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Worcester Family Law Blog

Reaching a parenting agreement

A divorce in Massachusetts can be stressful, but when parents can work together, a child's best interests may be met with minimal court time. There are many out-of-court approaches to consider in reaching a parenting agreement. A judge may still be required to review the final plan to evaluate whether a child's best interests have been considered, but legal fees and stress can be minimized by handling the negotiation of the agreement in a more informal setting.

One of the major areas to be addressed in a parenting agreement is that of custody and visitation. Parents may deal with issues such as where the child will live. Additionally, they should handle decisions about legal custody, which is the responsibility for major decisions related to a child's welfare. In some cases, these responsibilities may be shared. In other cases, decision-making may be assigned to one parent. Visitation schedules are also typically included in a parenting plan. Visits with grandparents and other extended family members might also be included to ensure that a child is able to maintain other important relationships.

Divorce may be complicated by social media

Massachusetts couples contemplating divorce may know that a spouse might gather evidence he or she may use during divorce litigation. Aside from claims that marriage vows were broken, evidence may be focused on claims a spouse may make for receiving alimony or being unable to pay it. Likewise, when asset division takes place, it is dependent on the financial statements each spouse may be obligated to turn into the court. Proving that a spouse is not being truthful may require presenting evidence to the contrary.

Evidence may be found on social media platforms such as Facebook. Posts may present a different view of one's financial situation than that which is presented to the court. Lavish cars or vacations, for example, may point to a healthier than noted financial status. Adultery is sometimes brought up during a divorce even if it is unnecessary to imply fault. If one spouse does not agree to divorce, the other spouse may use adultery as a reason to file. In addition, child custody may be affected by Facebook posts when used to make derogatory posts about the other parent.

Why divorce can be costly

Divorces in Massachusetts could last months or even longer than a year while a couple tries to work out an arrangement for post-marital life. The process can also drag on when a couple must go to court for a judge to make determinations regarding child custody, alimony or property division. While dissolving a marriage can have high financial costs, there are ways to make divorce less expensive.

Though there are often many hurt feelings and emotional complications, a couple may have to work together when divorcing. An attorney at a family law firm in New Jersey estimated that an average couple might still pay between $15,000 and $20,000 in legal bills, and this is not because of exorbitant rates charged by lawyers. The same attorney said some divorces only cost $1,500 and are finalized within weeks, but these cases involve couples who are reasonable and can communicate with each other honestly.

When child support ends in Massachusetts

Whether people are under an order to pay child support or they are the parent receiving child support payments, it is important to understand when child support will end so people can be prepared. The legal age in Massachusetts for children is when they reach the age of 18, but that does not necessarily mean the child support will end then.

Child support is generally ordered to be paid until a child reaches 18. However, if the child turns 18 during a school year, a court may extend that payment until he or she completes the final year of high school. In some states, courts may also order child support to continue as long as the child is attending college in order to help defray the costs of the child's higher education.

Considering taxes after divorce

Massachusetts spouses involved or interested in divorce may benefit from considering the different ways their taxes might be affected after the marriage is officially dissolved. Once parents are no longer married, there are several potential concerns that might need to be addressed before filing federal taxes.

Any parent unmarried before the last day of 2014, earning at least 50 percent of the household's income and living with their children for six months of the year, may be considered to be the head of the household. Filing under that designation may provide taxpayers with higher deductions and lower tax rates. Unmarried parents who earn less than $75,000 in adjusted gross income might be permitted to deduct $1,000 from taxes owed for each child who was under the age of 16 by the end of 2014.

A more modern version of visitation

When Massachusetts parents are going through a divorce, one of the more difficult aspects that they will be confronted with is the issue of child custody and visitation. This is especially the case when the non-custodial parent will be living a great distance away from the child after the divorce has been completed. An emerging method that has been allowed by courts in several states is virtual visitation through methods such as email, Skype, video conferencing and social networks such as Facebook.

Courts who incorporate this method as part of a custody and visitation order typically require custodial parents to allow these visits, make them reasonably available and permit uncensored communication. These visits are meant to supplement, not replace, traditional visits, and if a parent is not allowed traditional visitations rights by the court for whatever reason, it is unlikely that virtual visitation will be granted.

How is paternity testing conducted?

Some residents of Massachusetts may wish to learn more about how paternity testing is conducted in the state. Cases in which the paternity of a child is disputed may be resolved through genetic testing to determine parentage.

In order to obtain paternity testing, it is sufficient to provide an affidavit by a party stipulating that both the mother and the putative father engaged in intercourse during the period where conception is thought to have occurred. If the results of such testing indicates with a probability of 97 percent or greater that the potential father is indeed the biological father, the court will issue a temporary child support order. In cases where paternity is disputed, the court may decide to order additional testing from either the same laboratory or a different one.

When do alimony payments end after a divorce?

Alimony is one of the more important issues for couples going through a divorce. When a person is making monthly payments to their former spouse in order to support them economically, this is known under Massachusetts law as general term alimony. This is ongoing, as opposed to rehabilitative alimony, which is usually for a shorter period after which the recipient is expected to be able to generate their own income.

Massachusetts family law statutes give certain duration caps for general term alimony, depending on the length of the former marriage. If the former couple was married for over two decades, a court may order that the alimony payments continue indefinitely. For shorter marriages, different duration rules apply, with progressively shorter marriage lengths resulting in shorter alimony durations. These statutory limits give judges some discretion for how long to order alimony, provided they are under that limit.

Will I receive child support if the other parent is in jail?

Even if a parent is in jail, he or she can still be ordered by a Massachusetts court to pay child support. The process works differently depending on whether there was an existing court order for support at the time the person went to jail.

If child support has not yet been ordered, a court can order that it be paid even if the parent is in jail. However the court is not mandated to follow the child support guidelines if the paying parent is in jail and will likely remain incarcerated for at least three more years.

What steps do I take to get a divorce in Massachusetts?

Spouses who would like to get a divorce may be unsure about what the basic legal steps are. To begin, both parties must be legal residents of Massachusetts in order to get a divorce there. As long as that requirement is met, a spouse may file a petition for divorce citing fault or no-fault grounds.

When an individual files the divorce papers, copies of those papers must be mailed to or otherwise served on their spouse. If the recipient wishes to object to any of the information in the divorce papers, they will have an opportunity to contest the divorce by filing their own papers. If the recipient has no objections to the information, they will simply sign the paperwork and mail it back.

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