the marriage.
  • The agreement must be fair with respect to the impact it will have on any third parties.
  • The parties must have disclosed in writing a statement of assets with approximate values.
  • The parties must have disclosed in writing a statement of their approximate income.
  • The parties must have disclosed in writing a statement of any reasonably expected income changes in the "near future".
  • The commitment to reconciliation must not be falsely misleading.

In order to ensure that you comply with these requirements, each party to a post-nuptial agreement should consult with their own counsel and review this list (as well as the Ansin decision).

Thank you to Fern Frolin of Grindle, Robinson, GoodHue & Frolin for bringing this latest news to our attention in her presentation at the MCFM Family Mediation Institute on November, 22, 2010.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

What is the purpose of the Divorce Nisi waiting period?

In Massachusetts the statutory waiting period after a Judgment of Divorce and before the divorce becomes final (or absolute) is called the Nisi period. After a divorce case settles or goes to trial, a Judgment of Divorce Nisi will issue and it will become Absolute after a further ninety (90) days.

This waiting period serves the purpose of allowing parties to change their mind before the divorce becomes final. If the Judgment of Divorce Nisi has issued but not become final yet, and you and your spouse decide you don't want to get divorced, then you can file a Motion to Dismiss and the Judgment will be undone. Although many of my clients who are getting divorced think the idea of getting back together with their ex sounds crazy, I have had cases where this happened.

In addition to offering a grace period to change your mind, the Nisi period has three other legal effects:

1. The most obvious effect of the waiting period is that you cannot remarry during the Nisi period, because…

Does a Criminal Record affect Child Custody?

If one of the parents in a custody case has a criminal record, the types of crimes on their record could have an effect on their chances of obtaining custody. In custody cases the issue is always going to come down to whether or not the best interests of the child might be affected.

In the most extreme case, in which one parent has been convicted of first degree murder of the other parent, the law specifically prohibits visitation with the children until they are of a suitable age to assent.

Similarly, but to a less serious degree, in making custody and visitation determinations the court will consider crimes that would cause one to question the fitness of a parent. These types of crimes would obviously include any violent crime convictions which could call into question whether the children would be in danger around a parent who has shown themselves to resort to violence when faced with conflict. In addition, drug and alcohol abuse offenses would call into question a parent'…

The Questions that Lawyers and Mediators aren't asking but should: Let's talk about Pronouns

I recently had the opportunity to train with two of the most prominent mediators in Massachusetts: John Fiske and Diane Neumann. Each time they run a training, John and Diane share what they think is the most important question for a client to answer to have an effective mediation. John says that he thought the most important question is "What do I want?" But then he will tell you, with a knowing smile, that Diane disagreed with him and she would say that the most important question for a client to answer is "Who am I?"

I agree with Diane. The best lawyers and mediators ask their clients not just about what they want, but also deep questions about the clients' identity, goals, and values in order to help the clients resolve conflict in the most effective way possible. Despite knowing this, we often fail to ask clients the simplest questions when we first meet them or have them fill out an intake. We fail to give them an opportunity to answer the question “Who …