Families First Divorce Webinar

On Wednesday, June 10, 2020, from 2:00 p.m. – 2:45 p.m., Attorney Karen J. Levitt, of the Levitt Law Group, LLC, along with Attorneys Cynthia Runge and Sonja Starins, and financial advisors Janice Berner and Rich Wallner, are giving a webinar regarding various divorce and family law issues during Covid – 19.  This program is open to the public.  For more information and to register, go to: Divorce Webinar USA 500 Clubs

The program will be in two parts.  The first part will be about domestic violence and physical safety.  The second part featuring Karen, Janice and Rich, will focus on financial safety when contemplating divorce.  With the Courts largely closed except for emergencies and other limited actions, for those contemplating divorce this is a very difficult time.  Not only are people at home with each other in ways they weren’t before, but their children are too, they may have suffered a job loss or reduction, and they can feel overwhelmed with no immediate path forward.  The risk of domestic violence is heightened; financial safety is also challenged with the current economic uncertainty and volatility.  How can we help people find a path forward with respect to financial safety and planning when contemplating divorce during Covid – 19?  What does financial safety mean, and how does it affect the decision about how and when to get divorced?  Join Attorney Karen J. Levitt in the webinar and hear from her and her colleagues about these important issues.

The webinar is being presented by the USA500 Family Law Consortium of which Attorney Levitt is a co-facilitator.  For more information about USA500, go to www.usa500clubs.com.

We hope you can attend!

How To Prepare for Divorce – Get Unstuck

In the midst of Covid-19, many people feel “stuck” – stuck at home with their spouse or partner but wanting to end the relationship.  With the Courts temporarily closed, people may feel there is “nowhere to go”.  There are ways in which you can start the process of divorce without court, and find a way to become “unstuck”.   You can start preparing for divorce or other family law process without going to Court, and using the time you do have to make preparations for moving forward.  How do you prepare? Continue reading “How To Prepare for Divorce – Get Unstuck”

Circumstance = Opportunity

Use Mediation or Collaborative Law for Resolving Divorce Out of Court

Albert Einstein said, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity”.  With limited access to the Courts right now due to Covid-19, why not try to resolve your divorce or other family law conflict out of court?

You don’t have to wait for the Courts to reopen, and in fact you shouldn’t – even when they open, they have a back log and it will take some time for your case to move through the Court system. You can turn these extraordinary circumstances in which we are currently living,  into an opportunity to resolve your case using an out of court dispute resolution process such as Mediation or Collaborative Law.

In Mediation you hire a neutral third party who is usually an attorney, who works with you and your spouse to resolve your differences and reach agreement.

In Collaborative Law, both you and your spouse have attorneys at the table who are advocates not adversaries, and who take a settlement approach rather than the litigation route to help  you and your spouse reach a mutually beneficial agreement for the family. Continue reading “Circumstance = Opportunity”

Massachusetts Court Required Parenting Education Program in Divorce and other Family Law Actions

Massachusetts Probate and Family Court Standing Order 2-16, which can be found at https://www.mass.gov/doc/probate-and-family-court-standing-order-2-16-parent-education-program-attendance/download, requires all parties to a divorce action, and at the Court’s discretion parties in other types of actions such as paternity or contempt, to participate in a Parent Education Program.  The program is only required if the parties have minor children under 18.

The purpose of the program is to give parties with children some tools to help them work together for the best interest of their children post-divorce.  This includes information that will help the parties with co-parenting after divorce, such as giving them some information about child development issues to help children cope with divorce and providing tools that may help the parties have more effective c-parenting communications and therefore less conflict. Continue reading “Massachusetts Court Required Parenting Education Program in Divorce and other Family Law Actions”

Tis The Season for Divorce (and Dispute Resolution)? Why More Marriages end in August

Are there “Seasons” for Divorce?

Vacations, outdoor events, the beginning of a new school year – for many, August is synonymous with family time. But for some, this month marked the season for divorce.

Research from the University of Washington found the number of divorce filings in a number of states consistently peaked in the months of August and March. What’s behind the seasonal up-tick? Several factors could be at play.  “Rather than a time of bonding, the holidays and vacation periods can often lead to disappointment as couples and families discover that increased time together may exacerbate existing problems rather than help mend them,” Anne Tamar-Mattis, attorney and Executive Director of the IACP said.

Tamar-Mattis is the Executive Director of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (IACP), a global membership-based organization that aims to keep these divorcing couples and their children out of court by using Collaborative Law. Continue reading “Tis The Season for Divorce (and Dispute Resolution)? Why More Marriages end in August”

Collaboration: What does it really mean?

You have finally decided to move forward with divorce and to consult with an attorney.  However, you don’t know what to expect.  You have heard horror stories about what happens in Court, and you are concerned about the impact of divorce on you and your family, both emotionally and financially.  You really want to work things out by agreement with your spouse, but don’t know how best to do that.

You have heard about Collaborative Law and Mediation; or maybe you haven’t heard either of these processes, but the lawyer you consult tells you about them.  Or what if your spouse consults with a lawyer first, and tells you that they want to proceed with divorce using the Collaborative Law Process or Mediation? Continue reading “Collaboration: What does it really mean?”

If Only I Had the Key….

Cryptography is defined by the Oxford English dictionary as “The art of writing or solving codes”.  If you find the “key”, you can unlock the “code”.

Divorce or other family breakups often result from parties not being able to communicate, or decrypt the other’s “code”.  Lack of communication and understanding are at the root of much marital discord; no matter how hard they try, whether it is through talking, writing, couples counseling, texting, email, crying, apologizing, doing all things humanly possible to understand one another, sometimes couples just can’t crack that code. Continue reading “If Only I Had the Key….”

Divorce and Family Court Financial Statements: What we love and hate about them!

