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Divorcing During COVID-19

When your relationship is already strained, living under quarantine conditions can quickly shed light on a troubled marriage. Whether you’ve been contemplating divorce for a while or the stress of recent events has become the straw to break the camel’s back, so to speak, our attorneys can help you understand the divorce process and your options. During these unprecedented times, we are all taking a look at our lives and examining our relationships. Perhaps the tiny cracks in your relationship have turned into irreparable gaping holes. With a newfound outlook on how we see our futures, some couples may decide to part ways. If you’re among those wondering if you can file for divorce during the covid crisis, the answer is yes. While we do not know when the court will reopen to the public, the judges and court employees are continuing to work during this time period. Hearings on emergency matters, along with some uncontested matters, to the extent they are not handled administratively, are being handled telephonically. The court is further in the process of attempting to put procedures in place to hear contested matters through video conferencing to the extent possible. Below are some things you should know about the divorce process under any circumstances. Although Massachusetts recognizes both “fault” and “no-fault” divorces, most divorces are granted based upon “irretrievable breakdown” of the marriage (no-fault). Massachusetts Courts divide property equitably–not necessarily equally. This means property and assets will be distributed in a way that the Court believes

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Staying Safe and Saying NO to Domestic Abuse During COVID-19

Strict stay-at-home orders implemented for safety have placed abuse victims directly in harm’s way. Safety measures recommended to limit the spread of the coronavirus pandemic have led to a rise in domestic abuse. For many, this is not a surprise as domestic violence goes up whenever families spend more time together. With families in quarantine and isolation worldwide, stress-levels are at an all-time high. The uncertainty of the future can increase anxiety for many. Coupled with unemployment and financial stress, tension among households is sure to rise. With the children at home all day, empty refrigerators, low bank funds, and forced interactions, families everywhere are facing conflict, creating the perfect storm for abusers to intimidate and inflict harm on their victims. While conflict doesn’t always explode into violence, many living in isolation from their support network have nowhere to turn when violence erupts. As routines change and families are stuck in the confinement of their homes, reports of domestic violence are increasing nationwide. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has very stringent laws in place to protect domestic violence victims. Such laws apply to people who: are or were married are or were living together are related by blood or marriage have children together, and are dating or have dated. When escape feels impossible under stay at home orders, victims should know they have a right to safety. Abusers may use COVID-19 as a way to exert control over their victims. Governments around the world have been encouraged to address domestic violence

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Co-parenting in the Face of Coronavirus

Amid the spread of COVID-19, we are all facing unprecedented times. As this pandemic continues, regulations regarding safe practices change daily. One thing on the mind of parents sharing custody is whether or not their court order is enforceable. Rest assured, custody, parenting plans, and placement are in effect and continue to be enforceable during this period of time. Court-ordered arrangements remain obligatory and should be followed accordingly. Any parent planning to use the pandemic as a reason to deny access to another parent can expect the courts to come down hard on parent agreement violations. Many judges view time of crisis to be particularly critical times for children to maintain some form of normality. In cases where parents are willing to work together, they should consider the following: which parent has better resources for the child to complete distance learning, if one parent has a high-risk job, the health of family members, social distancing rules, etc. In the unfortunate event that a parent is required to self-quarantine or is restricted from having contact with others, efforts should be made to allow for parenting time by video conference or telephone. A critical aspect of co-parenting that may be affected is where the exchange of children takes place. For some parents, the changeover occurs at school. However, if the school is no longer in session, a new location and time will need to be agreed upon. If the exchange is not possible from someone’s home, it’s suggested to find a public

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What is a Guardianship?

Guardianship is a legal arrangement that allows one party—whether that be a concerned individual, a lawyer, or even an organization—to make personal and legal decisions on behalf of an individual who is not fully capable of doing so himself or herself. This is in contrast to a conservatorship, which grants the right to make financial decisions and handle the financial assets of an individual who is not able to do so. Where large amounts of money are involved, a conservator is usually appointed alongside a guardian. Often a guardian and conservator will work together to make sure the guardian has enough funds on hand to provide for the daily needs of the person under his or her protection while the conservator works to safeguard and grow that person’s assets. There are two forms of guardianship: guardianship of adults and guardianship of minors. Each has their own requirements and process for approval. Guardianship of Adults Under Massachusetts law, any concerned individual—or corporate party, for that matter—may apply to be the guardian of an adult who fits the criteria of an “incapacitated person” whose decision making is significantly affected by a diagnosed medical condition The guidelines for an incapacitated person include, but are not limited to someone with: a severe intellectual disability (an IQ of about 70) a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) severe mental illness There are special situations, such as the cognitive decline of a spouse due to Alzheimer’s or the coming-of-age of a disabled child, that the court may

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ARC vs. GAL vs. Parenting Coordinator

Divorce, even in the most amicable situations, can be difficult for children. When divorce is not so amicable, and courts get involved, this can add to the stress of the situation. A courtroom environment can intimidate children old enough to understand the proceedings and overwhelm children too young to grasp exactly why they are there. Luckily, there are a variety of legally recognized advocates for children available in Massachusetts courts: a guardian ad litem, an attorney-representing-children, and a court-appointed parenting coordinator. 1. Guardian Ad Litem A guardian ad litem (GAL) is an individual appointed by the court to investigate, report and at times make recommendations as to matters of custody, parenting time; and requests for in-state and out of state removal relative to the parties’ children. A guardian ad litem may be a licensed mental health professional with a focus on working with divorcing couples and their children, or may also be an attorney who has undergone additional training to work with children and their families. A guardian ad litem interviews the children, their parents, and other collaterals, such as medical providers, teachers and other individuals with first hand knowledge of the issues presented to determine what is in the children’s best interest. The GAL will then present these findings in a written report to the court. In a divorce, either party or both parties may request the involvement of a GAL, or the court may order the appointment of one to determine the children’s best interest. The cost of

