The authors at Divorce Law Monitor understand that divorce may be one of the most challenging situations in your life, and they try to help you with attorneys, how to protect your finances, how to be a good co-parent, custody and visitation issues, international concerns, information on alimony and more.
Social media can become very problematic in a divorce case. Divorce lawyers, myself included, consider it a treasure trove of potentially useful information.We can obtain your online credentials and passwords in a contested matter so it all becomes fair game.
Here are my top ten tips for being safe on social media during your divorce
1.If you can bear to, and I know some of you can’t, deactivate all of your social media accounts, this includes Facebook, Reddit, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and any other social media accounts you may have.
2. Do not delete any material you have previously posted. This seems counterintuitive but it is very important as there are strict rules about not disposing of potential evidence.
3. If you do not deactivate your accounts, and in some cases even if you deactivate them, immediately make sure all of your accounts have the highest privacy settings possible.
4. It’s important, as my grandmother used to tell me, to not write anything you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the Times! Remember anything you post can end up in Court, benign is the only way to go, think cute cat pictures and that’s it.
5. Unfriend and block anyone who you think might share information with your spouse.
6. Do not friend or accept any friend requests from anyone unless you are absolutely sure of who they are and that they pose no risk of communicating with your spouse.
7. Do not post videos or pictures of yourself or your kids, and don’t let anyone tag you or post pictures either.
8. Do not, ever, ever,ever, criticize your spouse or kids online.
9. Unless you need to for business purposes do not participate in blogs, chat rooms or message boards
10. Do not forget to change all your passwords, immediately and at least monthly thereafter.
and think of all the spare time you will have with no Facebook!
Zeus probably has strong opinions about being considered property rather than one of the family.
If you know me, you know I’m a fervent pet lover. We have dogs, cats, horses, goats, and are related to someone with a bearded dragon. I know, viscerally, how pets can feel like family members. As a result, they can be incredibly important to someone in the middle of a divorce. I also know, as does anyone who has befriended an animal, that animals have needs, wants and opinions of their own. However, the law has been pretty clear that pets are considered property, like a chair or lamp, during a divorce.
The ownership (homing) of a pet can be a hot-button issue in high conflict divorce cases. I’ve had many cases through the years where pets were at issue. If there are kids, it often makes sense for the pet to stay with the children. As we come to a more egalitarian parenting world, where kids are splitting time almost equally, this decision is not going to be as simple. In cases where there are no kids or the kids are grown, companionship of the critters can loom larger. Judges don’t seem to like being asked to make this decision. In fact, they can become quite annoyed if you ask them to. A way to avoid this is to have the parties agree to arbitrate the decision of the pet’s future.
In cases where spousal abuse was evident, pet ownership is a little more clear. I was thrilled when in 2012 the Legislature amended the domestic violence law to allow victims to retrieve and keep their pets. That was a recognition both that the pets are important to the victims of domestic violence and that the pets themselves often are subsidiary victims of the same abuser.
It was fascinating to learn that Alaska has just modified their divorce law to make two changes about the status of pets. Overall, pets will now be considered more like children than like couches. The first change is similar to the Massachusetts domestic violence statute mentioned above. The second change is intriguing. It mandates that if animals are owned, the court must take “into consideration the well being of the animals” in both agreements and litigation.
This is just one state, and obviously not Massachusetts, but there may well be something similar in the future here. I can see a lot of folks taking up a career in determining what is in the animal’s best interest.
I hope you all had a wonderful holiday, despite what may be trying circumstances. Throughout the year there were many changes and clarifications in basic divorce law that will affect the many of you that are planning to divorce in 2017. This period between Christmas and New Years is what I consider the calm before the storm, as January is generally a very busy month for divorce lawyers. This quiet week is the perfect opportunity to both reflect on the past and prepare for the future. Below is a list of blog posts that explain the recent changes to divorce law and what those changes mean for you.
As we say goodbye to 2016, I wish each of you a happy and healthy new year. See you in 2017!
I was somewhat surprised a couple of weeks ago to be asked for an interview by the talented Globe writer, Cindy Atoji Keene. It was published on Sunday, and reading it made me realize just how important it is to be able to let go of that “salad spinner” and focus on what’s truly important in the end game in a divorce.
There’s a salad spinner in every case — it could be the cat, the couch, or whether the kids come to visit at 5:30 or 6:30 p.m. Imagine fighting over a stuffed parrot, horse semen, or geese. These were all expensive court battles that I was involved in, and it all comes down to control.
I like to call it the Salad Spinner War, after one of my first cases that involved a short-term marriage with a wealthy Brahmin gentleman and his younger wife from abroad. We came to a fair division of assets and property, and because I was young and stupid, I agreed to go to the house to help divvy up miscellaneous items. We went through the antiques, oriental rugs, lamps, and furniture, and then came to the kitchen, where they started arguing over a $15 salad spinner. They fought vehemently, and my client finally won, but when we left, she thrust the salad spinner at me and said, ‘I didn’t want the damn thing, anyway.’ But I love running into someone five to 10 years down the road and seeing them happy and moved on in life. – The Boston Globe
Everyone struggling through the divorce legal process is also trying to come to grips with the emotional process. And I suspect the emotional process is three steps forward and two back… The important thing is to maintain a sense of perspective.
