WE HELP FAMILIES RESOLVE CONFLICT PEACEFULLY


Monday, April 22, 2019

Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines on your iPhone

In 2017 and 2018 the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines were updated twice, resulting in a new worksheet calculation that encompasses numerous changes from the prior iteration (2013).  Here are some useful resources explaining the changes:

8 Changes in the 2017 Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines

2018 Child Support Guidelines Update: Fixing the Table B Problem

2018 Child Support Guidelines Update: Fixing the Double Counting of Health Care and Child Care Credits

While understanding how the calculation works is important, sometimes all we need is the ability to run a number of sample calculations quickly.  For that purpose you can use the court's pdf worksheet available here, or one of these useful tools:





https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/ma-child-support-calculator/id346060258?mt=8


this calculator is also available in a suite of calculators called:





https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/ma-divorce-calculators/id891946217

and we also have a free online calculator that works in any web-browser:


https://www.skylarklaw.com/family-law/divorce/massachusetts-child-support-calculator/

Friday, April 12, 2019

Social Security Benefits in Divorce

In Divorce nothing is as simple as it may seem at first. This is just one of the reasons it's vitally important to obtain good financial and legal advice during the divorce process. Social Security is an example of how something that seems simple can actually be a very complicated discussion in divorce. Consider the question:

Can Social Security benefits be transferred or divided as part of a divorce?

The simple answer is no.

The more complicated answer is that while the benefit itself cannot be transferred, Social Security does provide for benefits for divorced spouses in certain circumstances, and many courts have also ruled that the amount of a Social Security benefit can affect other determinations. For example, in Massachusetts the case of Mahoney v. Mahoney, held that the court could consider the Social Security benefit owed to the husband in that case when determining the equitable division of the wife's retirement benefit.

In Mahoney, the trial Judge awarded the wife more of her retirement benefit taking the husband's social security benefit into account.  The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed this decision confirming that the court couldn't divide it as a marital asset, but under the broad discretion for "equitable" division of assets in Massachusetts, the court could properly consider that income stream.  It would follow that the court could also consider social security benefits in determining alimony, however under the Alimony Reform Act the court must deviate to extend alimony beyond full social security retirement age, so this is less likely than an unequal division of assets to account for differences in Social Security benefits.

Of course, determining the amount of a social security benefit is not always easy.  For additional information on that issue review the following resources:

Obtain your Social Security Statement

Review the Social Security Benefits available for Divorced Spouses

Review potential reductions to Social Security due to Pension Benefits

In divorce mediation and collaborative divorces, we encourage clients to not make any decisions until they are fully informed.  When determining an appropriate division of retirement accounts, especially pensions, it is important to make sure you also have any relevant information about your potential social security benefits so they can be part of any discussions about equitable division.

Monday, April 1, 2019

How long is a marriage? Balistreri v. Balistreri

How long is a marriage? It’s a seemingly straightforward question, but divorce and alimony laws over the years, and the complexities created by overuse of the courts, have complicated the issue. The Balistreri case, which came down from the Massachusetts Appeals Court on June 29, 2018, clarifies the question somewhat.

The alimony statute defines the length of a marriage as “the number of months from the date of the legal marriage to the date of service of a complaint or petition for divorce or separate support.” M.G.L. c. 208 §48. Balistreri addresses situations where there may be more than one complaint for divorce or separate support floating around. This may be because of hastiness to go to court before other options have been explored, which then lead to a resolution of an issue, so that the complaint is abandoned and does not result in a judgment. It may also be because parties may first file a complaint for separate support before following through with a complaint for divorce.

The Balistreri case provides that, where there are multiple such pre-divorce complaints, the length of the marriage is determined by the service date on one of the complaints which resulted in a judgment for payment of alimony. The trial court is given discretion to decide which among the qualifying complaints determines the length of the marriage.

A complaint that was filed but that did not result in any judgment (because, for example, it was abandoned) does not qualify for consideration. This avoids a “nonsensical” situation where the marriage is considered ended where, for example, one party files for divorce, and then the parties later reconcile and decide to remain together for many more years. A complaint that results in a judgment but not a judgment that provides for payment of alimony also does not qualify for consideration. Finally, complaints that are filed but are not timely or properly served do not qualify either.

What does this mean if you are considering a divorce? 

If you have filed a complaint in order to put an end-date on the length of the marriage because you are considering a divorce, this does not mean the end-date for your marriage is set in stone. If you do abandon your complaint for some reason, or fail to follow through with participating in the process, the service-date of the summons on that obsolete complaint will no longer apply. This means practically speaking that, if you do intend to file a contested divorce, you should be sure to have consulted with an attorney and be sure you understand how to follow through on the requirements of the court process, for example attending and appropriately preparing for all your court dates, and complying with mandatory discovery.

Bear in mind that even if you intend to negotiate a settlement of your divorce, you can still file a complaint for divorce to set an end-date for the marriage, and then convert the complaint for divorce into a joint petition for divorce when you are ready to present your agreement to the court.

The larger piece of practical advice we can draw from this situation is that the trigger-happy approach to litigation, which seeks to run to court and file a new complaint whenever there is a dispute, really is not the most cost-effective nor efficient way to handle family law disputes. The potential alimony-payor will not minimize their alimony obligations if they are not willing to systematically follow through with each complaint filed, or if there is not enough substance within each complaint to make it worthwhile or necessary to see it through to a final judgment.  If potential payor and recipient can agree on the length of the marriage, through mediation or collaborative negotiation, then only a joint petition and agreement would be necessary, avoiding any risk in discretion of the court.

 by Valerie Qian - former associate to Skylark Law & Mediation, PC
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