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The Massachusetts Divorce Process: Know Your Options

The decision to file for divorce is never easy. When the determination has been made, it’s essential to understand the process, which varies by state. To begin the divorce process in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, here are a few things to consider. To file for divorce in Massachusetts, one of the following must apply: (1) you have lived in the state for one year, or (2) the reason the marriage ended happened in Massachusetts, and you have lived in Massachusetts as a couple. Massachusetts allows a divorce to be filed as ‘no-fault’ or ‘fault,’ and either of these can be contested or uncontested. A no-fault divorce is called an “Irretrievable Breakdown of Marriage” in Massachusetts and is a result of a marriage broken beyond repair, but neither spouse blames the other. There are two no-fault options: uncontested or contested. An uncontested no-fault divorce is when both parties agree that the marriage has irretrievably broken down AND a written agreement about child support, parenting time, alimony, child custody, and dividing marital assets has been agreed upon. A contested no-fault divorce, on the other hand, is filed when both spouses believe the marriage has ended, but they are NOT in agreement about custody, support, or marital property issues. When one spouse is considered at fault in causing the marriage to end, one of seven different fault grounds must apply. The person asking for the fault divorce must prove one of the following grounds: Adultery Desertion Gross and confirmed habits of intoxication Cruel

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Will I lose my health insurance coverage when my divorce is finalized?

Many families elect to have Group Insurance coverage under a single spouse provided by their employer. This means one spouse is the primary policyholder of a medical insurance plan, and the rest of the family is covered under that one plan. During a divorce, the question arises as to how the other spouse, and children, will be covered by medical insurance. Massachusetts law does allow the dependent spouse to remain on the insured spouse’s private employer-sponsored group plan after divorce and legal separation. However, this only applies to insured plans. This is why it is important to understand the type of coverage fulfilled by a policy. For example, employer-sponsored group health plans may be either insured or self-insured. Insured health plan coverage is purchased from an insurance carrier or managed care organization (such as an HMO), by the employer. A self-insured (or self-funded) plan, on the other hand, places the financial risk for employee medical claims on the employee. If the obligor spouse has employer-sponsored group health insurance that will cover the other spouse, a court order will be necessary to continue coverage for the dependent/non-subscriber spouse. Under Massachusetts law, state insurance allows the dependent spouse to remain on the insured spouse’s private employer-sponsored group plan after divorce and legal separation. However, coverage typically ends when the obligor spouse remarries as plans generally will not allow the obligor spouse to cover both his new spouse and the dependent spouse. Coverage for the dependent spouse may also end when the dependent

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Don’t Fall Victim to Hidden Assets During Divorce

When it comes to divorce in Massachusetts, everything related to finances must be fully disclosed. This includes every single asset, purchased together or otherwise, as well as all accumulated debts. Each spouse is instructed to report known findings through a financial affidavit. It is against the law to purposely hide, understate, or overstate assets, as well as any marital property, debt, income, or expense. In extreme cases, this can potentially lead to the withholding party being sentenced to serve time in jail. If you suspect your spouse of attempting to hide assets, it’s imperative to retain a divorce lawyer who has significant experience discovering hidden or undervalued assets. A top-notch Massachusetts divorce lawyer will know the tricks used to hide assets and work with forensic accountants, investigators, and other experts to uncover these attempts to mislead the system.

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Divorce Facts Every Massachusetts Couple Should Know

Whether you’re anticipating a separation or contemplating divorce, you should know some key information regarding divorce in Massachusetts. Reasons for Divorce There are several permitted grounds for divorce under Massachusetts law. Traditional fault grounds—such as adultery or incarceration—as well as no-fault grounds, are justifiable means for divorce. No-fault grounds describe a faultless but irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. Support Payments Spousal support or alimony payments are the obligations of one spouse to support the other financially for a temporary or permanent basis. Not all divorce cases will involve spousal support ruling and are determined on a case-by-case basis. A number of factors are taken into consideration when awarding alimony, including the length of the marriage, the conduct of the parties during the marriage, each spouse’s age, health, and ability to earn an income. The court may also consider the contribution of each party in the acquisition, preservation, or appreciation in the value of their respective estates. Each party’s contribution as a homemaker to the family unit will also be considered. Child support guidelines are considered when determining the order of child support payments made by either spouse. The Percentage of Income formula is typically used as a Massachusetts child support guideline to calculate the support obligation. The number of children needing support, as well as each party’s income, plays a role in the allocation of child support payments. The courts also have the ability to deviate from traditional guidelines if ordered payments can be proved to be too burdensome. Custody

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Divorce Modification in Massachusetts

Once a divorce is finalized, the documents are filed with the courts. However, life is unpredictable and circumstances can change over time. In Massachusetts, if an earlier court order or judgment no longer suits the parties because circumstances have changed in a significant way since the order or judgment was issued, the court can “modify” the prior order or judgment. Cases where a modification might be appropriate include those where the children are significantly older than at the time when the last child support order was issued, or where a person ordered to pay alimony has retired and now has a substantially smaller income than at the time he or she was ordered to pay alimony. In general, to obtain a modification through a complaint for modification, a person must prove to the court that a material change in circumstances has occurred since the last judgment was issued, and the change makes a modification of the orders necessary. When the change concerns a child or children, you must also prove that the proposed change is in the best interest of the child or children. Consulting with an experienced family law attorney can help you with the divorce modification process. Whether your claim is about child support, custody, parenting time or alimony, you want to know all of the pros and cons to making the changes. If you have questions about your divorce agreement and would like to know if a modification is appropriate, please contact our law office to schedule

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