Divorce is a difficult and emotional process, and the laws surrounding it can be complex and vary from state to state. In Massachusetts, there are specific laws that govern the divorce process, and they can be confusing for those going through it. Some of the most commonly asked questions in Massachusetts divorce law include issues such as alimony, property division, child custody and support. Below, we provide an overview of some of the most common divorce-related legal issues and questions in Massachusetts, as well as resources for finding additional information and legal assistance.
What is the difference between an uncontested divorce and a contested divorce?
In Massachusetts, the difference between an uncontested divorce and a contested divorce lies in the level of agreement between the parties.
An uncontested divorce occurs when both parties agree on all of the major issues in the divorce, such as property division, alimony, and child custody. The parties can reach this agreement through mediation or negotiation. Once an agreement is reached, the parties can file a joint petition for divorce, which often results in a relatively quick and inexpensive divorce process.
On the other hand, a contested divorce occurs when the parties are not able to agree on one or more major issues in the divorce. This often requires the parties to go to court, where a judge will make decisions about the contested issues. Contested divorces can be more time-consuming and expensive than uncontested divorces, as the parties may need to hire attorneys and go through the process of discovery and trial in order to resolve the dispute.
Just to recap: An uncontested divorce in Massachusetts is where both parties agree on all of the major issues in the divorce, such as property division, alimony, and child custody. A contested divorce on the other hand, is one where the parties are not able to agree on one or more major issues in the divorce and it requires the parties to file an action in court to resolve the divorce. Contested divorces are more time-consuming and expensive than uncontested divorces.
What is divorce mediation?
Divorce mediation is a process in which a neutral third-party mediator helps a couple work through the issues involved in their divorce and reach a mutually acceptable agreement. Mediation is a voluntary process, meaning that both parties must agree to and actively participate. It is an alternative to traditional divorce litigation and allows couples to remain in control of the outcome of their divorce instead of allowing a judge to make decisions for them.
The mediator is a neutral party who does not take sides and helps the couple communicate effectively and make informed decisions. The mediator cannot give you or your spouse legal advice. Their job is to help the parties identify the issues that need to be resolved, and then helps them to explore different options for resolving those issues. Mediation allows the parties to create a settlement agreement that is tailored to their unique needs and circumstances.
The process of divorce mediation typically begins with an initial meeting between the couple and the mediator, during which the mediator explains the process and the couple discusses their goals and concerns. The mediator will then schedule additional meetings as necessary, during which the couple will work together to resolve the issues in their divorce. Mediation sessions are usually held in an office setting, but can also be held via Zoom.
It's important to note that during the mediation process, the mediator cannot provide legal advice to either party. It's recommended that the parties have their own side counsel lawyers who can give advice throughout the mediation process as well as review and advise on the agreement once it's reached.
In Massachusetts, mediation is a popular choice for couples who want to avoid the cost, stress, and uncertainty of a contested divorce. Mediation is a process that allows couples to work together to reach a settlement that is tailored to their unique needs and circumstances.
What is the difference between legal and physical custody?
In Massachusetts, there are two main types of child custody: legal custody and physical custody.
- Legal custody: This refers to the right and responsibility to make major decisions about the child's welfare, such as decisions related to education, healthcare, and religion.
- Legal custody can be shared by both parents or awarded to one parent.
- Physical custody: This refers to the day-to-day care and supervision of the child.
- Physical custody can also be shared by both parents or awarded to one parent.
When determining child custody, the Massachusetts courts prioritize the best interests of the child. Factors that are considered in determining the best interests of the child include the child's age, health, and development, the child's relationship with each parent and any other person who plays a significant role in the child's life, and the child's preference if they are of a sufficient age and maturity.
It's important to note that the court can also award joint legal custody, which means that both parents have equal decision-making authority, or sole legal custody, which means that one parent has the exclusive right to make decisions about the child's welfare. Additionally, the court can also award joint physical custody, which means that both parents have equal time with the child, or sole physical custody, which means that the child primarily resides with one parent.
How is MA Child Support Calculated?
The Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines are developed and reviewed by a Child Support Guidelines Task Force every three years, which is made up of a group of experts such as judges, lawyers, and child welfare advocates. The task force is responsible for reviewing and updating the guidelines on a regular basis. You can read the most recent child support guidelines in MA here: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/2021-child-support-guidelines-introductory-materia
The Task force takes into account various factors such as the cost of living, the needs of the child, the income of both parents, and other relevant factors when creating and updating the guidelines. The guidelines are intended to provide a fair and consistent method for determining child support in Massachusetts. They are designed to ensure that children receive the support they need while also taking into account the ability of the parents to pay.
The Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines take into account several factors when determining the child support obligation:
- The gross income of both parents: The guidelines use the gross income of both parents to calculate the basic child support obligation. This includes income from employment, self-employment, rental property, and other sources.
- The number of children for whom support is being sought: The guidelines take into account the number of children for whom support is being sought and the number of overnight visits that each parent has with the children.
