Where in the world is the Levitt Law Group?

Kimball Farm in Westford for the Levitt Law Group annual summer outing!

Levitt Law Group Summer OutingWe played 18 holes of mini golf and the winner was Paula, with holes in one by all-where else but on a mini golf course?!

Andrea kept score as we golfed, but of course our independent bookkeeper Gloria who joined us on our office outing, checked her figures…and indeed Paula was still the winner.

We were undeterred by the threat of rain, but Emily was prepared and brought an umbrella which came in handy as Paula heads for her win.  We had good eats, and of course we ended with ice cream.

We all had a lot of fun, too  much food, but are looking forward to our next adventure in 2015…..stay tuned….

Levitt Continues Membership of the Massachusetts Trial Court Standing Committee on Dispute Resolution

The Massachusetts Trial Court Standing Committee on Dispute Resolution is chaired by Judge Mark Mason, and is comprised of judges and administrative personnel from the trial court, as well as private practitioners such as Karen Levitt.

The Standing Committee advises the Chief Justice of the Trial Court on the implementation and oversight of court-connected Alternative Dispute Resolution Services.

Karen Levitt Creates An Access to Collaboration Committee to Explore Access to Collaboration in Massachusetts.

Karen’s interest in Access to Collaboration has also led her to create with the Massachusetts Collaborative Law Council (“MCLC”), an ad hoc Access to Collaboration Committee to explore Access to Collaboration here in Massachusetts.

Serving with her in the MCLC committee are MCLC Board members Attorney  Dawn Effron, Adjunct Professor of Law, New England Law | Boston and Northeastern University School of Law and Attorney Justin Kelsey of Kelsey and Trask. The committee is exploring options and opportunities for Access to Collaboration by MCLC independently, as well as by MCLC with potential partners.

Karen Levitt 2015 Chair of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (“IACP”) Access to Collaboration Task Force (“ACTF”)

News from the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (IACP).

Karen will be serving as the Chair of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (“IACP”) Access to Collaboration Task Force (“ACTF”) for 2015.  Karen currently co-chairs this committee with Attorney Catherine Conner of Santa Rosa, California, and will be taking over as Chair.    This past year, the IACP provided grants to Access to Collaboration programs around the world including the United States, Canada, and Israel.  These programs provide clients with no or little income, with the ability to have access to Collaborative Law  and Practice programs to help them resolve family law disputes.  The IACP Access to Collaboration Task Force helped create the criteria for the program, reviewed the grant applications, and determined the grant recipients.  The committee is currently working on a set of written materials that can be used by programs whether starting or already in progress, and will be creating its work plan for next year.

Karen is  currently serving on the IACP Board Development Task Force with Attorney Talia Katz, Chief Executive Officer, IACP, Phoenix, Arizona,  Attorney Ross Evans, President, IACP, Cincinnati, Ohio, Shireen Meistrich, LCSW, Secretary, IACP, Fair Lawn, New Jersey, Attorney Suzan Barrie Aiken, IACP Board Member, Sausalito, CA.  The task force has been exploring board development and understanding for IACP for the upcoming year.

Karen will also in 2015 be co-chairing the IACP Trainers Network and Development Committee, with Attorney Kimberly Fauss, Richmond, Virginia, who will be a new IACP Board member this upcoming year.  This committee is preparing a handbook for best practices for Collaborative Law  and Practice trainers, and will also host several educational phone bridges in 2015 for trainers.

 

Karen Levitt to Co-Chair A Workshop at IACP Annual Networking and Educational Forum

Karen Levitt will be traveling to Vancouver this October, to attend the  IACP 15th Annual Networking and Educational Forum.

Karen will be co-chairing a workshop with former IACP President Attorney Catherine Conner, Santa Rosa, California, on October 26, 2014.   The IACP Forum is a yearly event that draws approximately 500 interdisciplinary professionals from around the world to gather at a conference about Collaborative Law and Practice.

The Forum is held in different location each year, and this year it is returning to Vancouver after being in several other Canadian and US cities such as Toronto, Boston, San Diego, San Francisco, Atlanta, Minneapolis, and San Antonio.   Karen however has come full circle – the very first IACP Forum she ever attended was in Vancouver!

