Monday, April 30, 2012

The New Alimony Law: A Primer for the Public

The Divorce Center Offers Seminar Introducing Recent Major Changes to the Massachusetts Alimony Law
Effective March 1, the Alimony Reform Act of 2011 Changed the Massachusetts Alimony Law Significantly for the First Time in 30 Years

Newton, Mass. – March 28, 2012 – The Divorce Center, a non-profit organization of professionals from multiple disciplines providing support and education for people going through separation or divorce, is offering a seminar entitled:

“The New Alimony Law: A Primer for the Public” on May 15, 2012 from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. at the Weston Public Library community room, Weston, MA.

David L. Rubin, Esq., and Debra L. Smith, Esq., attorneys practicing divorce and family law, will speak on the numerous changes made to the Massachusetts Alimony Law, which has not been updated in 30 years. The changes were prompted by the Alimony Reform Act of 2011 and were effective March 1.

The Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act of 2011 changed when and how alimony can be ordered, and when and how alimony orders can be ended. The new law affects anyone who currently is or may be receiving alimony.

Attendees will learn:

  • The multiple types of alimony defined by the new law; 
  • The maximum amount of alimony defined by the new law; 
  • The new limits to the duration of the general term of alimony; 
  • When and if existing alimony orders can be modified; and 
  • The factors that will determine the type, amount and duration of alimony.

The Weston Library is located at 87 School Street, Weston, MA.

This seminar is offered free of charge, however a donation of $20 is suggested.

For more information on “The New Alimony Law: A Primer for the Public” and to register for the seminar, visit: http://thedivorcecenter.org/public/seminars.php.

About the New Massachusetts Alimony Law:

The new Massachusetts Alimony Law states that the amount of alimony should not exceed the recipient’s need or 30-35% of the difference between the two parties’ incomes. Also, the income considered when setting alimony orders does not include capital gains income and interest and dividend income from assets already divided. When modifying orders, income from a second job or overtime is excluded if the party works more than a single full-time equivalent position, or if the second job or overtime started after entry of the initial order. The general alimony term ends upon the death of the payor or recipient, remarriage of the recipient, the payor attaining the full retirement age, co-habitation of the recipient with another person for a continuous period of at least three months, or the expiration of the duration formula, which is based on the length of the marriage.

About The Divorce Center:

The Divorce Center is a non-profit organization of legal, financial and mental health professionals providing support and education for people going through separation or divorce. Since 1983, the non-profit organization has been helping ease the trauma of divorce and make the process more civilized, especially for the children.

The Divorce Center provides two tiers of service:

  • Educating individuals and the community at large about divorce and its effects, and the services and resources available to them; and 
  • Helping professionals from various disciplines improve the service they provide to their divorcing clients. The organization offers its expertise and compassion to all those who need it — individuals and families, divorce professionals, religious groups, parent organizations, non-profit groups, and others who can benefit from the professional programs, public education and support groups.

For more information, visit http://thedivorcecenter.org.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Press Release: Can Technology Improve How People Get Divorced?

Press Release from Kelsey & Trask, P.C. - April 26, 2012:


 Framingham Attorneys providing iPads to their Divorce Clients

Social media and technology have changed how we live and connect socially in many ways, and these changes extend to how we break up as well. Even if you're not a member of Second Life, you likely have a second online life made up of your Facebook posts, your Pinterest pictures and your Tweets. So what happens when you get divorced? When do you change your relationship status? Should you change your passwords? Is it safe to use the home computer to communicate with your divorce attorney?

If you get divorced, you’ll have to face some of the ways that your online life complicates the break-up. But technology doesn’t just create problems in a divorce; the newest technologies can also be used to solve these problems. At least one innovative firm, Kelsey & Trask, P.C. in Framingham, Massachusetts, is helping divorcing clients manage their cases by providing them with an iPad.

Many attorneys are now using iPads in their law practices, which helps them respond to clients faster, present cases to juries in an attractive and organized way and work from anywhere (even while waiting in Court on a case). The next logical step is to give clients that same convenience.

