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Showing posts from 2017

Skylark welcomes Jennifer Hawthorne, Collaborative Attorney & Mediator

Skylark Law & Mediation, PC is excited to welcome Jennifer Hawthorne to our family of collaborative practitioners.  Jennifer is a trained mediator and collaborative family and probate attorney with a background in financial services.   She is the mother of three wonderful children and a new puppy.  She is also on the Board of Directors of the Massachusetts Council on Family Mediation.

Here is what Jennifer would like to share about her journey to Skylark:

My path to working as an associate at Skylark Law and Mediation has been a little unusual. Many times, the career path for a family law lawyer/mediator goes something like this this:

For me, so far, my path has been a little different:


For some, this may seem like a backward step in the “normal” path of a law career. For me, if feels like the most natural step down my path.   Opening my firm had nothing to do with feeling like I had reached the point in my career where I was ready to run a business in addition to practicing law. …

This Is Your Court Day: Nov 8

For many people the judicial system is the most mysterious of the three branches of our government.  Especially in states like Massachusetts where judges are appointed instead of elected, the legislature and the executive branch dominate the news.  In addition, most people want to avoid the courthouse.  The court is where people are sued, get divorced, or go to jail.  But that's not all that happens there.

The judicial system in our republic serves the People, just like the legislators and executors.  The courthouse should also be a place where families are protected and respected, where disputes are resolved, and where victims receive justice.  The court system should not be something we fear and it should not be a mystery.

So we commend the Massachusetts trial courts for their plan to invite the public in on November 8, 2017, for the aptly titled "This is Your Court Day Open House".  The event will be taking place in eight courthouses around the Commonwealth of Massac…

Can Child Support Modifications be Retroactive by Agreement? Calabria v. Calabria

With the release of the updated 2017 Child Support Guidelines, everyone is talking about how the new guidelines will change current child support orders. Right at the cusp of the child support alteration was a case in the middle of the child support debate around court v. self-modification of child support orders: Calabria v. Calabria, 91 Mass. App. Ct. 763 - Mass: Appeals Court 2017.

In Calabria, the stipulations in the initial separation agreement of the couple in question were as follows:
“The parties agree that upon any change in his or her employment of income he or she shall immediately notify mother/father of the change, the child support will be reviewed. This Wife is currently unemployed. The Husband’s income has been cut in half. Both parties are obligated to notify the other upon any change of employment or salary status. Parties agree to immediately seek to modify the child support obligation and said modification to be retroactive to the change of employment or salary …

Finding Clients? It's Complicated! (sort of)

I recently told a room of potential referral sources an easy way to remember me as a resource for their clients.

I didn't tell them that they should remember me for being a mediator.

I didn't tell them that they should remember me because I'm a family law lawyer or a divorce lawyer.

That doesn't matter to referral sources or clients in today's world because it's not memorable, and it's not unique or interesting.  There are a lot of mediators and divorce lawyers, and many of them are great, and many of them have more experience than I do.

Instead I said:

Call me when when your friend changes their Facebook status to "It's Complicated"
The message contained in this request is not that I am a lawyer or a mediator, so you should hire me.  The message is that I help people when things get complicated.  The message is about the potential client, not about me, or my skills.  It's about what they are going through.  

(also the reference to facebo…

8 Changes in the 2017 Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines

Update: Use our 2017 Guidelines Calculator here.

Every four years the Child Support Guidelines in Massachusetts are updated by a Task Force appointed by the Chief Justice of the Trial Court.  In 2013 the Guidelines were updated and significant changes were made to the formula and to the parenting time language.  The Guidelines have been updated again for 2017, and the new guidelines take effect on September 15, 2017.  These are the primary changes:

1. Change in Format

Previous Guidelines contained a few footnotes, but for the most part were free of commentary.  The 2017 Guidelines include Principles and Comments to assist parties and the Court in interpreting and applying the Guidelines.

2. Raising the Minimum Amount of Child Support to $25 per week:

The minimum amount of child support since 2002 has been $80 per month ($18.46 per week).  The Task Force recommended raising this amount to $25 per week to reflect updated economic data.  This minimum presumptive order applies up to $115 p…

Can a person reporting a Restraining Order violation be sued if they're wrong?

Though our work is primarily focused on family mediation, a recent Anti-SLAPP case caught our attention. The Anti-SLAPP statute protects those “petitioning” a government entity from retaliatory civil lawsuits.  The recent case of St. Germain vs. O’Gara references this statute, in the context of a reported allegation of violating a restraining order.

