The Initial Telephone Call to The Divorce Collaborative LLC

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I often remind our TDC team how difficult it can be for clients to make that first telephone call to our office.  The decision to speak with a Massachusetts divorce lawyer or divorce mediator is generally not made lightly.  We are empathetic to the various feelings and stress clients experience, including, anxiety, anger, fear, sadness, shock, disbelief, disappointment, guilt and heartbreak.  These are all normal emotions felt during a separation and divorce.  During this time, knowledge is power.  To ease any anxiety, I want to give you a sense of what to expect during the initial telephone call to our office.

1.         Confidentiality.  We want you to feel at ease calling our office, we do not disclose to your spouse or anyone else for that matter (barring an emergency of course) the fact you even called us.

2.         We will ask your name and the name of your spouse. We may even ask the name of your spouse’s attorney if applicable.

Why do we ask this information?  One of the first things law firms do when a new potential client calls is conduct what is referred to as a “conflict check.”  There are many examples of what may constitute an ethical conflict for a lawyer, including but not limited to, personal knowledge of the parties involved, a business relationship with the other party, former or current representation of the other party, or a conflict of interest with the other attorney involved in the case.

In the unlikely event there is a conflict, we will let you know right away.  However, we cannot divulge the exact nature of the conflict.  Conflicts are rare and only occur a few times per year so do not worry!

3.         We will ask where you reside.  Our main office is located in Franklin, Massachusetts but we have the ability to meet with clients in Bedford, Hingham or Westborough so we want to make sure we offer you a meeting in a location convenient to you.

4.         We will ask how you heard about us, i.e., internet, our web site (divorcecollaborative.com), the newspaper, a friend, referral, another lawyer, etc.  We like to keep track of our marketing efforts but if you prefer not to disclose this information to us, that’s fine!

5.          We will then discuss the type of legal assistance you need.  Are you calling for information on an initial Massachusetts divorce?  Or a modification of an existing Massachusetts divorce agreement?  Perhaps you are interested in enforcing the terms of an existing divorce agreement?  You may have questions about child custody, child support, alimony in Massachusetts, property division in Massachusetts, guardianships or adoption proceedings.

If you decide to schedule an initial consultation with one of our attorneys, our initial consultations are an hour and a half long.   In addition to appointments during regular business hours, we can offer early morning, night and weekend appointments.  The fee for an initial consultation is $200.00.  The fee for a weekend consultation is $300.00.   The fee for a mediation consultation only (where both parties attend) is $100.00.

6.         If you are calling for an initial divorce, our staff will briefly explain the different process options available to you.    At your initial consultation, the attorney you meet with will discuss these options in more detail and help you determine which might work best for you.

Briefly, they are the following (please refer to our learning center on divorcecollaborative.com for more information):

i.          Litigated/Contested/Court Based Divorce

Under this process option, generally each person hires his/her own attorney and the case is placed on the Probate and Family Courts contested court track (14 month track).  If your spouse has already filed for divorce in court, this is typically the process option you would be seeking.  In cases where one spouse is not willing or able to explore alternative dispute resolution, or situations where there are safety issues, substance abuse, child neglect or abuse, serious concerns over hiding of assets, etc, this process is often needed.  In other cases, clients simply don’t feel comfortable with selecting alternative dispute resolution and choose to select this process option.

ii.         Divorce Mediation

Some couples decide to handle their divorce amicably and privately and choose to hire one neutral mediator to assist them develop a lasting resolution of all matters, including property division, alimony, child custody and child support, etc.   Please note, our divorce mediators (although attorneys) do not represent either (or both) parties, rather they serve as a professional neutral.  Mediation clients are encouraged to have legal agreements reviewed by their own outside attorney.  We are happy to provide both parties with referrals.   Divorce mediation is a voluntary and confidential process.   At the end of the process an uncontested divorce is filed with the court and the couple appear for a brief uncontested hearing in the Probate and Family Court.

If your spouse and you have already decided this is the process option you would like to select, then we recommend scheduling a mediation initial consultation.  It is recommended that both parties come to the mediation consultation, which generally lasts 30-45 minutes.  The fee for a mediation consultation is $100.00.  The mediator will explain the mediation process to the couple, the confidentiality rules and get a sense from the couple what issues they need to work through and how many sessions they might require.

iii.        Collaborative Process

In a collaborative divorce, each party agrees to resolve all outstanding issues outside of court.  They do this by each retaining an attorney who has specialized training in the collaborative method.  They agree to resolve their issues through a series of meetings with both lawyers present.  In some cases, the parties agree to hire a financial neutral (to assist the parties with the property division and support), or a child specialist (in situations where child custody or parenting plans are in dispute).  At the end of the process an uncontested divorce is filed with the court and the couple appear for a brief uncontested hearing in the Probate and Family court.

We look forward to assisting you determine which process option works best for your particular situation.  To schedule your initial consultation with The Divorce Collaborative LLC, please call (508) 346-3805.