Divorce isn’t the end of your life, it’s merely a part of it that you’re experiencing currently. It helps to be able to see what is actually an emotional issue or power struggle, and what is a genuine financial or child-related issue. That doesn’t mean ignore the nuances of the situation. It means to step back and try to understand larger picture, the emotional reasons for a visceral response. Good divorce lawyers get experienced at recognizing this, and this is why I recommend everyone undergoing a divorce get a therapist as well. Especially during the holiday season, let go of the trivial arguments and focus on what’s important.
The Supreme Judicial Court’s recent decision of George v. George provides guidance in applying the durational limits contained in the Alimony Reform Act.
The Alimony Reform Act, which went into effect in March 2012, provides that all alimony awards that predate the Act are deemed “general term alimony.” Under G.L. c. 208, §49(b), general term alimony awards end on a date certain based upon the length of the marriage, except upon a written finding by the court that deviation beyond the time limits is required “in the interests of justice.” Many alimony payors who file complaints to terminate alimony based on the durational limit are met with the defense that it is in the interests of justice for alimony to continue beyond the durational limits. In the November 28, 2016 decision of George v. George, the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) sets forth guidelines for how a judge of the Probate and Family Court should apply the “interests of justice” standard.
The recipient spouse has the burden of proof.
First, the recipient spouse bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that deviation beyond the standard termination is required in the interests of justice. Second, the Judge must evaluate the present circumstances of the parties, not the situation as it existed at the time of the divorce. In the George matter, the trial Judge denied husband’s request to terminated alimony by granting a deviation from the durational limit on the basis that had the wife known her alimony would terminate under a durational limit, she would have bargained for a different division of the marital property at the time of the divorce. This logic would prevent nearly all payor spouses with alimony obligations predating the Act from ever gaining the benefit of the durational limits. The SJC articulates in the George decision that such logic is in direct contravention of the Legislature’s intent that durational limits apply to preexisting alimony awards.
Under what circumstances would a deviation from standard durational limits be considered?
The statutory factors to be considered in deviating from the durational limits are those set forth in G.L. c. 208, §53(e):
Advanced age, chronic illness, or unusual health circumstances of either party.
Tax considerations applicable to the parties.
Whether the payor spouse is providing health insurance and the cost of health insurance for the recipient spouse.
Whether the payor spouse has been ordered to secure life insurance for the benefit of the recipient spouse and the cost of such insurance.
Sources and amounts of unearned income, including capital gains, interest and dividends, annuity and investment income from assets that were not allocated in the parties’ divorce.
Significant premarital cohabitation that included economic partnership or marital separation of significant duration, each of which the court may consider in determining the length of the marriage.
A party’s inability to provide for that party’s own support by reason of physical or mental abuse by the payor.
A party’s inability to provide for that party’s own support by reason of that party’s deficiency of property, maintenance or employment opportunity.
Upon written findings, any other factor that the court deems relevant and material.
What we still don’t know is, what other factors are relevant and material in the interests of justice? Apparently, we will have to wait for the next decision from the SJC to get the answer to that question.
Our team of attorney bloggers takes great pride in bringing you important legal updates and helpful suggestions. We’re honored to have been nominated for The Expert Institute’s 2016 Best Legal Blog Competition! This election year, there have been some tough choices to make. We’re glad that out of hundreds of competitors, our readers nominated us!
If you find the Divorce Law Monitor blog to be a helpful resource, it is up to you to vote for something you can truly rely on. Best of all, it only takes a few clicks.
You may know Nancy as the founder and editor of this terrific blog. Clients and colleagues know her as refreshingly honest, open, positive and tenacious – a challenging combination to find in this often contentious world of divorce law. Divorce is messy. Nancy always focuses on how to determine the best course of action for her client and the situation as a whole. She’s been a terrific role model for us all.
As a team, we’re proud to congratulate Nancy for being selected by Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly as one of their “Top Women of Law” for her outstanding contributions to the legal profession. The award celebrates outstanding achievements made by exceptional women lawyers who are pioneers, educators, trailblazers, and role models.
I’ve had the honor of working with Nancy for over 20 years. We met when I was in law school, and I started as her paralegal. While under her guidance, I passed the bar, became an associate, was elected a partner, and this year was named as her successor – chair of the Divorce group. The one thing that has remained the same is Nancy’s positive and calm demeanor. Even in the middle of a trial or when faced with an emergency, you can always count on her to remain steady and confidently on course.
She views the whole department as a team, whether a legal administrative assistant or a high level partner, and treats everyone with the same level of respect. With Nancy, you always work with her, not for her. In her interview with Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, she mentions, “I have always been aware that women are treated differently but I never saw it as an obstacle, just something I had to deal with.” Nancy shared her wisdom and has made it her goal to give the women (and men) working with her the confidence to succeed.
