New Child Support Guidelines Pay Lower Support With More Parenting Time – No More

By:  Anthony C. Adamopoulos

The current “old” Child Support Guidelines provided a separate child support calculation where, for example, the father shared “financial responsibility and parenting time” of greater than one-third but less than fifty percent of the time.

This usually meant that if, for example, the father was with his children more than one- third of their time he was going to pay less child support than the father who is with his children about a third of the time. This adjustment is dropped under the new Guidelines announced on July 18th and formally effective on September 15, 2017.

While the formal effective date is not until September, experienced divorce attorneys, mediators and arbitrators have started using the new Guidelines.

 

Saving $$$$ When Facing Divorce — Financial Statements

looking-to-save

By Anthony C. Adamopoulos

In my over 25 years of helping people facing divorce, I have seen, in almost every divorce, a reoccurring client decision that results in wasting hundreds, and sometimes, thousands of dollars.

What is that decision? The decision not to read and follow the court’s instructions on how to complete the court’s Financial Statement.

In all divorce cases, the most important document is the Probate and Family Court Financial Statement.

In an “uncontested” divorce, the judge reads the Financial Statement to help her or him decide if she or he will approve the parties’ Separation Agreement.  I have seen judges, or their clerks, refuse to let uncontested divorce cases be approved because Financial Statements did not conform to the court’s instructions.

In contested cases, the Financial Statement helps the judge determine many issues, for example, the standard of living of a party, the needs of a party, and the honesty of a party.

In my office, and the offices of many attorneys I know, we do not complete client Financial Statements. No client of mine can ever say, “I do not know where that number came from, my attorney completed the Financial Statement.” Clients must complete their own Financial Statements.

The Probate and Family Court Instructions for Financial Statements can be found by going to my web site DivorcingOptions.com, then to RESOURCES, then to Long Form Instructions or Short Form Instructions.

There are about 13 to 15 paragraphs of instruction.

The instructions for both forms are accompanied by a self-calculating form for the user’s convenience.

Here is a list of the most ignored instructions:

  1. Fill in your name and address;
  2. Answer every question;
  3. If an answer to a question is 0 or none, enter 0 or none;
  4. All income and expenses are to be reported in weekly amounts with monthly figures being divided by 4.3;
  5. List all assets and present value.

Since the Family Court wants its instructions followed, my paralegal or I must point out what needs to be changed, in a client’s draft Statement, to comply with the court’s instructions.

Because clients are paying for time, the amount of errors and the amount of resistance (Yes, some clients resist the court’s instructions under the misbelief that the court will make an exception in their case.) can result in legal fees that are avoidable.

The take away:

The court’s instructions are few and clear. Taking the time to follow them can save you $$$$.

 

IF YOU KNOW SOMEONE FACING DIVORCE…this may help when they come to you for help. By Anthony C. Adamopoulos, arbitrator, mediator, collaborative attorney

Because people often wait until “after the holidays” to make the Decision to Divorce, February is Divorce Month. Since it is such an important Decision, I have put together this post on important considerations.

If someone facing divorce comes to you, I hope this article will help.

First StepThink about how divorce will affect your children. 

Think about what is in the best interest of your children.child-support-visitationOften unknown, or unappreciated, the Decision has an indelible and devastating effect on young children. Children often see divorce as the death of the child’s family, at least as the child has known the family. This “death” can result in outcomes including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, pain and depression. In the lives of young children, no decision of their parents can have a more negative effect than the decision to divorce.

Second Step – Talk alone with your spouse about the Decision. “But, we can’t talk! That’s why we’re divorcing!” Well listen, if your child was in the emergency room and you and your spouse had to talk to make a decision, would you talk and make the decision? If your answer is “Of course”, well, in your child’s life, this is just as important. Talk! Talk about: -Is divorce the only choice? -Is divorce the only answer? -Is divorce necessary now? If you cannot talk, then talk with a professional. Yes, it is that important in the lives of your children. Also, if the first professional “just isn’t right,” try another, and another, until you are both comfortable with the professional. If you have done all you can to keep the family “alive” and still divorce is necessary, then do it the right way.