Colleen E. Cunnally is the owner of The Divorce Collaborative LLC.  She is a divorce and family lawyer and mediator with The Divorce Collaborative LLC of Franklin, Massachusetts. 

If you have questions about a Massachusetts Divorce, alimony, child support, or child custody in the Franklin, Medway, Medfield, Milford, Norfolk or Wrentham area, please call The Divorce Collaborative LLC to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced family law attorneys or mediators.  (508) 346-3805.

Massachusetts Divorce lawyer, divorce mediator, child support lawyer, child custody lawyer, Franklin, Medway, Medfield, Millis, Milford, Norfolk, Plainville, Wrentham.

Colleen E. Cunnally 

 

 

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Massachusetts Mandatory Parent Education Program For Divorcing Parents With Minor Children

Parent Education for Divorcing Parents Image

By Massachusetts Divorce Lawyer and Divorce Mediator Colleen E. Cunnally, Esq. 

Divorcing couples are usually most concerned about their children.  How will my children adjust to the change in our family structure?  How will I effectively co-parent with my soon to be ex?  When and how should we tell the kids?  What questions will they ask?  My ex is placing the children in the middle!  For these reasons and more, the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court requires parents of minor children (even in uncontested cases) to complete a mandatory parent education class.  The order requiring the completion of the class is found in the Massachusetts Trial Court, Probate and Family Court Department’s Standing Order 4-08.  Since it is a requirement,  most Judges will not enter a final Judgment of Divorce Nisi until both parties parenting class certificates are filed with the court.  The mandatory parenting class is five hours long, generally spread over two evenings of 2.5 hours each.  At the end of the class, you will receive a mustard colored certificate for filing with court.  Parents must attend separate classes to avoid any potential awkwardness.  Many people would not feel comfortable asking questions if their spouse was across the room!  The fee for the class is $80.00.

Please refer to the following link for a list of approved parenting classes in Massachusetts:

http://www.mass.gov/courts/courtsandjudges/courts/probateandfamilycourt/parentedprovidersbycounty.pdf

In certain circumstances, the parenting class may be waived for one or both of the parties.  It is best to consult with a Massachusetts divorce lawyer to discuss the individual circumstances of your case and whether your case meets the criteria for requesting a waiver of the class.

In my work as a divorce lawyer and mediator, parties often comment the requirement to take a parenting class because they are divorcing makes them feel like they are viewed as bad parents.  As if you weren’t feeling bad enough going through a divorce!  However, the class is not designed for this reason and this is not the message the court is trying to convey.  Rather, the parenting class is designed to educate parents on the effects of divorce on children and offers co-parenting tips for the couple post-divorce.  After taking the parenting class, I have had many clients comment they felt it was helpful.  I advise my divorce clients and mediation clients to take the class early on in the divorce process.    One of the best indicators on how children will fare after their parents divorce depends on how well their parents co-parent.

In addition to the parenting class required by the court, there are a host of other resources available for parents engaged in the Massachusetts Divorce process.   I have attached a link to several of my favorite websites:

http://www.uptoparents.org/Default.aspx

http://www.pbs.org/parents/itsmylife/resources/divorce.html

http://www.afccnet.org/resourcecenter/resourcesforfamilies/categoryid/1

Colleen E. Cunnally

Colleen E. Cunnally is the owner of The Divorce Collaborative LLC.  She is a divorce and family law attorney and mediator with The Divorce Collaborative LLC of Franklin.  Colleen also handles complex Massachusetts child support and custody cases, including interstate and international child support and custody issues and paternity matters.  Attorney Cunnally is also a Guardian Ad Litem. 

Do you have questions about child custody, child support, or divorce in the, Franklin, Medway, Medfield, Milford, or Norfolk areas? Please call The Divorce Collaborative LLC to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced family law attorneys. (508) 346-3805.

Divorce lawyer, divorce mediator, child support lawyer, child custody lawyer, paternity lawyer, Franklin, Medway, Medfield, Millis, Milford, Norfolk, Wrentham.

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Massachusetts Family Law Attorney Attends AFCC Conference in LA

 

International child custody cases are complicated.  If you have such an issue, do not delay in seeking a Massachusetts chid custody lawyer.

I recently attended a family law conference hosted by the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) in Los Angeles, CA.  As a practicing Massachusetts divorce attorney and divorce mediator, I think it is important to get away once in a while to attend a professional development conference.  The best practitioners are those who are constantly learning about new developments in family law and mediation.  The information we learn not only benefits our clients but on a personal level, every time I attend a conference with esteemed colleagues, it reenergizes me!   The conference was well attended by family court judges, attorneys, guardian ad litems, child custody evaluators, divorce coaches, parent coordinators, family law mediators,  and law professors from throughout the United States.  There were also practitioners from Canada, Ireland, Germany, Finland, New Zealand, and Australia in attendance.   It’s interesting to learn about the differences and similarities in family court systems throughout the country and the world.