- The cost of health insurance for the children: The guidelines take into account the cost of health insurance for the children and the cost of any unreimbursed medical expenses.
- The cost of childcare: The guidelines take into account the cost of childcare and the cost of any other related expenses.
- The cost of extracurricular activities: The guidelines take into account the cost of extracurricular activities such as sports, music lessons, and other activities that are in the best interest of the child.
- The tax filing status of the parents: The guidelines take into account the tax filing status of the parents, such as whether they file jointly or separately.
- The income tax implications of the child support order: The guidelines take into account the income tax implications of the child support order, such as the taxability of child support payments and the tax implications of any other financial arrangements made between the parents.
It's important to note that the court has discretion to deviate from the guidelines when it finds that the guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate in a particular case. Additionally, the court may consider other factors such as the age, health, education, and needs of the child, as well as the standard of living established during the marriage.
How Is MA Alimony Calculated?
In Massachusetts alimony, also known as spousal support, is calculated based on a number of factors, including the length of the marriage, the income and earning potential of each spouse, and the ability of each spouse to meet their own financial needs.
There are four main types of alimony that can be awarded in a MA divorce case:
- Rehabilitative alimony: This type of alimony is intended to provide support for a spouse who needs time and resources to become self-sufficient. It is typically awarded for a specific period of time and is intended to help the recipient spouse develop the skills and education needed to support themselves.
- Reimbursement alimony: This type of alimony is intended to reimburse one spouse for financial contributions made to the other spouse during the marriage. It is typically awarded when one spouse has made significant financial sacrifices or contributions during the marriage, such as paying for the other spouse's education or supporting them while they pursue a career.
- Transitional alimony: This type of alimony is intended to provide support for a spouse who is transitioning from the role of a married person to that of a single person. It is typically awarded for a specific period of time, such as a few years, and is intended to help the recipient spouse establish a new home, lifestyle, and support system.
- General term alimony: This type of alimony is intended to provide long-term support for a spouse who is unable to support themselves. It can be awarded for an indefinite period of time and is typically based on the length of the marriage, the income and earning potential of each spouse, and the ability of each spouse to meet their own financial needs.
It's important to note that alimony is not always awarded in a divorce case, and even when it is, the amount and duration of the award can vary widely depending on the specific circumstances of the case. It's important to work with a skilled divorce attorney who can help you understand your rights and the best way to argue for an appropriate alimony award, if applicable. Read more about MA alimony modification.
The court will consider the following factors when awarding alimony:
- The length of the marriage: the longer the marriage, the more likely it is that alimony will be awarded for a longer period of time.
- The income and earning potential of each spouse: the court will consider each spouse's ability to earn an income and their earning potential.
- The standard of living established during the marriage: the court will consider the lifestyle that the couple enjoyed during the marriage and whether one spouse will be able to maintain that lifestyle without the support of the other.
- The age, health, education, and employment skills of each spouse: the court will consider the age, health, education, and employment skills of each spouse in determining their ability to earn an income.
- The ability of each spouse to meet their own financial needs: the court will consider whether one spouse will be able to meet their financial needs without the support of the other.
It's important to note that the court will consider all of these factors together in order to make a fair and equitable determination about alimony. The court will also consider any other factors that it deems relevant to the case.
Determining the duration of general term alimony:
There is a formula for calculating how many months a spouse may receive general alimony, based on the length of marriage. The presumed end date for payment of general term alimony is the payor's social security retirement age, if the alimony term is that long. The length of your marriage is determined by the number of months from the date of your marriage to the date of service of the divorce complaint in your case:
It's important to note that alimony is not always awarded in a divorce case, and even when it is, the amount and duration of the award can vary widely depending on the specific circumstances of the case. It's important to work with a skilled divorce attorney who can help you understand your rights and the best way to argue for an appropriate alimony award, if applicable.
Determining the amount of general term alimony:
The amount of alimony is generally calculated as 30 to 35% of the difference between the parties' gross incomes.
Alimony & Cohabitation:
In Massachusetts, cohabitation can have an impact on alimony payments. The Massachusetts alimony reform law of 2011 established that a payor's alimony obligation may be suspended, reduced, or terminated if the recipient is cohabiting with a new partner.
Cohabitation is defined as a committed relationship in which two parties reside together for a substantial period of time, sharing financial obligations and domestic duties. The law does not require that the parties be in a romantic relationship, however, it does require that the relationship be something more than a roommate situation.
If the payor believes that the recipient is cohabiting, they can file a motion with the court to modify or terminate the alimony award. The burden of proof is on the payor to demonstrate that the recipient is cohabiting, and the court will consider factors such as the nature of the relationship, the duration of the relationship, and the extent of the parties' financial interdependence.
In conclusion, the divorce process can be a difficult and emotional journey, and navigating the laws surrounding it can be overwhelming. In Massachusetts, the laws and regulations surrounding divorce can vary and are subject to change. To speak with a lawyer about a divorce, alimony claim or other family law matter, contact Mavrides Law. For assistance, call 617-723-9900 or contact the firm by email here