Karen Levitt and Gina Arons’ Widely Acclaimed Presentation “I’ve Got A Secret”

Karen Levitt and psychologist Gina Arons were invited to give their presentation “I’ve got a Secret” on September 17, 2014 to the Massachusetts Collaborative Law Council (MCLC) Worcester County Collaborative Practice Group.

In this interactive workshop, Karen and Gina talked about the issues of privilege, confidentiality, and transparency in the Collaborative Law process, where disclosure or failure to disclose a  fact that is not required to be disclosed (a “secret”), might impact the negotiations as well as outcome and how clients and professionals can manage these issues in the process.

This presentation has been widely acclaimed, having being given at a former IACP Forum, at numerous MCLC practice groups in Massachusetts, and also at a  joint meeting of the Collaborative Law Alliance of New Hampshire and the MCLC Tri River Practice Group.  Karen and Gina have teamed up a number of times to give educational programs to lawyers, mental health professionals, and financial professionals regarding Collaborative Law.

Karen Levitt Co-Authors Award Winning Book “Collaborative Law: Practice and Procedure”

Last year, Karen was invited to participate in a multi-authored handbook on Collaborative Law published by Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education (“MCLE”), the leading continuing legal education provider in Massachusetts.

The Levitt Law Group is pleased to announce that in July of this year, MCLE was honored by the International Association for Continuing Legal Education (“ACLEA”), with the award for Outstanding Achievement in the “Publications” category, for its publication of “Collaborative Law:  Practices and Procedures” which Karen co-authored with a chapter regarding prebriefs and debriefs in the Collaborative Law process.

Published in January of 2014, the handbook addresses the burgeoning field of Collaborative Law from both multistate and multidisciplinary perspectives.  It encompassed chapters written not just by Karen and other Massachusetts professionals, but by practitioners from other northern New England states.  The book is a “how to” for conflict resolution using Collaborative Law’s team based approach which is unique in its use of interdisciplinary professionals to resolve family law disputes out of court, including attorneys, mental health professionals, coach/facilitators, financial specialists, and mediators.

Congratulations Karen for being part of this important award winning book!

Karen Levitt Acts as Judge for Lowell Middle School’s Mock Appellate Program

Stand Up for your Rights!  On May 20, 2014, Karen acted as a “judge”  on a three-member panel with Judge Jay Blitzman First Justice, Juvenile Court Department, Middlesex Division and Attorney Eric Schutzbank, to hear oral arguments in the “Stand Up for Your Rights, Discovering Justice”  mock appellate program for Lowell middle school students.

This event was part of a year-long pilot of the Stand Up for Your Rights program in which volunteer lawyers work with middle school students for 10 weeks teaching them to prepare oral arguments in a hypothetical First Amendment case.   Stand Up for Your Rights teaches young people about law, the Bill of Rights, and the value of our justice system, while also engaging them in critical thinking, evidence-based argumentation, and respectful advocacy.  Students then have the opportunity to engage directly with a real judge and two other senior attorneys who comprise a three-member Appellate Panel.   While not part of the teaching program itself, Karen was part of the three-member Appellate Panel hearing the Lowell middle school students’ making their oral arguments in the mock case they had prepared for, which involved  a student who was suspended for exercising his First Amendment rights. It was an amazing experience to watch these middle school students who had worked so hard, give their oral arguments to a real judge and real lawyers—they did incredibly well, it was hard to believe they were middle students as they courageously and competently gave their arguments and withstood questioning by our panel.  Congratulations to all the students who participated, not just the ones Karen had the good fortune to hear, a job well done!

Getting A Divorce? How Do I Divide Pension and Retirement Accounts?

If you are going through a divorce, or even considering initiating the process, you should be aware that the financial ramifications are likely to be significant, and the legal issues involved may be complicated. One area that will need to be addressed is how any pension plans or retirement accounts that you or your spouse are or will be entitled to will be divided.

Keep in mind the following: you should get professional advice regarding the division of retirement accounts and pension plans in divorce. Some aspects of a divorce are easier to steer through than others. Many of the technical aspects of dividing retirement accounts and pension plans in divorce are not familiar to the general public, and many retirement and pension plans are complicated especially governmental and military plans. Court orders are usually required to divide IRAs, 401(k) s, and pension plans or other retirement accounts; the type of court order depends on the type of retirement being divided. The court order necessary may simply be your court approved divorce agreement that outlines the terms of the division, upon which the institution holding the retirement funds will rely; or a special court order signed by a judge that directs the plan administrator on how to divide the retirement accounts or pension plans may be necessary. However a special court order is necessary for most private retirement accounts such as 401(k) s and pension plans, and is called a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO); a similar special court order for state and governmental retirement and pension plans may just be referred to as a Domestic Relations Order (DRO). Your attorney can advise you regarding the division of retirement accounts and pension plans and whether any special court orders will be necessary in your circumstance; if a special court order is necessary your attorney can refer you to the appropriate professional to prepare those documents.