I also had the opportunity to observe three different family court sessions in Los Angeles County Superior Court-incidently the largest courthouse in the world!  Although the procedures (and lingo) are somewhat different in California, the issues I heard sitting in the courtroom for nearly three hours are the same issues many of my Massachusetts divorce clients face when they appear in a Massachusetts Probate and Family Court.  I observed disputes between parents in regard to the care and custody of their minor children, disputes over how to handle division of the family home when the amount owed on the mortgage exceeds the value (“up-side down” or “short-sale”), and arguments over whether a child should visit with a parent or attend a baseball game on a Saturday morning.

What impressed me the most about the California family court is that mediation between a divorcing couple is mandatory.   California and many of us here in Massachusetts recognize that an increasing amount of divorcing or never married couples are learning disputes are often best and most efficiently resolved by the mediation or collaborative law process.

Don’t worry..my trip wasn’t all about work, I had the chance to have some fun too.  The Santa Monica Pier was really cool, there is a great Mexican restaurant at the end of the pier overlooking the Pacific.   The Getty Museum was fantastic, I highly recommend it and can’t wait to go back.

To learn more about the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, please visit their web site below.

http://www.afccnet.org/

Association of Family and Conciliation Court 

colleen

Colleen E. Cunnally, is the Principal of The Divorce Collaborative.   She is a Family law Mediator and Attorney in Massachusetts, representing clients in  Norfolk, Barnstable, Bristol, Worcester, Middlesex, Suffolk, and Plymouth Counties.

 

 

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Massachusetts Divorce & Taxes

By Massachusetts divorce lawyer and mediator Katherine Thomas

Forget abut death and taxes, what about divorce and taxes?

If you are getting a Massachusetts divorce, you have a lot to think about.   To make matters even more interesting, tax season is here. Please curtail your excitement. Tax commercials flood the airwaves, people stand in silly costumes by the side of the road, and the W2s have arrived.  CPAs retreat to the dark, deep chambers of their lairs.

Completing and filing taxes can be painful enough (especially when you find out you owe more money to Uncle Sam), but couples who are in the midst of a divorce or have already divorced may have a few extra considerations regarding taxes, especially filing status and dependency exemptions.

 Filing Status

While a divorce is pending, a couple is still considered married by the IRS. It is up to a married couple to determine how they will file while a divorce is pending. If the couple agrees, they can file a joint return. However, if one or both spouses does not want to file a joint return then the couple will have to file married, filing separately.

You cannot force your spouse to file a joint return.

But what happens when you receive your divorce judgment? Can you still file jointly for that tax year if you were married for most of the year?

Unfortunately, the answer is no.  IRS Publication 504 states that you are considered to be unmarried (single) for the whole year if you obtained your final divorce decree by the last day of that tax year. This means that even if you receive your divorce judgment on December 31st, the IRS considers you to be unmarried for the entire year and you must file an individual return.

It is important to remember that if a married couple filed joint returns (while married), either spouse can be held jointly and individually liable for any interest or penalty due on a joint return. This means that one spouse may be held liable for all tax due even if the other party earned the income! Even if it is included in the Separation Agreement that your former spouse will be liable for any amounts due on a joint return, the IRS is still able to hold both parties individually and jointly liable under IRS Publication 504.

Dependency Exemptions

One of the most frequent  tax questions our clients ask is “Who gets to claim the children as dependency exemptions?”

Only one parent can claim a child as a dependency exemption, and there are a number of factors to consider in determining the most sensible way to claim the available exemptions.    Determining how to maximize dependency exemptions depends on your particular situation, including your income, your spouse’s income, other tax considerations, and your parenting schedule.

If there is more than one child, the exemptions can be divided so that the parents share the exemptions. Parents can also alternate years in which they claim a child. For example, the Mother claims the child on her return in odd years and the Father claims the child on his return in even years. Although the claiming of dependency exemptions is usually detailed in the Separation Agreement, under IRS Publication 501, the IRS will treat the child as the qualifying child eligible to be claimed as a dependency exemption for the “custodial” parent.

The IRS defines custodial parent as the parent with whom the child lived with for a longer period of time during the year (measured by number of nights). If the child lived with both parents for an equal amount of time then the IRS says that the parent with the higher adjusted gross income can claim the child as an exemption. What happens if the Separation Agreement says that the “noncustodial” parent is supposed to claim the child(ren) on their returns? The dependency exemption will have to be transferred from the “custodial” parent to the “noncustodial” parent. In order to transfer the exemption and allow the noncustodial parent to claim the child, the following four requirements must be met:

  1. The parents are divorced or legally separated under a decree of divorce or separate maintenance, the parents are separated under a written separation agreement, or lived apart at all times during the last 6 months of the year, whether or not they are or were married;
  2. The child received over half of his or her support for the year from the parents;
  3. The child is in the custody of one or both parents for more than half of the year; and
  4. The custodial parent signs a written declaration, Form 8332, that he or she will not claim the child as a dependent for the year, and the noncustodial parent attaches this written declaration to his or her return.