Kelsey & Trask, P.C. describes their client-use iPads as Personal Divorce Assistants:

“A Personal Divorce Assistant is an iPad tablet configured to provide you with a higher level of service and connectivity to your divorce attorney without having to carry around boxes of paper… Using the Personal Divorce Assistant simplifies the process for our clients by having all of their divorce information in one place, including their files, documents, resources, information, and communications.”

Kelsey & Trask, P.C. is a Massachusetts law firm that practices primarily in the areas of Family Law and Bankruptcy. They also have an iPhone app for calculating child support in Massachusetts and online calculators for alimony and parenting plans.


If you would like more information about this topic, or to schedule an interview with Attorney Justin Kelsey, please call him at 508.655.5980 or e-mail Attorney Kelsey.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What does a Collaborative Law Coach do?

Guest Post Introduction: Gina Arons, PsyD is a clinical psychologist with over 25 years experience working with adults, children, couples and families at her practice in Lincoln, MA.  She is a Collaborative Law coach-facilitator and mediator.  Dr. Arons serves on the board of The Massachusetts Collaborative Law Council (MCLC) and is a member of The International Academy of Collaborative Professionals and The Massachusetts Council of Family Mediation.  She wrote the following guest post for us regarding:

By Gina Arons, PsyD

When a couple decides that their marriage has come to an end, Collaborative Law offers an open and respectful divorce process in which clients, attorneys, and other collaborative professionals work together to develop an agreement that is acceptable to each of the parties.

As an integral part of this collaborative team, the Collaborative Law Coach serves as a neutral facilitator who works to understand the client’s emotional concerns, share important information with the attorneys, and offer communication strategies. Coaches are licensed mental health professionals with specialized Collaborative Law training who bring unique perspectives and expertise to the collaborative process.

Within the context of a divorce, clients often feel hurt or disappointed by their spouses and may find it difficult to listen or remain open to one another’s ideas. Throughout this process it is very useful to have a Collaborative Law Coach who can facilitate communication and help mitigate tensions that may hinder the success of the collaborative process.

From the very beginning, the coach helps to build a strong foundation for the collaborative process by serving as a useful resource for both clients and their attorneys. Before the first 5-way meeting, the coach meets with each client to address their concerns and gain insight into their needs, interests, and goals. The ideas and issues raised during this initial meeting serve as a guide to developing a divorce agreement that feels viable to both parties.

The coach also meets with both attorneys to establish a good working relationship and to share essential information that will enable their clients to feel comfortable and understood throughout the process. Taking into account current or potential areas of conflict, the coach and the attorneys develop plans to ensure that each client will feel heard and supported during the collaborative process. A coach may also meet with clients independently in order to assist with other aspects of the divorce. For example, a coach with child development expertise may help clients to develop a parenting plan which is sensitive to the needs and well being of their children and is manageable for each of the parents. Additionally, if volatile or complex emotional issues arise that may interrupt the collaborative process, it can be very useful for clients to work through the problem with their coach before moving forward in making difficult decisions. It is important to note, however, that the coach does not serve in the role of a psychotherapist, but rather is a member of the collaborative team―sharing all relevant information with both attorneys in the service of enhancing the collaborative process.

During all the stages of a Collaborative Law case the coach works to ensure that the process is proceeding in a positive way. Through regular contact with the attorneys and clients via email, phone and meetings, the coach is a vital part of the team of professionals who work together with the clients to reach a peaceful resolution.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Should Shared Parenting be Presumptive?

The Minnesota House recently passed a shared parenting bill which has a presumption of at least 45.1% of the parenting time with each parent.  This presumption can be overcome by certain factors.  Attorney Robert Franklin has written an editorial supporting the bill and calling on the Senate and Governor to pass it as well.

A similar movement has been trying to get presumptions of shared physical custody passed in Massachusetts, and we reviewed these proposals in our series on Custody Reform.

Custody Reform should be based on evidence about what defaults are in the best interest of children. There is evidence of a shift in our society to greater parenting involvement of fathers, but the available evidence is still strongly in favor of very young children spending more time with their mother. Frequent contact with both parents is necessary at a very young age, but equal time doesn't take into account the realities of the unusual feeding and sleeping schedule that newborns have (especially if the mother is breast-feeding).