There’s a key suggestion I hear her give to divorce clients regularly. You’ve spent a significant amount of time with your life, emotions and finances entangled with your partner’s, and it can be tough to untangle all of that. Once you’ve made the decision to sever the ties with your spouse, take a step back. View the financial part of divorce as a business transaction. Leave out the revenge and manipulation tactics. Think of it as just two people trying to come to the most fair arrangement. This advice has helped many clients to positively resolve the financial aspects of their divorces.
It is a true pleasure to work with Nancy and to learn from her. Everyone in the Divorce group at Burns & Levinson is thrilled with her accomplishment and know it is well-deserved. Congratulations, Nancy!
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) has ruled that a person may establish herself as a child’s presumptive parent without the need for a biological relationship to the child. The same-sex partner of a woman who gave birth to two children conceived via artificial insemination during their committed, but non-marital, relationship is entitled to the presumption that she is a legal parent of the children.
The Story Behind Partanen v. Gallagher
Karen Partanen and Julie Gallagher were in a committed relationship for 12 years, but never married. In 2005, they decided to start a family with a “shared intention of both being parents of the resulting children.” Partanen tried artificial insemination, but was unable to become pregnant. In 2007, Gallagher conceived a child using assistive reproductive technology and gave birth to a baby girl. In 2012, Gallagher gave birth to a son. Partanen did not adopt the children and never signed an “acknowledgment of parentage” form. This form would have given her legal status as the children’s parent.
Gallagher and Partanen lived together with the children as a family until 2013. During that time, Partanen says they jointly raised and nurtured the children. They shared expenses, vacationed as a family, made joint decisions for the children and held themselves out to the community as the parents of the children. Both children call Partanen “Mommy” and call Gallagher “Momma.”
In 2013, the parties’ relationship ended, and Partanen moved out. She obtained a court order establishing herself as a “de facto parent.” This gave her rights to spend time with the children, as well as obligated her to pay child support. The Order did not give her legal status as a parent, without which she didn’t have decision-making authority. So, she filed an action in the Probate and Family Court seeking to establish that she is a legal parent to the children. The Probate and Family Court dismissed her case – in part because she has no biological link to the children. The Supreme Judicial Court has now overturned the Probate and Family Court’s decision.
Gender Neutral Laws Apply
The law for establishing parentage for a child born out of wedlock is found at Massachusetts General Law Chapter 209C. Massachusetts has held that all statutes must be read as gender neutral. In the past, many have known G.L. c. 209C as the “paternity” statute because it specifically defines when a “man” is presumed to be the “father.” Despite the use of the terms “man” and “father” in the statute, because of gender neutrality, G.L. c.209C applies to determining who is a legal parent of a child born out of wedlock, regardless of gender. One way a person is presumed to be a child’s parent is if the child is born to the parties, received into their home and held out to the community as their child. Partanen argued that all these provisions applied to her. This would give her a presumption of parentage and entitle her to seek a judgment declaring her as a parent of the children born during her relationship with Gallagher.
Gallagher argued that she chose as a single woman to have children via artificial insemination, to remain unmarried and not to allow anyone adopt the children. She maintained that this makes her, purposefully, the only legal parent. Previous case law held that the presumption of parentage can be refuted if a man can show he is not genetically related to the child. Since everyone agrees that Partanen shares no biological connection to the children, Gallagher argued Partanen’s case was properly dismissed.
What’s Best for the Kids?
When handing down the ruling, the SJC was most concerned with the welfare of the children. The SJC ruled that nothing in the law limits its applicability to claims based upon biological ties. Despite prior decisions linking parentage to biology, the SJC did not intend to suggest that the law is limited only to parentage based on biology. The Court held, “we decline to read into the statute a provision that leaves children born to unmarried couples with only one parent.”
This decision sends the case back to the Probate and Family Court for a determination of parentage. The SJC decision established only that Partanen met the presumption, but that presumption of parentage can still be rebutted. The presumption in this case cannot be rebutted by the lack of biological connection given that Partanen’s claim of parentage was not based upon biology. However, if the evidence shows that the parties didn’t make a joint decision to create these children and the children were not held out by them in the community as their joint children, the lower Court could determine that Partanen is not entitled to the rights of a legal parent.
While this decision is being hailed as a victory for unmarried same-sex parents, the case has ramifications for unmarried heterosexual couples, as well. If a committed couple conceives a child and both parties act in a parental role to that child, this can result in legal parental rights and obligations where there is no third party claiming a biological connection. The assumption that marriage, adoption or biology is necessary to create parental rights and obligations is a thing of the past. It’s conduct that counts.
You have questions. We have answers to at least 12 of them.
If you’re considering a divorce, prepare to face some of the most difficult questions of your life. The divorce process doesn’t have to be a minefield of uncertainty, though. Some of the most common mistakes are also the most avoidable, as long as you have the right direction.
Join my colleague, attorney Michael (Mick) Judge for an inside look at the divorce process. He’ll touch on pre-divorce considerations (including pre-nuptial agreements, divorce mediation and marriage counseling), the divorce process, and post-divorce matters (including modifications and contempt actions). A financial advisor will join him to address many of the pressing financial implications of your divorce.