St. Germain, the defendant, reported O’Gara to the police for violating a permanent abuse prevention order. She reported that St. Germain mailed documents to her which violated the protection order, but it turns out were properly filed court documents.  O’Gara was arrested for perceived violation of the order but later released due to lack of evidence against him.

The trial court denied St. Germain’s motion under the Anti-SLAPP statute to dismiss O’Gara’s complaint against her.  However, the Appeals Court found that the trial court failed to apply the two-part test appropriately.  The two part test requires first that the moving party s…

Meet Our Summer Intern - Patricia Cordischi

Along with our projected move (more on that soon!) and fresh start to the summer, we have taken on a new member of the Skylark team. Patricia Cordischi, a rising senior at Brandeis University, officially started this week as our  Skylark summer intern. Patricia is minoring in legal studies at her university and curious about the world of law. She is highly interested in family law but wishes to explore beyond the domestic realm into entertainment law.

At the office, Patricia will have various responsibilities including administrative work, drafting, and sitting in on consultations. She will be answering your phone calls and will hopefully be another friendly face you can speak to. Her background is in marketing, specifically in re-branding of company’s digital platforms, so she will be instrumental in maintaining our blog as well.

She is a go-getter and quick learner. With each new endeavor she takes on, Patricia is determined to excel. Patricia looks forward to getting to know both …

5 Tips for Adding Video to your Mediation Practice

Guest Post from Julie Tolek*

As more services go digital, it is necessary for legal and mediation professional to follow the trend. Clients expect an equal level of convenience and access in purchasing legal and mediation services that is provided in other online services. This means that the technological requirements on a modern law and mediation firm go well beyond having a good website.

It is important for forward thinking mediators and lawyers to add online scheduling, paperless billing, cloud file access and similar options to their regular services for their clients.  Following the growing digital trend, video meetings will likely replace in-person and phone meetings. To help mediators face the changing needs of their practice we’ve thought about the most important considerations involved in adding these services and making them seamless for your clients:

Five things to keep in mind when adding video mediations to your practice: 

1.Are all participants at different locations o…

Will Quitting Your Job Reduce Child Support or Alimony?

It is a common refrain that support payments are usually more than the payor wants to pay and less than the recipient wants to receive.  This discrepancy can be extreme when the parties have been used to a particular lifestyle and the payor's income decreases significantly. It is also understandable that a recipient would be skeptical about reducing support if an income decrease for the payor was voluntary, e.g. quitting his or her job.

Those were the circumstances in the recent Appeals Court decision: Emery v. Sturtevant.  The husband/payor in the Emery case resigned from a high income position for "personal reasons" and after an extensive job search obtained a much lower paying job in the same line of work.  He then sought a reduction in his child support and alimony which the trial court dismissed indicating that they were attributing income to him at the job he left.

The Appeals Court overturned the trial court's decision and directed the lower court to calculat…

The Collaborative Outpost

Skylark Law & Mediation, PC will soon be moving to Southborough, Massachusetts and it's an opportunity for us and other like-minded professionals.  Our new home will be a building in downtown Southborough, called the Collaborative Outpost, which has a particular mission:

To Provide an Enjoyable Work Space for Collaboratively Minded Professionals



ACCOMPLISHING THE MISSION:

Justin Kelsey, who will also be a manager of the Collaborative Outpost, first opened his law firm with Matthew Trask as Kelsey & Trask, PC in 2008.  Since that time Kelsey & Trask, PC has evolved into Skylark Law & Mediation, PC, a leader in the resolution of family and probate disputes.  Justin is active in the mediation and collaborative law communities and has long dreamed of opening a shared work space that could expand on the model that has worked so well for Skylark (now a firm with five attorney/mediators).

The Collaborative Outpost is the realization of this dream, but not the end.  Our goa…

How does a Divorce end? 😡, ☹️, or 🙂

There are three typical ways a divorce process can end: Reconciliation, Judgment, or Settlement.  Very few cases reconcile once a divorce process is started, and very few cases go all the way to Judgment.  In other words, most divorce cases settle, either before going to court, or at some time during the court process.  But settlement takes lots of different forms, and those different forms can have a significant impact on whether people feel good about their settlement or not.