Mr. Franklin indicates that breast-feeding can be worked around through pumping and storage as mother's who work often do.  However, this ignores part of the benefit of breast-feeding which is bonding with the mother.  This comment also ignores the immense pressure put on mothers of newborns.  Because of the need for newborns to have constant contact with both parents to form a bond with them, an equal parenting plan at this age would involve almost daily transitions.  Mr. Franklin expects these mothers to work, pump every two to three hours and accommodate multiple parenting transitions.  I'm not sure when he expects them to sleep?

I am in favor of recognizing the societal shift in parenting duties through greater presumptions for shared physical custody. However, there should also be some indication that this presumption does not mean equal time for children whose age would not favor equal time. I would suggest some tempering of the shared physical custody presumption to recognize the different needs of children at different ages.  The Shared Parenting brochure and the Model Parenting Plans provided by the Massachusetts courts both recognize this need to adjust the schedule and division of time as the child grows older.

Maybe the time has come to change the presumptions, but that doesn't mean we have to force those presumptions to fit every situation.  Presumptions of shared parenting with children of certain ages makes sense, but with children who are very young or who have special needs there needs to be consideration of how those factors affect their needs.

For more information check out these resources:

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

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Can I claim Head of Household if My Ex Claims the Child as an Dependent?


Here is the exact answer from the IRS FAQ website:

Question: For head of household filing status, do you have to claim a child as a dependent to qualify? 
Answer: In certain circumstances, you do not have to claim the child as a dependent to qualify for head of household filing status; for example, a custodial parent may be able to claim head of household filing status even if he or she released a claim to exemption for the child.

This means that in a divorce or paternity agreement you should designate if one parent will still have the right to qualify for Head of Household, even if the other parent is being given the dependency exemption.

For a further discussion on who gets the dependency exemptions in a divorce read our previous post: Child Tax Deductions: Who gets them in a Divorce?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Can the Family Court amend a Restraining Order from the District Court?

In May, 2009 Norfolk County instituted a pilot program allowing 209A Restraining Order cases opened in a District Court in Norfolk County to be transferred to the Norfolk Probate and Family Court, if there is already an action pending in that Court.   We described the program in a post entitled:  One Court instead of Two for Domestic Abuse Cases in Norfolk County – A Pilot Program.

That pilot program ended 12 months later and was not renewed, which means that the courts do not currently allow the transfer of a 209A Restraining Order case from district court to the probate and family court.  This raises the question:

What happens if there is a 209A Restraining Order in a district court and a Divorce case between the same parties in the Probate and Family Court?

If there are no children in the case, the Probate and Family Court is unlikely to concern themselves with the Restraining Order case because the divorce is primarily dealing with financial issues which don't typically require direct communication between the parties.

However, in cases with children, there are many issues which can require parents to communicate and or have contact for visitation transitions.  Often-times restraining orders will initially include the children but later be modified to allow for parenting time.  In many cases of domestic violence both children an spouses require protection from an abuser.  However, there are also many cases which only involve threats or allegations relating to the spouses and the children are not involved in the allegations.

When an initial restraining order is entered in a District Court and the parties are also involved in a case at the Probate & Family Court relating to the custody or visitation with the minor children, it is likely that the Family Court Judge will be asked to enter a visitation plan.  The problem arises when the arrangements for visitation violate the existing restraining order.  In these cases the restraining order needs to be amended so there is not a conflict with the Family Court order.  The Guidelines for Judicial Practice: Abuse Prevention Orders (rev. Sep 2011) contain specific procedures for the Family Court to follow in these instances.