Each party in a divorce must complete a financial statement form and file with the Court to get divorced in Massachusettsit’s required.  Yet the financial statement form comes with little if any instructions.  Most clients and their attorneys hate these forms because they’re time consuming and painful to complete. However, learning why the form is necessary and how it’s used may make you love (or at least not hate) the form!

7 tips for completing the family court financial statements:

  1. The Court financial statement form incorporates the concept of full disclosure of income, assets, expenses, and liabilities. Why?  Because in divorce you are dividing or reallocating income, assets, expenses and liabilities, and can’t do so without knowing what those are.  The Court financial statement form that each party completes, lays it all out there for both parties to see.  This allows the Court to be sure that the parties have a shared understanding of their finances, and to determine if an agreement with respect to those finances is fair and reasonable.

Continue reading “Divorce and Family Court Financial Statements: What we love and hate about them!”

The Lion and the Lamb

Many of you may know that my mother, who is a retired college Art History professor and an incredibly fine artist (some of her work adorns our office and much of it my home), has designed all of my office holiday cards for many years. Each design for each year’s card is hand drawn by my mother before being incorporated into the holiday card. My mother is now 87, and did this year’s card too!

Copyright 2013, Marilyn M. Levitt, all rights reserved
Copyright 2013, Marilyn M. Levitt, all rights reserved. Original artwork by Marilyn M. Levitt and cannot be reproduced without the written permission of the artist.

I have had many wonderful responses from clients and business associates to my mother’s holiday cards. In a world where everything sometimes feels too much the “same”, having a holiday card that is personal and unique each year has been an important component of how our office sees itself, in striving to provide personal services to each of our clients for their individual and unique needs.

One of my mother’s past cards featured a lion and a lamb – this holiday card appears with this blog. A client of mine was particularly taken with this holiday card, and told me that the card spoke to him. When asked what he meant by that, he said he saw the dichotomy between the lion and the lamb – to use his words, clients and/or attorneys can be “reasonable”, or they can be “strong” in their approach to a case and resolution. He didn’t see the holiday card as depicting ferocious vs. fearful, or even peaceful co-existence, but rather as representative of the two personas of what clients are “buying” from attorneys—and that creation of a balance makes for the best resolution. The client felt the card was simple but had a richness to it, and that its message resonated with him while going through the experience of divorce, as he sought a reasonable approach for all involved backed by the (lion’s) strength when appropriate.

Clients speak in many powerful ways if you listen. In thinking about my client’s comment regarding the holiday card, I realized how important it was for him to not just have legal representation and an advocate, but also to have representation and advocacy that comes with understanding and compassion and balance. It isn’t always so easy – and perhaps some clients want just the lion! However, divorce is not one-sided – there are always two parties with different needs and interests. Considering not just your own needs and interests, but those of the other party, and taking a balanced approach almost always results in a better negotiation and outcome.

Divorce is difficult and painful. We all know that. Yet you and your attorney don’t have to be solely lions or (the more passive) lambs. Out of court dispute resolution processes such as mediation and Collaborative Law, often provide a better environment and approach for bringing both the lion and the lamb “to the table” in the same room at the same time. Try it. You might find that the lion won’t eat you, and the lamb won’t get eaten. Instead, you will have a good balance for reaching a settlement that you, and your children and/or family, can live with and with which you can find peace — which is, after all, the message that comes with a holiday card.

Copyright 2014, Karen J. Levitt, all rights reserved.

Alimony Durational Limits Part III — What Happens When I retire?

One of the key reasons that Massachusetts reformed its alimony law in the Alimony Reform Act of 2011, was because many people thought it was unfair that the Court could award “lifetime alimony” in divorce cases.

Alimony payors found lifetime alimony to be unfair because they were required to pay alimony long after they had retired, and had less income than when they were working. Retirees often found themselves living on a fixed income but paying a large alimony obligation based on their former income. However, when retirees approached the Court to lower their alimony payments, it was always uncertain what would happen. On the other hand, the spouse who was receiving alimony often thought it was unfair to cut off alimony just because their former spouse had retired. This was especially true where the recipient spouse had relied on receiving a certain amount of money, and may have bargained for a different settlement if they knew alimony would be lowered or terminated when their former spouse retired. Thus, it was no surprise when the legislature included language in the new alimony statute to address this frequently litigated issue. The law in Massachusetts now provides that in most cases, alimony will terminate when the payor reaches retirement age (which is defined as the payor’s full Social Security eligibility age -you can find that out on the Social Security Administration website, it is based on date of birth). Note that the statute specifically applies the rule to general term alimony, but not to the other three types (see my previous blog “The New Massachusetts Alimony Reform Law of 2011– What Do You Need to Know?” regarding the other types of alimony).

The new law states that a payor’s ability to continue to work after retirement age is not itself a reason to extend alimony. However, at the time of the initial alimony judgment, the Court can order alimony beyond retirement age upon written findings for good cause shown. The Court can also extend alimony beyond retirement age for good cause shown, with a finding of a material change of circumstances and reasons supported by clear and convincing evidence. Post-retirement alimony will most likely be difficult to get, and the circumstances which might warrant an order or extension beyond retirement will have to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Some possible reasons could be the advanced age of the parties at the time of the divorce (i.e. they are close to retirement age or even beyond retirement age at the time of the divorce), the disability of the recipient spouse, or unforeseen significant changes that occur after the divorce. Some judges have been ordering alimony even after the payor reaches their full Social Security eligibility age, if the payor is still working full time and the recipient still has a need for support. Overall, an award of post-retirement alimony is more likely at the time of the Divorce than it is after the Divorce, but in either situation, the Court will have to be persuaded using the applicable standards set by the new law that alimony should be awarded beyond the age of retirement.