It is important to remember to fill out the Form 8332 because the IRS may reject the return without this form attached, even if it is in the Separation Agreement. If the custodial parent refuses to comply with the Separation Agreement and complete this form, then a Complaint for Contempt will need to be filed in the Probate Court.

Despite frequent chatter about simplifying the tax code, don’t hold your breath.   There are a lot of changes going into effect for 2013, and having a tax professional available to assist you is worth the investment.

Of course, an experienced Massachusetts divorce attorney or divorce mediator will be familiar with these important issues as well.

Divorce Attorney & Mediator Katherine Thomas of The Divorce Collaborative LLC

Divorce Attorney & Mediator Katherine Thomas of The Divorce Collaborative LLC

Attorney Katherine Thomas is a divorce and family law attorney and mediator with The Divorce Collaborative LLC of Bedford, Franklin, and Shrewsbury.

The Divorce Collaborative serves clients throughout central and eastern Massachusetts experiencing divorce or other family conflict, including issues such as custody, child support, alimony, and division of property.    The firm also works with parents in the area of school and special education law.

For more information about our Massachusetts school and special education law practice, please visit:

www.MaSpecialEdLaw.com

Massachusetts divorce lawyer and divorce mediator serving  the Franklin, Walpole, Medfield, Millis, Medway, Milford, Norfolk, Holliston and Wrentham areas.

Massachusetts divorce attorney and divorce mediator serving the Bedford, Concord, Lexington, Carlisle, Billerica, Wayland, Weston, Burlington, Stow, Sudbury, Acton areas.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Child Custody, Divorce, Divorce and Kids, Divorce Mediation, Family and Divorce Financials, Post-divorce Issues, Spousal Support, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Protecting Pets in Massachusetts Domestic Violence Cases

By Attorney Katherine Thomas

DSC00124There is a strong correlation between animal abuse and domestic violence. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence conducted a study where 85.4 percent of women and 63 percent of children reported incidents of pet abuse after arriving at a shelter for domestic violence victims. On October 31, 2012, a new law went into effect in Massachusetts, which recognizes this correlation and offers protection to pets in domestic violence cases.   To read the new law, you can click here.

Under the new law, a court may order through a restraining order, the possession, care and control of any domesticated animal owned, possessed, leased, kept, or held by either party or a minor child residing in the household to the plaintiff/petitioner. The court may also order the defendant to refrain from abusing, threatening, taking, interfering with, transferring, encumbering, concealing, harming, or otherwise disposing of such animal. This law means that domestic violence victims no longer have to worry about losing their pets when they obtain a restraining order, or at least have a tool at their disposal to help their pet(s).

Although cruelty to animals has been a felony in Massachusetts since 2004, there has not been a law in place that understands the relationship between individuals and their pets and the implications domestic violence can have on that relationship.

It is heart wrenching for both pet owners and children to have to leave a pet behind in an abusive home. It is also difficult for pet owners and children to leave behind a pet knowing that they are likely leaving their pet in danger. In fact, between 25% and 40% of battered women are unable to escape abusive situations because they worry about what will happen to their pets should they leave. Abusers have injured, killed, or threatened family pets for revenge or to psychologically control their victims. Abusers will also kill, threaten, or harm a child’s pet to coerce them into sexual abuse or force them to remain quiet about abuse.

Under the new law, pets are protected and abusers are not able to use pets to control their victims.  In November, Panzer, a 6-year old Labrador mix, was the first dog in Massachusetts to receive protection through a restraining order under the new state law.

Katherine Thomas is a Massachusetts divorce lawyer and mediator with The Divorce Collaborative LLC, serving the areas around Concord, Walpole, and Westborough.

The Divorce Collaborative LLC has offices in Bedford, Franklin, and Shrewsbury, MA.

 

 

 

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Massachusetts Divorce – What takes so long?

By Colleen Cunnally – Massachusetts divorce lawyers and mediators at The Divorce Collaborative LLC.

Skeleton at window

Although divorce, especially a court-based case, may take over a year, if your lawyer’s waiting room looks like this you might want to consider other options.

Prior to entering into a marriage ceremony in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, couples must apply for a marriage license at a town or city hall.   The application takes about 10-15 minutes to complete.  There is a mandatory three-day waiting period before the license is issued. That’s the easy part!

The Massachusetts divorce process is neither quick nor simple.  Unless a couple is without assets or children, the divorce process is more involved than sometimes portrayed.  Although someone might take years to decide to initiate a divorce, once things start many clients want their divorce over yesterday!    We understand that, but it does take some time to “uncouple.”

When I first meet with a potential divorce client, one of the first questions typically asked is “How long will the divorce process take?”  The answer depends in part on the type of divorce process the client selects, i.e., litigation, mediation or collaborative.   If you want to read more about these options, please click here, then click on the Learning Center tab. As a general rule, mediation tends to be the fastest option.