Third Step– Pick the best divorce Process first, and then pick your divorce attorney.BestAll too often, people go to an attorney first. This is not the best approach. Attorneys are best at “what they do”. For example, consider this medical scenario, if you go to a surgical oncologist for advice on how to handle a newly discovered tumor, you will most likely get advice on the best surgery. If you go to a medical oncologist, you will get advice on chemotherapy. The radiology oncologist will give you advice on cancer radiation. It is the same in divorce, e.g. there are litigators, there are mediators, etc. Study and select the Process; then pick the attorney who works well in that Process.

There are two overall divorce processes – the Court Process and the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Process.

The Court Divorce Process

The Court Process assumes a confrontational route. (See: The Adversarial Approach for a different assumption).  The confrontation begins when you or your spouse declare, in a public document called a Complaint for Divorce, that you are suing for divorce and you want custody of the children (if any) and an equitable division of all property.
In the Complaint for Divorce, the plaintiff is the accuser and the defendant is the accused or defender. (In the Court Process, all proceedings and most documents are open to and available to the public for viewing and copying.)
In Massachusetts, there are rules that set out the procedure for using the Court Process. One of the rules is called: Standing Order 1-06 – the Time Standards.
When considering what Process is best for you, it is important to understand the effect of the Time Standards on your budget.  The Standards establish a list of events that must be attended to. Failure to attend to an event may result in sanctions. I say “attend to” because although Standing Order 1-06 orders certain acts, for example, the completion, filing, and serving of a Financial Statement within a certain period, experienced divorce attorneys know there are other rules that permit parties to skip, delay or get around a Time Standards rule.  Sound confusing? For experienced attorneys, it is not; for persons who represent themselves, it may be quite confusing.
For those considering cost, the Court Process, by its nature, will require you to pay your attorney for “attending to” a required “Time Standard” event. Given the number of “events” in Standing Order 1-06, this can be costly.
Under the Court Process, if you and your spouse cannot resolve your differences, you will have a court trial. Learn what a court trial entails by clicking and reading my article: Who does court trials anymore?

The ADR Divorce Process

In divorce, there are four alternative approaches to divorce resolution – non-confrontational adversarial, Collaborative divorce, mediation and arbitration. Regardless of the approach you use, the only time you will be in the court system is when you appear for a five minute uncontested divorce hearing. There is no Divorce Complaint! There is no plaintiff! There is no defendant! No Time Standards! No dirty linen washed in public!
Click here for more information about Non-confrontational Adversarial Divorce. The key to resolution in this process is for you and your spouse to have very competent non-confrontational adversarial attorneys. Be sure to check out an attorney’s reputation. You want a peacemaker not a warrior. If an attorney thinks like a general, talks like a general and moves like a general, he or she lives and works in the confrontational world. He or she is not a non-confrontational adversarial attorney.

Collaborative Divorce is a unique process where you, your spouse, and your own trained and certified collaborative attorneys, and other specialists, work together for, and only for, resolution of all issues.

In Divorce Mediation, you and your spouse work together to resolve your own issues with the help of a divorce mediator. The mediator is not a legal expert or advisor; the mediator establishes the atmosphere and uses proven techniques to help you and your spouse reach agreement on all divorce issues.

Arbitration is used in conjunction with any of the other ADR approaches. It is used to resolve deadlock, i.e., where parties cannot agree on an issue.
Choosing the right approach can make a real difference in the time and cost of this life-altering period.
Anthony C. Adamopoulos ©2016

Mediation and Arbitration of Temporary Orders in Divorce by Howard Goldstein, Mediator and Collaborative Divorce Lawyer

For some time now, from time to time, I have sat in Family Court and watched as the ‘Motion Session’ played out. Litigants waiting, sometime for hours, to get “five minutes” to argue, for example, why Plaintiff needs “support” and why Defendant believes Plaintiff should not get the support. Or perhaps, mother and father have taken a day off  from work to each argue why the kids should be with them for Christmas.

There is a better and wiser way and my colleague Howard Goldstein has explained it well in his article, reprinted below.

The traditional start to a divorce case in Massachusetts is the filing of a complaint, service of a summons and scheduling of temporary orders. The temporary orders are designed to tide over the parties with custody and financial orders that maintain the status quo, or at least the peace, until the case is ready for trial. In Massachusetts a contested no-fault divorce cannot be scheduled for trial any earlier than six months after filing of the complaint, but in practice it usually takes more than a year to get a trial. Because we have a single calendar system now, the judge who decides the temporary orders is likely to be the same judge who presides at trial. For that reason, the decision on temporary orders can determine the entire course of a case and have a major impact on the outcome.

