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Worcester Family Law Blog

Low income fathers may benefit from child support modification

Child support is important; it helps custodial parents in Massachusetts and elsewhere pay for the food, medical care and other necessities all children need. What happens, though, when a father is struggling economically and cannot make the court-ordered payments in the full amount? Instead of these fathers losing access to their children and the children losing the positive influence their male parent provides, many advocates are pushing for a modification of the child support system.

Granted, there are fathers who don't feel they should have to make their child support payments, for reasons ranging from anger at their exes to simple carelessness and more, and these men should – and do – face disciplinary action and repercussions. However, statistics show that a vast majority of fathers who owe child support make less than half of the median income in the United States. Should these men be punished by limiting their contact with their own children – or even with jail time – just because they cannot afford to pay?

Hostile behavior, not the divorce itself, linked to illness

As is often the case, the details can make all the difference. A newly released study linking psychological stress during childhood to illness may have some divorcing Massachusetts parents in a panic. The key, however, seems to be whether the divorce was cooperative or non-cooperative.

Carnegie Mellon University psychologists evaluated adults whose parents had separated as children. They divided the study participants into three groups: those whose parents had divorced during their childhood but had remained on speaking terms, those whose parents had separated but had reportedly never spoken again afterwards, and those whose parents had remained married throughout their childhood. Results indicated that the individuals whose parents had gone through a less cooperative divorce were up to three times as likely to experience sickness as an adult.

Equal parenting time and joint child custody offer clear benefits

Traditionally, divorcing parents in Massachusetts would likely have assumed that Mom would get custody of the kids, while Dad saw them for visits and every other weekend. However, after a number of studies, research indicates that children who spend more even amounts of time with each parent – roughly at least 35 percent – as opposed to living with one and visiting the other, not only have better relationships with each parent but do better psychologically, academically and even socially. With such clear benefits, it's hard to deny the advantages of joint child custody.

Research points to a myriad of positive results from shared parenting for children, including better grades and a lower likelihood to drink, smoke or use drugs. It also seems to decrease susceptibility to depression and anxiety as well as illnesses related to stress. Despite some criticism that this data is biased due to income, that doesn't seem to be the case.

Massachusetts divorces: How property division affects retirement

Many older adults have spent their lives working and saving toward retirement, looking forward to the day they can quit their jobs and relax. Then, sometimes out of nowhere, they are blinded by a request from their spouse for a divorce, and all those retirement plans feel like they're about to fly out the window. Suddenly, individuals may find themselves wondering how asset and property division will affect their retirement.

In Massachusetts, retirement age is generally considered the point at which an individual would qualify for full Social Security benefits, which is age 67. This is especially significant for individuals who had hoped to take early retirement because, even if that person quits his or her job, a judge will treat the situation as though the individual is still working. Legally, this is called attribution of income and is used to determine alimony, child support and asset division.

Could short sale create a property division issue post-divorce?

For most Massachusetts couples who do not share children, the end of their marriage marks the end of the need to maintain ongoing communications. In some cases, however, there are property division  issues that arise long after an agreement has been reached and signed off on. An example is found in a couple who were unable to agree on how to handle an incentive payment brought about by the short sale of their family home.

The dispute centered on the fact that the husband had negotiated the right to remain living in the family home. He also took on all of the responsibility for making payments on the property. However, since both spouses had signed the initial mortgage, the ex-wife's name remained listed on the loan.

Property division and divorce: Marital vs. non-marital assets

Massachusetts, a no-fault divorce state, is also an equitable distribution state. This means that, barring a prenup, property division during divorce is determined by a judge, who attempts to decide on a fair division of assets. Generally, this means a 50/50 split of both debt and marital assets, but each case is taken on an individual basis, and few situations are without exceptions.

Asset distribution involves the division of marital property. Many people are confused by the difference between marital assets and separate, or non-marital, assets, with some mistakenly believing that the name listed on a deed or title determines ownership. This is incorrect; every dollar, asset, or debt acquired is shared evenly between spouses from the minute they become legally married onward. This rule even applies to investments, pension plans and retirement accounts.

No such thing as too much information in a Massachusetts divorce

There is never such a thing as having too much information. From choices as small as which product to purchase to those as large as ending a marriage, the more Massachusetts individuals educate themselves, the more prepared they will be to make informed and rational decisions. When it comes to such complex issues as divorce, the more facts someone has, the better.

Deciding whether or not it may be time to end a marriage is not a choice that most take lightly. Most individuals put a lot of thought into this deeply personal decision. This is why it can be beneficial for those considering divorce to explore a variety of options to help them achieve a complete picture about their own situation, as well as any tools and coping methods available that could assist them throughout the process.

Massachusetts couples may want to consider collaborative divorce

For Massachusetts individuals considering ending their marriages, there are about as many different approaches as there are couples. Just like every marriage is different, so is every divorce. Many families, though, are choosing to explore a newer option known as collaborate divorce.

This legal process is growing in popularity for its less adversarial approach than the traditional process. All divorces have the same end result of a court order outlining the numerous issues of divorce, including property division, child support, alimony and more. However, a collaborative divorce differs from the more traditional methods because it involves each spouse agreeing to recognize the other's needs instead of only concentrating on his or her own.

The most important aspects in any Massachusetts divorce

Divorcing couples in Massachusetts have a lot to consider. Even in a best-case scenario, divorce is an emotionally and financially stressful time. However, to help separating couples remember the most important aspects of divorce, one advisor has come up with an acronym that covers the main areas that will need addressed. This acronym, PEACE, stands for Parenting plan, Equitable distribution, Alimony, Contesting and Everything else.

A parenting plan may be the most important part of any divorce negotiation involving children; it concerns child custody, child support and visitation. The equitable distribution aspect of property division doesn't necessarily mean equal distribution; rather, it simply refers to how marital assets will be divided between the parties. Alimony – or spousal support – is another factor to consider, and takes into account an ex spouse's age and physical condition, standard of living, earning capability and more.

Sound advice for Massachusetts couples considering divorce

For Massachusetts couples considering ending their marriage, the first step might be a trial separation. Physically separating gives each spouse the opportunity to to figure out whether divorce is the best decision for them. Whether couples are considering a trial separation or already have decided they are ready to end their marriage, there are a few pieces of advice that may prove beneficial.

The first thing to consider is making sure both parties are aware of the marital financial situation. If one spouse has traditionally handled the financial aspects, such as bill-paying and bank accounts, now would be a good time for the other to familiarize him or herself with these aspects. Separating or divorcing spouses may also wish to consider closing all joint credit accounts and obtaining new credit cards in their own names only, to secure credit history, begin building strong personal credit and avoid being held responsible for an ex's debts.

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