If a divorce is contested (meaning a court-based divorce) and one spouse files for divorce pursuant to M.G.L. ch. 208, sec. 1B, citing the most common divorce ground of irretrievable breakdown, there is a mandatory six-month waiting period before a judge will grant a Judgment of Divorce.  After the court enters a Judgment of Divorce, there is also a statutory Nisi period of ninety (90) days.  This means the divorce will not be final until after the expiration of the nisi period, referred to as the “absolute divorce date.”  The purpose of the nisi period allows parties to change their mind if they decide to reconcile.  The concept of the nisi period is carried over from the English common law system.

OK, you might be wondering at this point what all this “nisi” stuff is.  Nisi is a Latin word, meaning unless. If you want to learn more about this term, and who doesn’t really, please click here for a magical journey to Wikipedia.

If a divorce is uncontested and filed pursuant to M.G.L. ch. 208, sec. 1A, there is no six- month waiting period before the court will grant the divorce.  However, the court will wait thirty days from the date the parties appear in court before entering a Judgment of Divorce.  Thereafter, the 90-day Nisi period still applies which means the divorce will not be final for a total of 120 days.  Couples that select the mediation or collaborative divorce process typically file for an uncontested divorce once all of the details are agreed to and set forth in their separation agreement.

Now, remember that the statutory waiting periods and Nisi period kick in at the end of the process.  Before getting to that point there is much to be accomplished.  If you are facing or even in the middle of a divorce, try to remember that although you may want to move quickly, that you will need to be patient and work through the ups and downs of the process with the guidance of your divorce attorney.

The Massachusetts Probate and Family Courts place all contested divorce cases on a fourteen (14) month track per Standing Order 1-06.  Between the court’s schedule, motion dates, pre-trial conferences, the discovery process and settlement negotiations, it is not uncommon for a divorce to take a year to fourteen (14) months to process.  If parties are unable to reach a settlement agreement quickly, or there are continuances, and/or the case is scheduled for trial, a divorce case may take much longer than fourteen (14) months.  I recently (December 2012) had a divorce case scheduled for a trial in December of 2013!

As experienced Massachusetts divorce lawyers, we do our best to educate our clients  about the divorce process and provide estimates on the length of time it may take to complete their case.  There are many variables, including how the opposing party and their attorney approach the case.

At the end of the day, how long it takes you and your spouse to reach an agreement will control how long your divorce takes more than anything else.

If you are considering a Massachusetts divorce in Norfolk, Worcester, Middlesex, Plymouth, or Bristol County, we can help.   Call (877) 842-1199 to schedule your informative consultation and get your questions answered.

The Divorce Collaborative LLC has offices in Franklin, Bedford, and Shrewsbury.

Besides divorce and family law, we work with parents of children with special education needs or other general school-related legal issues.   For more information, please visit our other website/blog at:

www.MaSpecialEdLaw.com

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Home Alone – Should You Really Keep the House After Your Massachusetts Divorce?

By Massachusetts divorce lawyer and mediator Stephen McDonough of 

The Divorce Collaborative LLC

Should I Stay or should I go?  Deciding whether to maintain the marital home post-divorce requires careful consideration.

Should I stay or should I go? Deciding whether to stay in the marital home post-divorce requires careful consideration.

The marital home is oftentimes a couple’s largest financial asset. Unfortunately, home values remain depressed and your real estate is also probably your largest expense.

Part of property settlement discussions surrounding a divorce whether you are in divorce mediation or having a litigated, court-based case, involves whether one spouse or the other – or neither – should stay in the house.  Before agreeing to take over the house, also known as the marital home, do your homework and consider these  helpful pointers:

  • First, check your credit score.  It’s a good practice to check your credit score periodically no matter what the circumstances.  You can do it online fairly quickly.   Actually, you could say that about a lot of things online I suppose. Most web-based services require a sign-up with a credit card and will automatically sign you up for the paid for service after thirty days or so.  I suggest putting the date they will start charging you on your calendar so you don’t forget to shut off the service, if that is your preference.
  • Once you determine your credit score, try to clean up anything you can on the report. Pay off or pay-down credit cards if you are able to.  Check your report for any errors.
  • Consider whether you want to take on yard maintenance and cleaning the gutters on your own in addition to the expenses of running the household.  If you are not prepared to cut the lawn and rake the leaves and handle other maintenance issues, then make sure you understand what is involved from a labor and cost perspective before deciding to stay in the house.
  • Look at the utility bills over a full year so that you are aware of what the electric bill looks like when the air conditioning is going full blast in August, or what the oil bills look like in January.   It’s not pretty.
  • Don’t overlook additional expenses that might (or will, and at the worst possible time) come up such as replacing a big-ticket item like the furnace or roof.  Factor in these issues when you consider whether or not you can really afford to remain in the property.
  • Once you determine that you really prefer to own the house after the divorce, you will need to look at refinancing the mortgage in your own name or look at assuming the loan.  Either way, your soon-to-be-ex needs to be off the mortgage.  This is where the reality of whether or not someone can actually afford to own the marital home alone sets in with many of our clients.
  • Assuming the existing mortgage may be an option if you do not need to buy out your spouse’s share of the equity by refinancing.  Some mortgage companies will allow you to assume the loan, some won’t. I always encourage clients to look in to this option as it may save on closing costs.  You will still need to show enough income, as the lender is concerned with getting their money, and you are asking them to only have one person to go after instead of two.
  • The spouse who is giving up their ownership interest will need to execute a quitclaim deed. If you are not sure about this process, you should consult your divorce attorney or a real estate attorney.  Most attorneys will draft and/or record the quitclaim deed for a flat fee.   The recording fees are set by the county.
  • If you are the spouse who is giving up the house (hey, that rhymes), remember, even if you have moved out and are off the deed, if your name is still on the mortgage a late payment will affect your credit.  I never recommend that the “moving-out spouse” stay on the mortgage if it can be avoided.  If you have to stay on the mortgage while your spouse or ex-spouse is going through the refinancing process, I always put language in the separation agreement that the spouse who is responsible for paying the mortgage must notify the other if he or she is going to be late with their payments.  That way the other spouse has the option of making the payment in order to protect their own credit rating.  Other clauses in your divorce agreement can also help protect each person’s financial interests regarding the house.
  • Be careful about being overly reliant on support payments to meet your basic budgetary needs.  For example, if your ex is paying child support or alimony, and your ex should lose her or his job, then your support will most likely decrease as well.     If your support should be cut in half for example, could you pay your bills?   Does your soon to be former spouse have a good employment history?  Does he or she have disability insurance?
  • Taking a hard look at your court financial statement or other budget analysis can be helpful in putting together the facts and making a wise decision regarding taking over the house after a divorce.  Don’t let emotions rule the day.  Examine why you want to stay in the house.    If you find yourself unable to crunch the numbers and figure out whether staying in the house is a good financial fit, your experienced divorce lawyer or mediator should be able to help you with this analysis.  You could also consult a financial expert, such as a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst.

In reality, for many divorcing people, this issue is more complicated than reviewing a series of bullet points.   Most of us identify with our homes, and during the stress and upheaval of a divorce the last thing we might want to do is leave our home, our neighbors, and what makes us feel comfortable and secure.   Some parents may convince themselves that their children will be harmed if they need to move, although research tells us kids are pretty adaptable.   Consider this question:  If you are on edge every month about paying the mortgage or keeping up with maintenance, is that a good situation to?   If you are super stressed, or have to take a 2nd job, think about how that will impact your children and your parenting.

Of course, some people are all for a fresh start and look forward to picking out a new place.  If that is you, then the good news is that mortgage rates are still low if you want to buy.  Remember that if you will be using income from child support or alimony to qualify for a new mortgage, that lenders want to see that you have been receiving the support payments for a minimum of three or four months, and frequently six months.    You may also decide to rent.  Perhaps your children are getting older and you might relocate in a couple of years or there is a job change on the horizon.

Whatever you decide, make sure you are deciding for the right reasons and that your choice is sustainable from an economic standpoint.

For more information, please visit our websites at: 

Divorce & Family Law:  www.DivorceCollaborative.com 

Special Education & School Law:  www.MaSpecialEdLaw.com

To schedule a confidential meeting with an experienced divorce attorney or divorce mediatior, including a collaborative divorce lawyer in Franklin, or one of our other locations in Bedford or Shrewsbury, MA, please call us at 877-842-1199.

Massachusetts divorce attorneys and mediators serving the Norfolk, Franklin, Medway, Millis, Wayland, Walpole, Foxborough, Dover, Sherborn, Medfield areas.

Do you need a Massachusetts divorce lawyer or divorce mediator in the Bedford or Lexington areas?  Our office in Bedford Center is close to Burlington, Concord, Carlisle  Chelmsford, Lincoln, Sudbury, Waltham, and Arlington.

Our Shrewsbury location in Worcester County serves clients from Worcester, Westborough, Northborough, Southborough, Framingham, Hopkinton, Marlborough, and other area towns.

 

Posted in Debt and Divorce, Divorce, Family and Divorce Financials, Post-divorce Issues, Property Division, Real Estate | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pets and Your Massachusetts Divorce

By Colleen Cunnally, Esq. – Divorce Lawyer and Mediator at The Divorce Collaborative

This dog may have his own ideas about where he wants to live after a divorce!

Thanksgiving is over and now it’s time for Christmas!  My house is decorated and it’s time to start my Christmas shopping.  The usual suspects on my list include the hubby, my siblings, the nephews and nieces and last but not least my beloved DOG!  Yes, the dog gets her own stocking and assorted Christmas presents.  She even gets presents from her “cousins” Oreo and Angus. I admit, my family is a little dog crazy.

Our dog obsession is not unusual.  I recently read Americans spend 50 BILLION dollars on their pets.  Pets become part of the family and some people like pets more than people.  As a Massachusetts divorce and family law attorney,  I am frequently asked  “What will happen with the family pet(s) after the divorce?”

