WE HELP FAMILIES RESOLVE CONFLICT PEACEFULLY


Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Will the Alimony Tax Change Pressure Couples to Finalize their Divorce in 2018?

As we have previously covered here, The Tax Cuts & Jobs Act of 2017 Includes a Divorce “Penalty” for divorces that take place after December 31, 2018 if they involve alimony.  Prior to this act, and up until December 31, 2018, alimony was tax deductible to the payor and taxable income to the recipient, which allowed for a shifting of taxable income to a lower tax bracket.  If an agreement is entered prior to the end of 2018, and this benefit is preserved, then it continues into future years, even if the amount is later modified.  This has led many couples, already in the divorce process, to consider whether they want to work on finalizing their case prior to the end of 2018 to preserve this option.

Because some states, like Massachusetts, have waiting periods for finalizing a divorce, this law change raised a question:

Does the deadline of December 31, 2018 apply to the divorce being finalized, or just having a written agreement completed?

The answer to this question in Massachusetts, which has a 90-120 day waiting period for the finalization of a divorce after the Judgment of Divorce Nisi, could mean the difference between having to have an agreement done in August rather than December.  For more information about the timing of the divorce process in Massachusetts read our post: How to be Divorced by the End of the Year.

According to a recent post from local CPA firm, Gosule, Butkus & Jesson, LLP,
"The key for parties getting divorced in 2018 who want alimony to be deductible to the payer and taxable to the recipient is to have a written, signed, alimony agreement in place by December 31, 2018."
They note that the couple does not have to actually be legally separated or divorced for the alimony to be deductible as long as there is a "written separation agreement" with clear statements for support that otherwise meet the requirements for deductible alimony.  To read their entire rationale for this conclusion, complete with tax court citations, read their full article here: What Constitutes an Alimony Agreement?

Monday, July 23, 2018

Appeals Court Confirms Again, Verbal Agreements are not Good Enough to Modify Support

Guest Post from Julie Tolek*

In the recent case of Smith v. Smith (17-P-765), the Appeals court upheld a finding of not guilty of contempt of disobeying a court order to pay alimony, but vacated and remanded as to the retroactive modification of alimony made by the trial Judge due to the parties' verbal agreements, stating that retroactive modification of alimony requires findings “reflecting [the judge’s] consideration of all the factors mandated by” the statute. quoting Pierce v. Pierce, 455 Mass. 286 (2009).

After a divorce which included an order for the husband to pay alimony, the parties agreed among themselves that the husband would pay less than the amount of alimony in their separation agreement. Relying on this agreement, the husband contributed financially to various expenses for his emancipated children, including payment toward a wedding, down payments for two of his children’s houses, and payment toward liabilities. After receiving a letter from the Wife’s attorney, the husband began paying the originally agreed to amount. Subsequently, the wife filed a complaint for contempt for failure to pay alimony to collect the arrears.

The trial court found the husband not guilty of civil contempt as to the non-payment of alimony because although it did meet one requirement of contempt of “clear and unequivocal command” (not paying the amount of alimony required by the agreement), it did not meet the second requirement that the plaintiff show “clear and undoubted disobedience” by the husband, since he did make the reduced payments that he and his wife had agreed upon outside of the separation agreement. The Appeals court upheld this finding.

The trial court also retroactively (but not prospectively) modified alimony to bring it in line with the husband’s previous payments. The trial court based the modification on the same findings that led to the court to find the husband not guilty of contempt, however the Appeals court states that the two issues are separate and that “a party may not be in contempt, yet still owe alimony under the existing court order.” In reversing and remanding as to the modification, the Appeals court continues that although the retroactive modification is in the judge’s discretion, the judge must make findings “reflecting [the judge’s] consideration of all the factors mandated by G.L.c. 208, s. 34.” Pierce v. Pierce, 455 Mass. 286 (2009). Even prior to Pierce, case law has demonstrated that an alimony order can only be modified upon showing a material change in circumstances which involves looking at the statute at that time, the s. 34 factors, when evaluating the circumstances. Since the judge in this case did did not make findings addressing the current statute factors, the Appeals court reversed and remanded for an evaluation of the appropriate factors as well as if there has been a material change in circumstances since the divorce in relation to those factors.

