Coronavirus and the Court

Are you concerned about how the courts are handling the coronavirus outbreak? You are not alone. The trial courts in Massachusetts have issued new rules designed to protect litigants, attorneys, and staff. You may see the rules themselves here: In the meantime, if you have a particular concern about how your case is impacted, Attorney Sullivan is available to assist you. Information coming out of the trial courts is being updated daily. Most importantly, take recommended steps to protect your family, yourself and others; be safe.

UPDATE from the Supreme Judicial Court on 4/27/20:

The Supreme Judicial Court today issued an order updating the status of operations at state courts and courthouses. Among other things, the order continues all jury trials until at least July 1, continues most bench trials until at least June 1, tolls various deadlines through the end of May, and directs each trial court department to identify categories of non-emergency matters it will attempt to address virtually and post notice of those categories on the Courts’ COVID-19 webpage. The order is effective May 4, at which time it will repeal and replace the order issued on April 1.
COVID-19 Guidance

In a custody battle, can my child’s therapist testify?

Often, when parents are in the process of divorcing, their children need counseling. Therapy can be a valuable experience for a child, offering a safe environment for the child to voice fears, anxieties and anger, all without concern about the possibility of upsetting their parents. But what if the parents are unable to resolve a custody or other parenting issue? Can the children’s therapist testify in Court? In Massachusetts, there is a statutory patient/psychotherapist privilege that applies to children. That means that a therapist cannot disclose anything said by a child in therapy–with limited exceptions such as abuse and other criminal activity–unless the privilege has been waived. The fact that parents cannot waive that privilege for their children frequently comes as a surprise in divorce proceedings. Instead, the judge will appoint a special Guardian ad Litem purely for the purpose of determining whether to waive the privilege. Typically, but depending upon the child’s age, that person will speak with the parents and the child before making a determination as to whether waiving that privilege could be detrimental to the child.

Child Support Revisited

Massachusetts has just completed a periodic revision of the Child Support Guidelines, which occurs every four (4) years, and the changes will become effective on September 15, 2017. While some of the changes are minor, the most significant changes include the following:

1. Increasing the minimum support order to $25 per week. The minimum child support order typically applies in families with extremely low income, and previously was $80/month.

2. Removing the parenting time/child support calculation that was inserted into the 2013 guidelines. The 2013 guidelines had implemented three basic parenting arrangements for purposes of calculating child support: one parent having primary custody with about 2/3 of the children’s time, joint custody with each parent having about 50% of the children’s time, and one parent having primary custody with more than 2/3 of the children’s time. The latter category was eliminated, as the Court–and many attorneys–found that that provision was escalating litigation and causing some parents to vie for more of the parenting time in order to enhance his/her support obligations.

4. Including a capped adjustment in the child support calculation for child care and health care costs. This revisions appears intended to more equitably spread the cost of day care and health care costs between the parents.

5. Addressing child support for children between the ages of 18 and 23, resulting in a 25% reductio in child support for children in this age group.

6. Including provisions related to parental contribution to post-secondary educational expenses, essentially capping parents’ obligations at the cost of U.Mass. Amherst except where the Court enters a specific finding that private college is affordable or that the family has saved for that purpose.

Attorney Sullivan is available to meet with you to evaluate whether and to what extent these revisions could might impact on your circumstances.

After the divorce: how to pay for college

This time of year, high school seniors are graduating and planning for next year’s college attendance. High school juniors, too, are planning college visits and applications for the fall. College is expensive, and addressing the issues of how to divide educational expenses after divorce can be a real challenge. If you are in the midst of a divorce, you can be very specific in how you define the term “educational expenses,” and how you and your ex-spouse will determine your respective contributions. Many couples decide to cap their obligations, e.g., to the cost of a state university education. Addressing all of these issues early in the process, and realistically, can be the key to a smooth transition for your college-bound child. If educational expenses become contested, it is wise to leave plenty of time, at least several months and preferably more, for court documents to be filed and hearings to be scheduled.

I am getting married. Should we have a pre-marital agreement?

Pre-marital agreements, also called ante-nuptial agreements, are now widely recognized. Some guidelines should be followed when considering a pre-marital agreement, however.
1. Why do you (or does your prospective spouse) want a pre-marital agreement? Typical valid reasons are the acquisition of significant wealth prior to the marriage, whether through personal efforts or inheritance, and the existence of children born before the marriage. Each set of circumstances is different.
2. When is your wedding? It is best to negotiate and sign an agreement as long as possible prior to the wedding. As a marriage approaches, one or both members of the couple may feel pressure to sign an agreement that she or he does not really want to sign. Moreover, do you really want to be signing a pre-nuptial agreement as your wedding approaches? The answer, from an emotional standpoint, is almost always no!
3. What are the proposed terms of your agreement, and do they seem fair?
For optimum results, and the least amount of stress, you should consult with an attorney as far in advance as your wedding as possible, which will provide the opportunity to discuss all aspects of your circumstances. Attorney Sullivan has negotiated and drafted many pre-marital agreements, and she is prepared both to draft an agreement or, if your fiance(e) has already retained counsel to draft an agreement, to review that proposed document with you and propose revisions in your best interest.

Holiday Parenting Time

Holidays can be very difficult and stressful for families dealing with divorce or separation, whether the case is in process or already completed. Every parent wants to spend time with his or children during significant holidays, and sharing that time can present difficult, emotional issues. No one wants to be a visiting parent. The children will benefit if parents have been able to agree upon a parenting arrangement for the holidays, which may entail compromise from both parents. Do both parents’ families celebrate the same holidays? Do the families live close to each other, or are they on opposite sides of the country? If there are no orders in place that ensure time to each parent has time with the children, then one or both parents may want to consider negotiating holiday time, with the assistance of an attorney, or returning to court to obtain an order ensuring that time. Families with existing orders may find it appropriate to revisit and retool them as the children grow up. Planning ahead will ensure that there is time to address parenting time sufficiently in advance of the holiday.

Moving Children Out of Massachusetts After Divorce

Massachusetts has a statute that prohibits parents from permanently moving their children out of the Commonwealth after divorce except with permission of the other parent or the Court; this is called “removal” in the Court system. Often, the legal process includes the appointment of a Guardian ad Litem to evaluate and make recommendations to the judge about whether a child (or children) should be permitted to move. Factors considered include not only the child’s wellbeing and relationship with both parents but also whether, and how, moving would be advantageous to the moving parent.