Although pets become part of our families and in some households are treated like children, the Massachusetts Probate and Family Courts do not treat pets like kids.  Therefore, “custody” of Fido is definitely not determined under Massachusetts child custody laws which consider the best interests of the children.

Pets are simply considered property in a Massachusetts divorce case and as such, they are subject to an equitable division of property pursuant to M.G.L. ch. 208, Sec. 34.  Although we may be more attached to them, your dog, cat, or beloved snake is considered the same as a couch, jewelry, or a lawnmower under the law.

Pursuant to Massachusetts divorce laws, all property owned by either party, “no matter where situated, when acquired, and how acquired”  is subject to an equitable division in a divorce action.  This means everything is subject to being divided fairly between you and your spouse, including…your pets!

In determining just how your property should be divided,  the court considers various factors which include, among other things, the length of the marriage, conduct of the parties,  age of the parties, health of the parties, occupation of the parties, station of the parties, estate of the parties, the contributions of the parties toward the acquisition and preservation of their estate, the needs of the parties, and the homemaking contributions of the parties.   To learn more about dividing property and Massachusetts divorce, please click here.

Yes, we have a lot of parties in divorce law.

Although pets are property (just like fish are friends), it’s not unusual for the court to consider whether one spouse owned the pet prior to the marriage and which party was the primary caretaker of the animal.  Yes, it is possible that a judge could ask you or your spouse the BIG question:

WHO LET THE DOGS OUT?

Sorry, I had to work that in and couldn’t help myself.

As in any divorce, case, the humans are free to reach an agreement regarding pet ownership.  Some couples choose to share ownership of a pet and work out a visitation schedule which sets forth when each party spends time with the pet, and how to cover the expenses related to pet ownership.

As a dog lover, whenever feasible, I think it’s best for the dog to maintain a relationship with both parties.   At our firm we have drafted clauses  (or is that clawses..?) relating to dogs, cats, birds, fish, snakes, lizards, and a horse, of course.

The Divorce Collaborative LLC is a family and education law firm with offices in Bedford, Franklin, and Shrewsbury, MA.  For more information about our education and special education law services, please visit www.MaSpecialEdLaw.com

If you are in the Worcester, Framingham, Concord, Lexington, Billerica, Norfolk, Medfield, Medway, or Walpole area and are facing a divorce or other related legal problem, such as a child support or custody matter in Norfolk County, Middlesex County,Worcester County, please call us to schedule a private consultation.

 

 

 

 

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Don’t Shoot Your Eye Out! Tips for Divorced Parents Around the Holidays

Don’t shoot your eye out this Christmas.

It’s the holiday season! Whooooppeeeeee! Time to do fun holiday activities with your kids, buy them gifts, and let them eat all forms of seasonal deliciousness! But, BAH HUMBUG, what if you and your ex-spouse have differing ideas about what is appropriate holiday fun?

Every parent wants to be the fun parent.  No one likes to be the Grinch, but what do you do if your ex-spouse’s overindulgence of the kids leaves you feeling like Scrooge? Or, what if the guilt of getting a divorce is turning into trying to make up for it by buying your child lots of presents.  This is tempting, especially during the first year after your divorce.  But remember, it hurts the pocketbook and raises the bar even higher for the next occasion.  You also may find yourself in competition with your ex-spouse–who buys the better gifts? You can’t win this one. If you feel the uncontrollable urge to buy expensive gifts, please forward same to me at 9 Summer Street in Franklin.

During the holidays we all want to make our children happy and have fun, but are you in danger of  becoming a Disney Mom or Dad? The “Disney” parent is one who indulges his or her child with gifts and good times and leaves most or all disciplinary responsibilities to the other parent.

Don’t let the age-old holiday tradition of parental guilt get you! Giving in to your children’s every whim sets a pattern of overindulgence that will come back to bite you.  Your kids need you to set limits.  If you don’t, the world can become a frightening place for kids where there is no structure and nothing to rely on.  Our children look to us to keep them safe and nurture them.

Instead of buying crazily expensive, numerous gifts, think about what holiday traditions you can enjoy with your kids this year that don’t make a dent in the pocketbook.  If you don’t like to bake and always did in prior years (because you thought you had to), don’t do it!  Buy pre-made cookies, candy and frosting so you and the kids can decorate.  Watch a Christmas special that you enjoyed as a kid with your own children.  Add in hot chocolate with whipped cream and some popcorn (Sorry, I’m hungry!).  If your kids are older, think about volunteering together.  It doesn’t cost anything and pays great dividends in plain old feeling good about yourself.

If your spouse or ex-spouse tends to be the Disney parent and you find yourself in the disciplinarian role, you might want to try on being the fun parent just for one afternoon or evening.  Sometimes having a little leisure time with your kids takes the bite out of having to be the bad guy the rest of the time.  It can alleviate, at least a bit, some of the resentment you are harboring toward the “fun parent”.  Also, try talking to your kids about why you set limits.  You may be pleasantly surprised at what comes up in that conversation.  Sometimes kids have a good idea of when a parent is trying to buy away guilt.

