When you are facing a divorce, child custody, or family financial issue, understanding what the law is likely to award to you before you make concessions is of paramount importance. The most regrettable thing I hear from potential clients is that they “thought they had to” – had to give up time with their children, had to waive their interest in real estate or alimony, or had to move out of their home.
The court is likely to maintain the status quo of custody and financial issues as a way to provide stability in the midst of fundamental changes in a family. Once you give up your rights, it may be difficult to impossible to get them back. The importance of seeking advice of counsel as soon as possible cannot be understated when you are facing a major family change. From our initial consultation, I can help to protect your time with your children and access to your income and property, whether by determining if a guardian ad litem investigation could assist you in your custody case, or preparing your financial statement and analyzing the opposing party’s.
- Prenuptial agreements – Many people believe that prenuptial agreements are only for high net worth individuals or those who expect to inherit a windfall. In fact, prenuptial agreements can protect both spouses documenting intentions regarding allocation of assets accumulated during the marriage. If you are in a “growing” stage in your career, building a business, plan to leave the work force to raise children, or if your future spouse has debts you do not want to risk creditors seeking to collect from you, you may benefit greatly from a prenuptial agreement.
- Child custody – The probate court will seek to maintain as much stability for your children as possible by continuing whatever parenting arrangements have been in place. If you agree to a parenting plan limiting your access to your children even on a temporary basis, it is likely that the court will continue the terms on a more permanent basis. If you and your spouse are unable to agree to a parenting plan, the day-to-day necessity of division of parenting responsibilities make it likely that you will have a hearing on a Motion for Temporary Orders to settle a parenting plan while your case is pending. We can discuss the strongest arguments you have for including in a motion and affidavit to preserve your parenting rights.
- Child support – While child support is governed by a legislated formula, there are countless details that can affect the calculation. There is also commentary written by the legislature as to what child support is and is not intended to cover. The right legal advice can help you avoid needless conflict or paying for things that are not your responsibility..
- Property division – Dividing your marital assets and liabilities can be overwhelming. “Equitable” or “fair” division is the standard the court applies when dividing a marital estate between individual spouses, based on factors describing just about any circumstance that could exist in a marriage. I can assist you in creating order out of chaos and dividing your marital estate, be it personal belongings, real estate, or financial assets or liabilities.
- Alimony – The alimony statute in Massachusetts was only enacted in 2013, which means that there are innumerable unsettled issues and emerging case law interpreting the statute all the time. I am a member of various bar associations and the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, which are dedicated to discussing cutting edge developments in the law. I also make a practice of read emerging decisions to ensure that I am up-to-date on the most recent developments to the interpretation of the new statute.
- Modifications – Life goes on after the entry of a final judgment of divorce or custody and support, and understandably a family’s circumstances often outgrow a court order. In the best case scenario, parents or other parties to the initial order can agree to modify the order to reflect an income change, relocation of a party’s residence, or change of parenting plan as children’s needs change. The party seeking to modify an existing court order usually has the burden of proving a “substantial change of circumstance” if parties cannot agree to modification. Even if you anticipate that you may be able to reach agreement, it is helpful for us to discuss the issue in order to strategize how you present your request to the other party. In cases where the order may be particularly objectionable to the other side, it is all the more important that you present a strong case supported by a defensible “substantial change of circumstance” from the beginning.
- Contempts – It is a common adage in family law that the more reasonable party always wins. Filing a Complaint for Contempt should not be undertaken lightly, particularly if the alleged violation is a mistake (for instance, arriving fifteen minutes late for parenting time due to traffic). In many cases, however, one party is violating the court’s orders repeatedly with impunity, by failing to pay child support or infringing on the other parent’s parenting rights. In those cases, often it is important to file a Complaint for Contempt to ensure the court is aware of the situation and as a means to enforce the court’s orders. Similarly, if you have been charged with willfully violating a court order, there may be opportunities to mitigate the other party’s allegations or stipulate to a settlement. If a defendant is found in contempt of a court order, the plaintiff may be entitled to reimbursement of attorney’s fees and costs. Whether you are considering filing a Complaint for Contempt or believe you may need to defend against allegations, I can advise you on the most prudent next steps.
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