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Worcester Family Law Blog

Helping children adjust to divorce

For Massachusetts parents who are ending their marriage, guiding their children through the divorce process may be difficult. However, there are steps they can take to help their children better adjust to the situation.

If possible, parents should try to cooperate with one another and minimize disagreements. This might mean that it is necessary to put aside some differences and forgive one another for the sake of the children. If parents do have a disagreement, they should try to avoid arguing in front of their offspring.

Medical coverage and child support

Massachusetts parents who have been ordered to make child support payments are usually expected to provide health care coverage for their children as well. A judge may order the paying parent to include the child on a group plan that is available through the parent's employer. If the parent can get health care coverage another way, a judge may order the parent to add thechild to that plan.

A judge can only order a parent to provide health care coverage for their child if the coverage is reasonably affordable for the parent. Health care coverage that is available through a parent's employer is always considered reasonably affordable in the eyes of the court. If paying for a child's health care coverage causes a parent to experience a serious financial hardship, a judge may rule that the expense is unreasonable.

How to approach property division in divorce

One of the first things a Massachusetts resident may hear from a spouse who wants a divorce is that they also want what may seem to be an unreasonable share of the marital assets. This happened to one man whose wife of 21 years wanted to use the joint savings account to buy a house for herself. She said that she would assist her husband in continuing to pay down the mortgage on their existing home for its remaining nine years and would pay half of their son's college expenses for his remaining two years.

The man was concerned because he was just three years from retirement, his wife's salary was higher than his, and and he would struggle to cover household expenses on his own. However, what one spouse wants in property division is not necessarily what they will get, and one spouse cannot simply unilaterally claim 100 percent of a shared marital asset.

Advantages of flexible schedules for divorced parents

For Massachusetts parents who are getting a divorce, it will also be necessary to work out a plan around child custody and visitation. If possible, parents might be happier with a plan that they negotiate together and make flexible as opposed to a rigid one that is handed down by a judge.

One advantage of a flexible parenting plan that is arrived at through negotiation is that it allows parents to change the plan based on their child's changing wants and needs as they grow older. A baby has different needs compared to a toddler, and a teenager may want to rearrange visitation or custody arrangements to accommodate extracurricular activities or time with friends.

Unemployment among men may lead to divorce

Massachusetts couples who are considering divorce may be more likely to do so if the man is unemployed. A study conducted by a professor at Harvard examined more than 6,000 couples and found that while a number of other expected factors did not affect divorce rates, men who were not the traditional breadwinners in a marriage may be more likely to see their marriage end.

Starting around 1975, a more equitable division of chores was not linked to a rise in divorce rates although this was the case for couples married prior to that date. Women who worked outside the home and who were able to support themselves were also no more likely to divorce. A couple's finances also did not seem to correlate with the likelihood of a divorce. Experts speculate that it may be more likely that unemployed men were in that state for reasons outside of their control, and this strain might contribute to divorce.

Determining child custody

When Massachusetts parents are unable to make a child custody agreement on their own, the next step cold be a courtroom. The first standard a judge uses in making a custody decision is that of the primary caretaker. It is believed that a child bonds deeply with the primary caretaker and the preservation of that bond is crucial in ensuring healthy child development.

The judge uses a number of criteria to determine who has been the primary caretaker in the marriage or relationship. This includes who was responsible for meal preparation, extracurricular activities, health care, school conferences, leisure activities, and homework help. In some cases, the judge may find that these responsibilities were fairly equally split, and if that happens, then the next standard is the best interests of the child.

Divorce after 50 can be difficult for women

While the overall divorce rate in Massachusetts and across the United States has declined and stabilized since the 1980s, divorce among individuals over the age of 50 is on the rise. In fact, statistics show that divorce rates among older couples doubled between 1990 and 2010. Experts say the phenomenon, known as "gray divorce," impacts the financial security of women more than men, and women divorcees should take protective measures to ensure that they enjoy a stable retirement.

Gray divorce can be more financially devastating than divorces that happen early in life because there is less time to regain a financial footing. Women who divorce after 50 can be especially susceptible to financial issues, especially if they stepped away from their career to be a stay-at-home parent. Studies show that 27 percent of women who divorce after 50 live in poverty, compared to 11 percent of men in that age group.

Mediation, collaboration and uncontested divorce

Massachusetts couples who are getting a divorce have options for deciding property division, child custody and support beyond going to court. Mediation, collaboration and an uncontested divorce is often less expensive, less stressful and less time-consuming than litigation. One problem that may arise during litigation is that each person may be angry enough to try to punish the other person through legal means, and this could result in both parties incurring more debt after their divorce than they had to start.

For couples who are in conflict but who want to try to avoid litigation, mediation might be an alternative. A mediator uses conflict resolution techniques to help a couple reach an agreement. Couples who have more issues to work through might take the collaborative approach. This involves bringing in a number of professionals to work with the family on different aspects of the divorce. For example, attorneys, financial advisers and mental health professionals might all participate in a collaborative divorce.

Dividing the family home in a divorce

Massachusetts couples who are heading toward divorce and who own a home together might wonder how they will split it. This can be one of the most difficult aspects of property division, and simply agreeing that one party or the other will get the house as part of the divorce does not remove either spouse from mortgage obligations.

The person who keeps the home will need to be approved by the lender once again. It might be necessary at this point to pay a larger down payment or to have someone cosign on the loan.

Financial planning and preparing for divorce

Married couples in Massachusetts are not always on the same page when it comes to financial planning. Often, one spouse will handle the finances while the other spouse remains in the dark about the value of marital assets. When couples like this go through a divorce, the spouse with less financial awareness is often at a disadvantage during property division negotiations.

Some married spouses are brave enough to broach the uncomfortable topic of preparing their finances for the possibility of divorce. While planning for a divorce may be too fatalistic for others, couples may be wise to at least take joint responsibility of shared finances. This way, if there is an unexpected event that separates two married people, both spouses will be capable of handling their financial lives.

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