The decision to promptly proceed to temporary orders carries some serious risks however. It is not likely that meaningful discovery will have taken place before the hearing, the clients and lawyers are new to each other, and the tensions and drama attendant to the early stages of a divorce combine to make it more likely that the Judge at the temporary order stage will get it wrong. It is never clear at the outset which party will benefit from the riskiness of the process. It is very difficult once a temporary order is entered by a judge to get it modified. So with a year or longer to a trial, a bad result at the temporary order stage could create undue pressure on at least one of the clients, to either capitulate and settle, or escalate the litigation to try to force a more favorable result. All of this comes at great expense both financially and emotionally. The family can be effected for generations by a hastily convened hearing on temporary orders.

Even in a case that will eventually go to trial, mediating or arbitrating at the temporary order stage can be quite beneficial. Consider the following:

  1. A settlement arrived at by mediation may, by agreement, not be filed in Court and therefore the parties will not prejudice the trial judge one way or another.
  2. Even if the parties wish to file the settlement in Court, the stipulation can be clear that it is without prejudice to a future contested motion for temporary orders. Since the trial judge did not make the decision and it’s a settlement, it will be more likely that it can be modified if circumstances change and it does not reflect the point of view of the trial judge, so that the settlement negotiations, or the trial, if necessary, is much more of a “blank slate” process.
  3. The stipulation for temporary orders can recite a short period of time during which it is operative: perhaps 3 months or 6 months, to give the parties time to negotiate a comprehensive settlement after all discovery has taken place and everyone has access to all relevant information.  Unlike in litigation, in mediation there is no winner or loser, so neither party will feel they have an edge or an advantage, contributing to a better negotiating climate for final resolution.
  4. Typically a Motion for temporary orders will get 15 or 20 minutes of a judge’s attention in Court. The parties can devote as much time as they want to the mediation.
  5. If the parties are unable to agree on temporary orders with the assistance of a mediator, they can agree to arbitrate—in that case a neutral person is given the power by the parties to make the decision. There is a process that is called Med/Arb in which the parties make a good faith effort to settle their motions with the assistance of a mediator, and if its not possible, the same mediator can be authorized in advance to just make a decision after a certain amount of time has passed. Such a process creates incentives to settle, but also gives the parties confidence that if they can’t reach an agreement someone will make a binding decision. The parties can agree in advance with an arbitrator to boundaries that will make the process less risky. For example, the arbitration can be what is called a high low arbitration. The parties set the boundaries within which the decision will be made. So the arbitrator can be authorized to set alimony but it has to be within a predetermined range, acceptable to both parties, or it can be limited to a period of time, such as three months or six months. None of this flexibility is available at a hearing on temporary orders before a judge.

If parties are willing to be creative there are many opportunities to come up with a dispute resolution process that is more client friendly and more flexible than what is available in the Courts. In my experience mediation is most often considered only at the end of a case when it is close to a trial date. This may come from a misguided assumption that appearing too eager for a settlement is a sign of weakness. The opposite is true. Mediating or arbitrating the temporary orders stage of a case make it more likely that the case will settle in its entirety. Clients and opposing counsel can see through posturing. Demonstrating thoughtfulness and creativity in reaching solutions will be respected by your opposing counsel and appreciated by your clients.

 

Howard’s office is in Newton.  Thank you, Howard. 

Lowering My Hourly Rate by Attorney Joryn Jenkins

Here is a real testament to the value of Collaborative divorce from a divorce trial attorney who has seen more of the negative side to court divorce than an any non lawyer could ever see.

If you are facing divorce, a few minutes reading this opinion piece by divorce trial attorney Joryn Jenkins could have a very positive effect on you your children and their other parent for many years into the future:

Lowering My Hourly Rate

by Attorney Joryn Jenkins of the Florida Bar
How many of us lawyers can afford our own services? My husband and I retained a Miami lawyer over a dozen years ago, at the stunning hourly rate of $600. To this day, that amount still outrages me.

