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Worcester Family Law Blog

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.

Considerations for divorcing baby boomers

Baby boomers in Massachusetts are more likely to get a divorce than their counterparts from 25 years ago, according to the National Center for Family & Marriage Research. For many of these older couples going through divorce, allocation of retirement savings will be a major concern. Generally, retirement accounts are considered marital property. This means that even if one spouse was diligently putting away money and the other was not, the accounts are likely to be split between the two.

When splitting the assets, couples should consider what type of retirement account they have. For example, if the account is a 401k, tax will be taken out at distribution. If the couple has a Roth IRA, tax will be taken out at contribution. Couples need to be sure that they calculate tax when they consider the value of a retirement account. Furthermore, they should also keep in mind their own income tax brackets. If their individual incomes put them in different tax brackets, then one might ultimately receive less than the other from the retirement account unless this difference is taken into consideration.

The best business valuation method during a divorce

A common issue in divorce cases is how to determine the value of a business that is owned by one or both spouses. For property division purposes, it could be necessary to consult an experienced valuation analyst and to decide whether to appraise the business through a full valuation or a calculation of value. Massachusetts residents who own a business and are considering a divorce may benefit from learning about the options available to them.

A full valuation may be the preferred method if an arbitrator or judge requires the information to make a decision. The results of a full valuation are considered more reliable and have a greater degree of accuracy than a calculation of value. It is the optimal method for businesses with a complicated organization and assets.

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.

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