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


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


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.

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