I went to Yale University when I was 16 years old, graduated when I was 19, and then attended Georgetown Law, where I achieved not only a position on an ABA-published law review, but a leadership position as Lead Articles Editor.

Once I passed the bar exam, I regularly chalked up significant victories in my relentless efforts to “make new law.” In the early ‘80s, in my first jury trial, I obtained the fastest guilty verdict ever in Hillsborough County history; my DUI jury found a man guilty of driving under the influence in six and a half minutes. I tried just one murder case while I was at the State Attorney’s Office and put the defendant on death row.

Once I was in civil practice, in 1989, I established that a grocery store employee who had suffered from employment discrimination because of her insistence on serving her federal jury duty was entitled to a trial by a jury of her peers.

In 1990, long before the confidentiality protections now afforded all medical records, I proved that a newspaper reporter could not access the involuntary placement hearing record of a mentally ill patient.

I later convinced the Florida Supreme Court that the defendant’s right to the time bar defense is a property right that vests when the limitations period then applicable to the cause of action in question runs. In other words, the Court found the statute I had challenged unconstitutional and struck it down.

I’ve been in practice for 35 years, and have established a reputation as a highly respected trial lawyer. All of which is to say that my hourly rate is not unreasonable. In fact, it’s long past time for me to raise it, yet I’m considering doing the reverse. Why?

For our clients, collaborative and other courtless divorce process alternatives beat out traditional courtroom divorce every time; they take less time, they cost less money, and the clients make the decisions, not some judge who doesn’t know them or their kids, or who, more importantly, doesn’t necessarily share their values, And collaborative divorce, at least, protects their relationships with the people they love… even, perhaps paradoxically, with each other.

But collaborative practice also beats out the courtroom divorce process for us lawyers. Why? Because the stress caused to our clients by being swept up in the judicial system is reflected directly into us. So we do not just suffer from the everyday stress of being a trial attorney, but we also experience the additional anxiety induced by our naturally empathetic natures.

On the other hand, the mystical magic I see conjured by my collaborative teams sends me home every night in an enchanted euphoria that is unmatched by even the most astonishing courtroom win.

The collaborative process taught a woman how to communicate her need for her husband’s participation in the process of educating their son, and enabled him to share the joy of participating in that process with her, long after their marital relationship had died.

The collaborative process permitted a man to confess a secret that he had held so close to his vest for five years that it had nearly suffocated him; it enabled his wife to understand and to forgive him for what she initially perceived as his treacherous failure to share it with her.

The collaborative process enabled a man to understand his wife’s need for an apology from him for something he did not do, and helped her to accept the honesty of that apology when he offered it and to then move on.

The collaborative process helped a woman to appreciate her husband’s need for closure, and enabled her to craft a ceremony that afforded him that, but also that honored his contributions to their marriage and his continuing role as their daughter’s father.

I see this magic take place in nearly every one of my collaborative cases.

Please do not misunderstand me; I do not see divorcing couples “reconciling.” But they do fix problems that may have caused their rift, as well as problems that have arisen during their rift. They do repair their broken relationships.

The consequent reduction of stress in my practice, coupled with the joy I take in participating in collaborative divorce cases, convinces me that I should lower my hourly rate for collaborative divorce cases. Perhaps when I mention this to my consults, they will more seriously consider the collaborative process option.

This article was originally posted by Attorney Jenkins on her website’s blog at Lowering My Hourly Rate

Must Reads for Divorcing Couples by Susan Lillis, Attorney at Law

My colleague, Susan Lillis from Ipswich, has compiled an invaluable list of “readings” in response to often asked questions. Please take the time to check out her fine work. Her office is located

Ipswich River Place
4 South Main St., Suite 9,
Ipswich, MA 01938

 
article-0-05707195000005DC-856_468x309It’s been said that nothing can prepare you for divorce. Emotionally that can be true. From a practical standpoint, you can prepare yourself for the type of divorce you want and what you might expect after making that choice. That’s why in addition to filling out questionnaires, I send my prospective clients to my blog before meeting with them.While I try to make all articles on the blog relevant for divorcing couples, some offer that “what to expect” element better than others. Those articles are as follows:Is there a type of person who shouldn’t use collaborative divorce or divorce mediation? – The title is self-explanatory. There are certain personality types for whom collaborative divorce or mediation are not the right options. This article reinforces the expectations for when you take part in either collaborative divorce or divorce mediation.Read the articleSetting the boundaries for a smooth divorce – Again, this article is of the “what you can expect” variety. It also highlights some of the ways you can avoid negotiations from becoming contentious.Read the article

A guaranteed way to reduce your lawyer bill – In a divorce, time is money. Specifically, your attorney’s time is money. Divorces where parties do not have all their financial statements and other paperwork prepared will typically result in more hours for the attorney, resulting in a larger legal bill.

