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family law

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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How to Get a Protective Order Against an Abusive Partner or Spouse

Domestic abuse is a serious and even life-threatening situation—and there are legal remedies to help survivors protect themselves, their children, and their property as they make the brave decision to escape an abusive situation and begin moving forward with their lives. One of the most important tools available to victims of domestic abuse is the restraining order. In Massachusetts, a restraining order is known as a an “Abuse Prevention Order” or a “209A Order.” This name refers to Chapter 209A of the Massachusetts legal code, entitled the Massachusetts Abuse Prevention Act, which defines domestic abuse. According to Chapter 209A, domestic abuse may be: 1. Physical violence 2. Attempts to harm with physical violence 3. Causing another person credible fear of serious harm 4. Coercing another person into sexual relations through physical force, the threat of force, or duress Acts of physical violence are themselves criminal offenses subject to prosecution in Massachusetts. While emotional and verbal abuse are not defined as crimes under Massachusetts law, they are recognized as common features of abusive situations and relationships. Financial abuse—the withholding of or control over a partner’s financial or material resources—is another feature of abusive situations. A 209A protective order may be filed for at any Massachusetts court—superior, general, or probate and family. If children are involved, though, only a county-level probate and family court can address visitation issues in a protective order. A protective order can require an abuser to cease abusive behavior, to avoid all contact with the protected party, to

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Common Myths in Massachusetts Family Law Every Parent Should Know

When it comes to divorcing and family law, things get complicated quickly. It’s essential to know your rights regarding your children. Presented here are some common myths every parent should be made aware of during divorce or custody proceedings. Myth: A parent’s failure to pay child support can result in the parent being kept from seeing the children Only a judge can determine visitation rights. If a parent fails to pay child support, the other parent is not automatically given the right to withhold visitation. The Court’s orders for visitation cannot be ignored simply because the child support account is two months or even two years delinquent. Myth: If a parent doesn’t agree with the court orders, they can move the kids out of state Once an action involving custody of children (divorce, domestic abuse, guardianship, etc.) is filed in Massachusetts, neither party can remove a child from the state without permission from the other parent or a judge. This act of moving a child out of state without permission can result in criminal charges. A modification with a compelling reason to move with the children, such as once-in-a-lifetime education, family, or work opportunity, must be filed to remove children from the state legally. Myth: He/She cheated on me, so I should get everything Infidelity is grounds for divorce in Massachusetts, however, in a divorce, a judge must consider many factors in making a decision, including all conduct of the parties during the entire marriage, good and bad. It is

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I was married and last lived in Massachusetts with my spouse but do not live in Massachusetts now, can I get divorced in Massachusetts?

While marriage laws are based on where the parties are at the time of marriage, divorce is based on where the parties live at the time of divorce. The answer to this question depends on how long you’ve resided outside of Massachusetts. While most states require you to be a resident before you may file divorce papers, the required length of residency varies per state. In most cases, it’s at least a minimum of six months. To file for divorce in the state of Massachusetts, one of the following must apply: You, or your estranged spouse, have lived in the state for a year, OR You lived with your spouse as a married couple in Massachusetts when your “grounds” for divorce happened. You should be aware that whatever court handles the initial divorce settlement has jurisdiction over all other residual issues such as child custody, child support, and any amendments to these arrangements. Because divorce laws can vary dramatically between the states, it is important to understand how residing in different locations may impact your right to marital property, child custody, alimony payments, and child support payments. Make sure to consult with a knowledgeable attorney before taking any action to avoid any filing issues. Contact our office to have your questions answered today.

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What factors do courts consider when determining child custody?

Courts primarily base their decision on what is in the child’s best interest, using the Child’s Best Interest Standard. Factors vary from state to state, but the overall goal is to make a decision that promotes the health and wellbeing of the child. Parents are encouraged to come to an agreement on matters of child custody and visitation to submit to the court. However, if the judge finds the settlement agreement is not in the child’s best interest, it can be rejected. Courts will generally determine the stability of each parent’s home environment and their interest and commitment to caring for the child. Other factors include the health of each parent, both physical and mental; the special needs of the child, if any; the child’s own wishes if they are old enough to say so; whether there is evidence of illicit drug use, or drug/alcohol abuse; and adjustment to the community, such as where they go to school, proximity to other caretakers, etc. In Massachusetts, the best interests of the child are the overriding guiding principle for judges making custody decisions. State law also says that the child’s “happiness and welfare” are paramount and that the parents’ rights are equal unless a parent has been found to be currently unfit. Child custody cases can be complicated and always require extensive knowledge of family law. When facing a child custody issue, you will probably have several questions. Please call our office for experienced advice regarding your family law concerns.

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