As to the husband’s defenses of laches and estoppel, the Appeals court found, in accordance with case law, that laches is not a defense in a claim such as this, and that in any case where the elements of estoppel are analyzed, it should be done so relative to the required factors.

*Julie Tolek is an Associate at Skylark Law & Mediation, PC and runs her own practice, Think Pink Law.  Julie's practice includes family law & divorce representation, prenuptial agreements, mediation, firearms licensing & NFA trusts, estate planning & probate, and adoptions.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Accessibility with an Injury: The Problem with Sounding like your Mother

We recently published a post regarding the importance of making websites more accessible to all potential users where we provided some tips on improving accessibility.  Accessibility is not just an issue for those with long-term disabilities.  Access is often limited for individuals on a temporary basis due to an injury or surgery.  We asked Julie Tolek to write this follow-up post about her recent surgery and her experience with temporary Accessibility challenges.

Accessibility with an Injury: The Problem with Sounding like your Mother

a Guest Post from Julie Tolek*

Note: I use an iPhone, so this article references iPhone specific settings and apps that may or may not (but should) be available on other devices.

Earlier this year, I was scheduled to have shoulder surgery in March. I had been in pain and unable to use my arm properly for months, and when conservative treatments such as physical therapy and cortisone shots did nothing for the pain, I asked for an MRI. I knew in my heart of hearts that I had real damage to my shoulder but it wasn’t until the MRI confirmed that I had torn my labrum that I was able to set up the surgery.

One of the first things I asked my doctor was how soon will I be able to type, since getting back to work as soon as possible was important. I would be able to move my fingers just fine after the nerve block wore off, but I would not be able to move my arm for a very long time. With physical therapy, I would eventually get my range of motion back over a period of 6-9 months. But first I would have to wear a sling for 8 weeks.

Yikes!

As I started to think about the reality of how this situational temporary disability would affect my work and daily life, my first thought was that of gratitude - that my injury was repairable and that I would have use of my fingers, hand, and arm, all in due time. My next thought was how I was going to get through that time and still be able to use my arm as I could.

My top 3 observations about and experiences with accessibility while my arm was in a sling:

1. Phone numbers on non mobile-responsive websites: 
I am a website and marketing snob as it is, so visiting websites on my mobile device (I use an iPhone) only to find out that the site is not mobile responsive really aggravates me, especially because creating a mobile responsive site can usually be done very easily by clicking a checkbox or changing a setting on the back end. Specifically on mobile responsive sites, if there is a phone number on the site, usually you can tap it and your phone will ask if you want to call the number. Non mobile responsive sites do not have the phone number linked so you can just tap it, but instead force you to copy and paste the phone number into your actual phone app. I have really small hands, so it is often hard for me to use my iPhone one handed to do anything, much less copy and paste. With one arm in a sling, it becomes even more difficult, and annoying.
2. Getting to know Siri when you sound like your mom:
For the first time, I started to regularly use speech-to-text services (such as Siri) to dictate my writing. I had experimented with using Siri before and let me just say, we were not friends. Half the time she would get things right (setting alarms, asking the time, etc.), but when she didn’t or when she asked for clarification, she never understood what I was saying. By the time I used manual input to correct her or do what I was trying to do, it would have taken less time if I had fumbled my way through one handed to begin with. I decided that it was time to really try my best to use Siri as much as possible so we could become more proficient with communicating with each other. Text messages were hands down what I dictated the most, followed by emails. I am paranoid about sending the wrong email to the wrong person, so if I was starting an email from scratch, I would dictate it into notes first and send it manually later. This also gave me a chance to proofread and edit before sending. I would also dictate replies and save the drafts to send later.
Voice commands involving reading messages or creating calendar events using Siri proved to be not as useful. Often times, if I wanted Siri to read a new message for example, I had to unlock my phone with my fingers anyway.
Siri actually started to confuse my mom’s voice with mine! My mom stayed with me during the first part of my recovery. She also uses an iPhone and already used Siri much more than I did. I knew my mom and I sounded alike but when she would say, “Hey Siri!” To activate Siri, and both of our phones would reply, it was kind of weird! Her Siri would recognize my voice as well. What I found the most amusing was if one of us activated Siri, but the other's phone responded!
So I guess Siri is slightly less reliable when you and your mom sound alike.
3. Text to speech:
One of the most overlooked features on the iPhone is the ability to have it read things to you. Whether it is a webpage, a pdf document, or an email, there is another option other than asking Siri to read you something. In Settings > General > Accessibility, there are numerous settings to make the functions and use of the iPhone (or iPad) more accessible to those with disabilities. One of those settings allows Siri to read you the contents of the page by swiping three fingers down from the top of the screen. So if you cannot speak the command but you can see the screen, you can have Siri read to you manually. This setting is actually listed under Vision, in the Speech subcategory.
Once the setting is on and you use three fingers to swipe down from the top of the screen, Siri will begin reading automatically. You can adjust the speed from the little menu that pops up or set a default speed in the Speech settings. Although this method means I have to use my fingers, it is yet another (and sometimes more reliable) way to get Siri to read to me exactly what I want. If there is no readable content on the page, Siri will say so.
I have used this in the car as well when I wanted to be productive and have Siri read legal cases to me. She reads right through website extras and the stuff that you probably would not consider part of the main document, but generally you can follow her monologue.
Having limited use of my arm during my shoulder surgery recovery really got me to think about how these different ways of accessing information really make a difference for people who have disabilities, whether temporary or life long. It’s imperative that we remember, as humans, to be considerate of other people’s methods for seeing and receiving information, and communication, and that we strive to provide different ways to access and harness the same information.