Many clients and potential clients have asked me if there is any statistical research on outcomes for different processes, or even whether there is any data on whether a particular process is considered more "successful" than other options.  Unfortunately, I am not aware of any large scale study comparing Mediation, Collaborative Law, Arbitration, Self-Help Negotiation and Litigation, or even anything close to comprehensive.  There is some research comparing mediation and litigation, but not much els…

7 Reasons to Consider a Prenup

Guest Post from Julie Tolek*

That magical moment that you have been waiting for has finally happened. Your significant other proposed and YOU SAID YES! Or you proposed and YOUR SIGNIFICANT OTHER SAID YES! You both have your wedding goggles on and all you can see are hearts and rainbows and as you start to plan the wedding, romance is in the air and the love is palpable. You set the date. Your friends and family then save the date. The flowers have been ordered. The wedding planner is pulling everything together.

And then one of you dares utter the “P” word.

Prenup.

PRENUP.

PRE. NUP.

The record stops and the world goes silent and time stops and you wonder if you really heard what you thought you heard.

PRE Nope. 

Or if you are the one who brought it up, you wonder if it’s too late to slur your words so they sound like something else.

“Honey, I said we need to CLEAN UP. I can’t BELIEVE you thought I said PRENUP!” 

And then you avoid eye contact. Everything is awkward and weird and you migh…

The New Massachusetts Standing Order on Parent Coordination: An Overview

Guest Post by Tony Pelusi*

Well it has finally come to be; earlier this month the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court issued Standing Order 1-17 setting forth the qualifications, standards of practice, and scope of authority for Massachusetts Parenting Coordinators (PC).  For the first time in the history of the Commonwealth this rule informs clients, attorneys, and judges what is necessary to avail themselves of the multitude of benefits of the PC process provides. Those who wish to access the full text of rule directly may click here.  What follows is a summary of the salient provisions for practitioners and parents.

First, Qualifications & Training:

For starters, a PC must be a licensed, experienced, and specially trained lawyer or mental health professional.   To qualify for appointment as a PC individuals must apply to the Court and be approved, demonstrating that they have completed at least

30 hours of mediation training, 6 hours of training in intimate partner abuse and…

Unvested Stock Options may be Income for Alimony Purposes - Ludwig v. Lamee-Ludwig

In Hoegen v. Hoegen, the Massachusetts Appeals Court addressed whether it was a double dip to include restricted stock unit income in a child support order when those stocks had already been considered in the asset division.  The Appeals Court determined that the income should be included in the calculation, because the child support income definition is broad.  For more on that decision visit: Income: What's In and What's Out when Calculating Child Support?

In contrast to the child support guidelines, Massachusetts law on alimony specifically excludes income from previously divided assets: "When issuing an order for alimony, the court shall exclude from its income calculation: (1) capital gains income and dividend and interest income which derive from assets equitably divided between the parties under section 34..." MGL c. 208 § 53  This means that the RSUs addressed in the Hoegen case would not be included for alimony calculations.  But what about stock options th…

Online Tool for Creating Parenting Plans

It is our hope that all families find a way to resolve conflict peacefully.  This is especially true when children are involved.  Divorced or separated parenting has many complications and the first is just deciding how to share time with a child from two separate households.  Developing a schedule can result in a lot of tension, especially if parents have trouble picturing how this new schedule will interact with their work schedules and the schedules of their children.

To help make this easier, we've created an online tool for creating parenting plans that is simple and easy to use:



We encourage parents, regardless of the process they are using to divorce, to use this form to assist in evaluating and settling custody disputes. The form allows you to choose between the Model Parenting Plan proposals or customize your parenting plan over a four week period by clicking directly on the form.  When you click on a section of the calendar it switches between Mom and Dad, and if you cho…

The Absurdity of Death & Divorce and the Importance of Professional Optimism

I recently discovered Reply All, which is a podcast that explores interesting and amazing stories about the internet.  I've been listening to past episodes and today I discovered Episode #2: The Secret, Gruesome Internet For Doctors, which focuses on the existence of an app for doctors called Figure One.  Figure One is essentially an Instagram of gruesome photos of bodily diseases and injuries posted by doctors, potentially for educational purposes but mostly just for story sharing.  What's really interesting about this app is how normal it seems to doctors and how abnormal/gross/scary it is to everyone else.

There are professions, like soldier or doctor, that deal with death and the fragility of life on such a regular basis that it becomes normal to them.  This creates a disconnect between what feels normal to a doctor and what feels normal to a patient.  The doctor has faced the absurdity of death in a way that the rest of us try to remain ignorant of.  Good doctors use emp…