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Worcester Family Law Blog

Divorce rate trending downward

For people in Massachusetts and throughout the country, the divorce rate is the lowest it has been in almost 40 years. According to the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University, in 2015, there were 16.9 divorces per 1,000 women over 15 who were married. In 2014, it was 17.6. In 1980, at the highest point, there were nearly 23 divorces per 1,000 women.

Furthermore, marriage rates are slightly higher, so although there is not necessarily a relationship between the numbers, experts believe both might be stabilizing. However, marriage rates are still not as high as they once were. In fact, experts believe that one reason for the lower divorce rate might be that more people are choosing to live together rather than marry.

Student loan debt after a divorce

Massachusetts divorce courts follow the principle of equitable distribution. When a couple breaks up, all marital assets are divided by the court in a manner that it deems fair, although this does not necessarily mean equal.

Marital debts are split as well. In addition to credit cards and medical expenses, many couples may have taken out student loans to finance their higher education. How this debt is treated by a court will depend upon when it was incurred.

When kids require more than child support payments

Single parents in Massachusetts may rely on child support payments to provide the essentials for their kids, but sometimes child support is not enough to cover everything. Parents who are going through divorce and expect to receive child support payments are advised to consider what child support will cover and how much extra money raising a child could take.

In some states, child support laws mandate that child support cover certain expenses, such as education or medical bills. It is uncommon for laws to mandate that child support cover extracurricular activities for children, such as music lessons, sports equipment or travel. A parent who receives child support may be able to choose to spend the money as they see fit, but they can also expect to have to pay for some things out of pocket for their children.

When a spouse tries to dissipate assets

While some Massachusetts divorce cases are amicable with both spouses working towards a fair settlement, others are marked by spite and greed. In some situations, one party will try to dissipate or waste the marital assets simply to try to prevent the other spouse from getting a fair share.

High-earning people may dissipate assets out of spite, knowing that they will be able to re-earn the amount after the divorce is over. This may leave the other parties in a very bad position, especially if they have stayed home in order to support the high-earning spouse's career and to raise children. The dissipation of assets might leave lower-earning spouses without the means to support themselves following the divorce.

Money issues during divorce

Some Massachusetts couples might split up over money, but financial troubles can continue during and after they divorce. Both assets and debts will need to be divided. Since Massachusetts is not a community property state, what each person earned during the marriage belongs to them. However, the aim is still for the couple to come out of the divorce roughly equal. Dealing with debt might involve selling the family home or another asset to settle the debt. Even if one spouse agrees to take on part of a debt, if it is still in the name of the other spouse, that person will remain legally responsible for the debt until it is refinanced.

Tax implications are another consideration. The division of property may result in future capital gains taxes. A person's filing status changes after divorce. Parents need to decide who will get the dependent exemption, and there will also be taxes associated with alimony. Alimony payments may be tax deductible, but child support is not.

What to know about divorce and retirement

The good news for Massachusetts residents is that the overall divorce rate has dropped in recent decades. However, for those over the age of 50, it is actually increasing. This can be a particularly troubling time to get a divorce because these individuals may be thinking about retirement. It may also be their peak earning years, which means a divorce could pose a threat to financial security.

Those who are thinking about getting a divorce may benefit from reviewing their expenses as well as how they may change once they are single again. For instance, car insurance may be higher for single individuals compared to those who are married. A financial review may also be helpful because many people don't have an accurate measure of how much they actually spend. As income may go down after a divorce, it may also make sense to downsize.

Making preparations for a divorce

People in Massachusetts who are considering divorce might want to consider when they begin the separation process. January, March and September tend to be months when divorce filings go up because they occur just after holidays or vacations when individuals may have made final attempts at reconciliation. However, filing for divorce in these circumstances often means that the decision is an emotional one. A better approach might be to file for divorce after some initial preparation.

The first step is to get financial paperwork together. Individuals might want to store such documents somewhere safe such as with a friend or in a safety deposit box. Next, individuals should set up their own bank accounts and work toward establishing their own credit. If possible, an individual should save up some money to help pay for the divorce.

The benefits of shared parenting after a divorce

In the past, Massachusetts courts often determined that the children were best off living with their mother after the divorce was finalized. However, many experts now say that children thrive best when they have the opportunity to maintain strong and healthy relationships with both parents unless there are mitigating factors.

While this is supported by numerous studies, it also generally makes sense. When children get to spend equal time living with both parents under shared parenting plans, they continue to get the best of both worlds. For example, fathers tend to be more likely to engage their children in physical activities, such as playing football or other sports. Mothers, on the other hand, are more likely to assist kids with their socialization skills. Even if the parents do not follow traditional gender roles, the children still usually learn different skills sets.

Domestic violence, divorce and child custody

Massachusetts parents divorce for a variety of reasons. In some cases, a marriage ends because one spouse was physically abusive to the other one. When parents divorce because of domestic violence, child custody issues can be complicated, and it is not always easy to predict which parent will get primary physical custody.

Domestic violence can be very traumatizing for the parent who is abused and the children who witness the behavior. Children who have seen one of their parents being physically abused in their home may grow up with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. At the same time, a parent who has been a victim of domestic violence could have PTSD and other mental health issues directly related to the abuse.

Reasons to have a prenuptial agreement

A prenuptial agreement may protect many Massachusetts residents when they get married. These types of agreements are not just for the very wealthy. People of many different income levels may have accumulated possessions that they wish to hang onto in the event of a divorce rather than dividing them with a spouse.

This can be a particular issue for couples in which there are disparities in income and professional status. For example, one person might end up paying alimony to the other after the divorce. Furthermore, estate planning changes after marriage as well, and disinheriting a spouse can be difficult.

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