If you and your ex are not able to get on the same page, you might benefit from the services of a Parenting Coordinator.

by The Divorce Collaborative LLC of Franklin, Bedford, and Shrewsbury, MA.  

Please call (877) 842-1199 to schedule an appointment in either our Middlesex County, Norfolk County, or Worcester County office.

Please visit our education and special education law website at:   www.maspecialedlaw.com

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Parenting Plan Challenges – Boston Divorce Lawyer

If you are a separated or divorced parent in Massachusetts, you are likely dealing with some disruption today.  I know this because today is Monday, and ends in a “y.”  Of course as parents, disruption is the norm, and we can handle it!   Parenting is certainly rewarding, but also presents challenges – especially during and after a divorce.

Combine the regular parenting and custody issues such as communications and coordinating transportation and swirl in a Hurricane/Nor’easter for even more excitement!   The power just went off for the record.  Seriously.

Sandy is wreaking havoc with power lines, tree branches, flooding and parenting plans.  Many Massachusetts schools preemptively cancelled school on Sunday.  The celebratory cheers of school-aged children could be heard throughout the Commonwealth.

But the cheers did not drown out the collective groaning of parents as they scrambled to get gas for the generator (if you have one), trimmed loose tree branches, secured loose objects in the yard (I found an arsenal of Nerf Guns ready to bean my neighbors if swirled up by the storm), stock up on non-perishable food items which, according to my kids, include Doritos, Cheetos (I didn’t fight them on this one) and Oreos.

To further complicate matters for Massachusetts divorced parents , there is the sticky question of:

Whose parenting time is it when there is an unexpected school cancellation? 

This dilema may add an entire other layer to the phrase “state of emergency”!

Hopefully, your parenting plan addresses this question and you need to read no further.  If it doesn’t, here are some suggestions to consider:

  • If the kids are already with you, keep them at your house rather than trying to transport them in less than optimal driving conditions.
  • If one parent has the ability to telecommute, that parent has the children stay with them.  If the telecommuting parent will need to make up the time lost staying home with the children, the parent who did not have the kids on the “snow” or whatever day can help out by extending weekend or evening time to even out the schedule and assist the other parent by giving them catch-up time at work.

Of course, the above solutions require the parents to communicate with one another and help each other find solutions that work for the whole family.  If this is difficult or impossible, I suggest consulting with your Boston area divorce lawyer, divorce mediator,  and/or engaging a parenting coordinator to help come up with a framework for dealing with unexpected school cancellations.  Every family undergoes their own challenges regarding snow (or hurricane) days.  Having a plan in place ahead of time can go a long way towards reducing anxiety for you, your kids and their other parent.

In the meantime, your kids will celebrate their time off by staying in their pajamas, coming up with new and inventive ways to needle their siblings and frequently requesting hot chocolate to go with their Doritos, Cheetos and Oreos (OH MY!) while you juggle keeping up with work responsibilities and childcare.

Here are a few strategies to help you keep your sanity while trying to work from home:

  • If your babysitter lives next door, lucky you!   Remember those trustworthy high school students that live in your neighborhood also have the day off and may want to make some cash. They can help your kids make a snowman or woman, or a giant windsock,  or sandbag the house, while you catch up with work.
  • Offer to switch off with your children’s friends’ parents who may be in a similar bind.  Hold up your end of the bargain though.  You do not want to be the one
    Dorothy in house

    When there are disruptions to your parenting plan, are you ready with contingencies?

    is always asking for the favor.

  • Talk to your boss ahead of time about telecommuting on days when school is cancelled or delayed.  Bear in mind that working from home presents its own set of challenges, like why there is an oreo smushed into your laptop.
  • Be prepared to turn on the TV (if you have power) while you have that telephone conference.  I know it’s not the best solution but, having a movie saved on the DVR could be the key to having uninterrupted work time.   If you dont have power, try telling the kids that the TV is actually working, and it is a show about darkness.
  • If your kids can read, post the “Rules of Interruption” on your office or workspace door.  These rules may include no interrupting Mom or Dad when they are on the phone unless you or your sibling is bleeding.  Just kidding—but you get the idea.  Knock before entering your office or workspace and wait for the enter command is another good rule to post.
  • Set a timer on the stove or microwave (if possible) for the kids to let them know when you will be off your conference call or ready to take a break from the computer.

I hate to be a spoilsport but Hurricane Sandy is only the beginning.  The Farmer’s Almanac says it’s going to be a tough winter.  Good luck, parents!

The Divorce Collaborative LLC has offices in Bedford, Franklin, and Shrewsbury, MA. Please call us at (877) 842-1199 to schedule an appointment.

Boston divorce lawyer, Massachusetts divorce lawyer,  Massachusetts divorce mediator.   Divorce lawyer serving Bedford, Lexington, Concord, Billerica, Franklin, Wrentham, Medfield, Medway, Millis, Walpole, Shrewsbury, Worcester, Mansfied, Westborough, Milford, Norfolk, Walpole, Foxborough, and Holliston.

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