Pursuant to ADMINISTRATIVE ORDER 96-1, the Family Court Judge can exercise special jurisdiction over the district court case for the specific purpose of amending the restraining order to match the provisions of the custody order.  Once the Family Court Judge has chosen to exercise this special jurisdiction, which requires that the Plaintiff on the restraining order have notice and opportunity to be heard, the Court must follow the following procedure:
The Probation department in the modifying court shall cause the modified order to be transmitted by facsimile to the Probation department of the issuing court promptly to enable the Probation staff of the issuing court to enter the order into the Registry on the day on which the modified order is issued. Upon receipt of the modified order, the Probation department in the issuing court shall promptly provide a copy of the modified order to the staff or the Clerk or Clerk-Magistrate of the issuing court, who shall promptly docket and file the modified order. The Register of Probate in the modifying court shall cause the modified order to be mailed to the Clerk or ClerkMagistrate of the issuing court no later than three days after the modified order is issued.
Given how understaffed the courts currently are this is probably easier said than done, and if you are a party to such an action you should make sure that the restraining order is updated with both the issuing court and the police department before you act on the modified order. Otherwise you risk being charged with violation of the restraining order.

For more information about restraining orders in Massachusetts visit our new Restraining Order website, or schedule a free 1-hour consultation.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

What does a Child Specialist do in a Collaborative Divorce?

Guest Post Introduction: Dr. Allison J. Bell, Psy.D. has been in private practice in Westchester County, N.Y. since 1987 and is specialty-trained in child-psychology, neuropsychological evaluation of children and marital therapy. For the past fifteen years, Dr. Bell has performed forensic custody evaluation in both Family and Supreme Courts in the southern New York State region. Dr. Bell serves as both a Divorce Coach and a neutral Child Specialist on Interdisciplinary practice teams and is a member of the Massachusetts Collaborative Law Council. Dr. Bell wrote the following guest post for us regarding:

By Allison J. Bell, PsyD.

The Collaborative Divorce process is unique amongst methods of obtaining a divorce in that it offers the opportunity for children to express their needs and viewpoints to their parents, through a professional conduit, the Child Specialist.

Who is a Child Specialist, what does that person do, and why is it beneficial to families to have a Child Specialist as part of the Collaborative Divorce Team?

Child Specialists are licensed mental health professionals who are trained in mediation and collaborative divorce practice. They are practitioners who also have training and experience in child development, family systems and divorce counseling.

The Child Specialist is often brought into the process when issues surface regarding the development of a Parenting Plan, and when parents want to know more about how their children are faring during the process. Ideally, when attorneys know that there will be problems to be solved regarding children, the Child Specialist is part of the Team from the outset.

Divorce is a phenomenon that occurs in relationships between adults. Children bear the fallout of divorce, and often find themselves placed squarely in the center of their parents’ disputes. They may be totally blindsided by the announcement of divorce, or may have expected it all along, but either way, they have something to say about it.

The outcome research on the adjustment of children of divorce strongly suggests that children believe they are not heard, seen or considered adequately in their parents’ process. They specifically tell researchers that they suffer from being in the dark, from having too little meaningful information, and from being unable to have a voice about the outcome. It is not that they see themselves as equal decision makers; they don’t. Children simply want parents to acknowledge that the adult decision to divorce has a direct, long-term impact on kids.

The Child Specialist functions as a Neutral member of a Collaborative Divorce Team, consulting to both the parents and the team members. The Child Specialist is the only team member who sees everyone in the family, and therefore has the unique opportunity to shed light on that family’s particular dynamics.

The Child Specialist begins by meeting with both parents in order to learn about the children, from a neutral perspective. The Child Specialist then meets with the children, together and individually, and offers them an opportunity to express their needs and concerns about the divorce. These meetings also help the children learn more about the divorce process and create a safe space for their emotional experience. It helps them to recognize when/if they are being put in the middle, and may offer them tools to be able to extricate themselves from this position.

The Child Specialist provides feedback to the parents in a five-way meeting with the Coach present. This way, the parents and the Coach hear the same information and have an opportunity to ask questions that may be relevant to developing the Parenting Plan. If children are in distress, the Child Specialist may make referrals for treatment or evaluation as needed. The Child Specialist’s perspective can help alleviate conflicts pertaining to the children, and allows the parents to consider post-divorce parenting with the voices of their children center-stage.

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