The importance of dividing retirement accounts and pension plans properly is not just that each pension plan administrator has different rules that apply that need to be complied with when dividing those assets in divorce. There are also applicable tax laws. Division of retirement accounts or pension plans in divorce are generally non-taxable events to either the transferor or the recipient. However failure to comply with plan or IRS rules can result in serious tax consequences for one or both parties; this can be avoided by getting proper legal and other professional advise during your divorce.

Weigh your options carefully with your attorney, and consult with pension and/or financial professionals as well where appropriate. It is important to understand your options when considering the division of retirement accounts and pension plans, including date of division and the formula for division. For example, pension plans often include other components such as pre and post-retirement survivor benefits, and cost of living adjustments. Using a pension specialist can help the parties and their attorneys understand the retirement or pension benefits involved and how best to divide them. In addition, in situations in which the divorcing spouses are considering trading off the value of a taxable asset for the value of a potentially non-taxable asset (e.g. a retirement account for house equity), a financial tax advisor can be extremely helpful in providing additional guidance. It may seem like a lot of extra effort and there will be additional cost in using a pension specialist or financial professional, but keep in mind that getting all the details right is worth the time and trouble to make sure everything is handled correctly. Your case may not be that complicated, or require any additional experts; but you need to be sure you get educated about the division of retirement accounts and pension plans in divorce so that you can make an informed decision and understand all the ramifications even after divorce. Pension and retirement accounts are valuable assets that are important to protect and divide equitably in divorce.

Alimony Durational Limits Part II — When Does the Alimony Clock Start Ticking?

In the law, different fact scenarios can make what should be an easy determination a hard one.

Take the durational limits of the Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act of 2011. At first glance, there seem to be very easy calculations — the duration of alimony is based on the length of the marriage. For example, under the new law, in a marriage of more than five but less than ten years, alimony should last no longer than 60% of the number of months of the marriage. Simple, right? Not so fast. The durational timeframes become less clear after a careful review of the statute. Putting reasons for deviation aside, one question that has arisen is: when does the clock on alimony begin to run? Often in the early stages of a divorce case, one spouse begins to pay alimony to the other under a Temporary Order. The time between the Temporary Order and the Final Divorce can be many months, and sometimes years, so does the clock begin to run during the Temporary Order period, or does it start at the time of the Divorce Judgment? From the payor’s perspective, it seems unfair to pay alimony for a year (for example) under a Temporary Order, and then have to pay it for the full 60% number of months once the Divorce Judgment enters. From the recipient’s perspective, temporary alimony is frequently paid to help maintain the status quo and preserve marital assets, and the recipient should not be penalized for that pre-divorce period by a shortened alimony order after the divorce.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently weighed in on this very issue. In Holmes v. Holmes, 467 Mass 653 (2014), the Court determined that the provisions of the new statute do not allow temporary alimony orders to be included in calculating the duration of alimony based on the length of the marriage. The Court noted that the statute allowing for the payment of temporary alimony (M.G.L. c.208, §17) was not modified or even addressed in the Alimony Reform Act. The Court determined that the Legislature intended the durational limits of the new Act to only apply to alimony that arises from the issuance of a Divorce Judgment –what is now known as “general term alimony.” Since temporary alimony is not general term alimony, the durational limits do not include periods where temporary alimony has been paid. However, the Court also ruled that in circumstances where temporary alimony is paid for an unusually long period of time or where the alimony recipient unfairly delays the final judgment in order to extend alimony, the trial court can consider this in determining that alimony should be paid for a shorter period of time than the presumptive maximum duration. So while we now have one questioned answered regarding the duration of alimony, there are other facts and circumstances which dictate how long alimony will last. In upcoming blogs, we will look at other durational issues, including termination upon retirement, the impact of cohabitation on alimony, and deviations that are within the Court’s discretion.