*Julie Tolek is an Associate at Skylark Law & Mediation, PC and runs her own practice, Think Pink Law.  Julie's practice includes family law & divorce representation, prenuptial agreements, mediation, firearms licensing & NFA trusts, estate planning & probate, and adoptions.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Reducing the Barriers to Legal and Mediation Services: Making our Website Accessible to All

Guest post by Kristyn Stoia:

Unless you’ve ever faced barriers while using a website, Web Accessibility is probably something that you’ve likely never heard of. However, there are numerous hurdles those with various impairments face when using the web, especially since the vast majority of sites aren’t designed with these needs in mind.

A website is regarded to be Accessible when measures have been taken to make certain that obstacles are removed to give equal access to the user. It also means that regardless of someone's physical, mental, or cognitive condition that they are able to freely use a website to obtain information and services.

Userway App Screenshot from Skylark WebsiteHere at Skylark Law & Mediation, PC, we took numerous steps to ensure Accessibility for each and every one of our users. We strived to adhere to the WCAG Outlines for Accessibility which means creating a site that was perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. In doing this, we took some specific measures:

We began by adding the Userway Plugin, which can be found in the upper right-hand corner of the website and this blog. This simple widget can really pack a punch in its capabilities and benefits for our users. It allows for keyboard navigation, cursor enlargement, color contrast, text enlargement, desaturation, link highlighting, legible fonts, as well as the ability to have the page read aloud to you. All these features are huge game changers in terms of the user experience. Best of all, it will remember the settings you chose, so each time you visit the Skylark website it will be ready to go.

On more of the tech side of the equation, there were many alterations that were done deep within the site. We added alternative text captions for each and every one of our images so that they could be read by screen readers,title attributes were removed in order to prevent a reductant experience from auditory software that would read out loud more content on the site than was necessary, and Skiplinks were added to allow for further navigation on the site. These are just a few of the adjustments we made in the pursuit of creating a far more accessible website.

Implementing Accessibility into our website was one simple way to be certain that all users on the Skylark website have equal access to the same user experience. Achieving a more Accessible site benefits all users regardless of their disabilities. Not only does the site now accommodate various disabilities but it also incorporates a fluid user interface for visitors. Legal services and information should be attainable by whoever seeks them, so by improving our site; we are fulfilling our role in leveling the playing field for all of our potential clients. All in all, accessibility is a huge issue that needs to be considered in order to welcome everyone to use the services or experience the content you're putting on the web.

For more information read the Accessibility Statement on our site.


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