Read the article

5 common missteps in mediation – Perhaps the first paragraph of this article says it best, “In mediation, there’s an overall assumption that both parties are reasonable and are willing to work together to reach an agreement. In addition, it is not uncommon for at least one of the spouses to be anxious to get through the mediation in order to put the divorce behind him or her. This can sometimes lead spouses to assume that some that details of the mediation agreement do not require a high level of attention, or that if something important comes up later they will be able to discuss it with their ex spouse and come to a reasonable arrangement. Unfortunately, these assumptions can lead to the more common missteps in a divorce mediation.”

Read the article

Life and death divorce matters – Life insurance for your spouse is an important matter in a marriage. It becomes just as important in a divorce. Particularly when there is child support and spousal support or alimony involved. This article takes an in-depth look at an often overlooked part of any divorce.

Read the article

 

Must Reads for Divorcing Couples

“Who does court trials anymore?”

By Anthony C. Adamopoulos (© 2015)

So the city-attorney and the country-attorney were talking when the country-attorney raised concerns about her upcoming divorce trial:

Country-attorney: – I hope we get the scheduled judge, I hope it goes off as scheduled, etc., etc.
City-attorney: -Who does court trials anymore?
Country-attorney: What do you mean? What do you do?
City-attorney: It is all arbitration now.
Country-attorney: – Why?
City-attorney: – It is all about control? The other side and I may disagree on many issues but we agree that we want to have the control over who decides the issues, when and where the hearing will be and when the decision will be made.

 Here is a lay person’s explanation as to why arbitration may well give the parties, and their attorneys, more control of resolution of their divorce issues.

Divorce Resolution by court trial.

Understanding certain characteristics of a court trial is important. (The following is based on the Massachusetts divorce court trial process. There are exceptions, but generally, the following will apply.)

The trial judge.

The trial judge is randomly assigned to a case when it is filed (probably about a year or two before any trial is scheduled). However, the judge scheduled to hear a trial may not do so for a variety of reasons including: illness, presiding over another trial, retirement or transfer.

The judge assigned to a case may have no judicial experience with the primary issue in the trial. For example, a corporate valuation issue or what is in the best of interest of a severely handicapped child.

The trial date.

A trial date is the expected date that the trial will start; and perhaps finish. Whether it will start is dependent on several factors. For example, “over booking”; this occurs because many cases scheduled for trial settle just prior to the trial. But, if all “assigned for trial” parties actually come to court for a trial then some cases will not begin.

A public trial.

The trial will be open to the public, including the press.

The Rules of Evidence.

Everything that is offered to the judge for consideration is offered under a set of rules called the Rules of Evidence. The Rules regulate how and what the judge sees and hears. For example, the Rules keep out of consideration photocopies instead of originals and affidavits instead of in person testimony. The Rules of Evidence result in costs that do not have to be incurred in arbitration.

The right to appeal.

After every divorce trial, either party has the right to appeal the trial judge’s decision. An appealing party may not win an appeal but the right to try is a part of every trial.

Divorce Resolution by arbitration.

The arbitrator.

The parties hand pick their arbitrator (or a panel of three or more arbitrators) based on ability, expertise and availability. For example, the parties may select an arbitrator with experience in corporate valuation or the needs of a severely handicapped child.

The hearing date.

The parties select the hearing date.

Confidential hearing.

The arbitration hearing is private and confidential.

Everything offered may be considered.

Generally, any party may offer for consideration evidence in any form.

Appeal.

With very specific exceptions to protect the integrity of the arbitration process, an arbitration decision (called an award) is final and binding.

Why have a court trial when arbitration…

provides privacy, expertise, efficiency and finality – sooner rather than later.