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Worcester Family Law Blog

Equal vs fair: Massachusetts property division can be complicated

No matter how long a couple has been married -- be it a few months or many decades -- one aspect of a divorce that is always sure to present some confusion and stress is asset division. Massachusetts is an equitable property division state, meaning that marital property is divided fairly, though not necessarily equally. Before deciding how property and assets will be divided comes the process of determining what qualifies as marital property and which assets are separate.

When the parties cannot agree directly, the courts will decide what property is marital and will order that each divorcing partner receive an equitable share. This fair share, however, does not always mean an equal split. When determining how much to give to each spouse, courts consider a variety of factors, including health, age, earning capacity and more.

Initiative to educate on child support modification, enforcement

Across the nation, August is Child Support Awareness month. This national initiative was started to help inform divorced parents in Massachusetts and across the nation of the importance of child support and the ways it benefits children. The program hopes to educate parents on issues from modification to enforcement to available resources and more, hopefully for the good of everyone.

Studies have demonstrated conclusively that children do best when all family members work together to meet their needs. When both mom and dad try to cooperate to provide for the children's needs, both emotional and physical, children feel more secure. This is especially true in cases where the family structure has undergone a change in dynamics due to divorce.

Fighting for fathers' parenting rights in child custody cases

Whether there are children in the mix or not, divorce is usually a trying time. Divorcing fathers in Massachusetts and across the nation, though, face their own unique set of additional challenges when it comes to the issue of child custody. While the fight for equal parenting rights for fathers is gaining national attention, there is still a lot of work to be done.

Currently, data from the U.S. Census shows that over 24 million children spend most of their time in households without their fathers. This, according to a number of researchers, is taking a costly toll, with such "fatherlessness" contributing to issues including youth behavioral problems and incarceration, high school dropout rates, substance abuse and even suicide. Despite the alarming statistics, however, traditional custody agreements have always tended to automatically favor the mother when it comes to awarding primary physical custody.

Asset and property division: Closing joint bank accounts

While often the first step toward a brighter future, the actual divorce process can be quite stressful to get through. Not only is there the emotional side to deal with, but there are also practical aspects that need addressed, such as asset and property division. One of the first and most basic of these tasks is closing a joint bank account.

Many married couples share joint checking and/or savings accounts at their Massachusetts bank. When it comes time to close the account, most banks will allow individuals to do so without requiring permission from the other account holders, though bringing the other person along may speed up the process. The bank will require proof identification, such as a driver's license, and will have request forms to fill out.

How spousal support, property division are determined in divorce

In what is considered a "traditional" marriage in Massachusetts, typically one spouse works while the other stays home to take care of the house and children, or perhaps one partner works full time and the other part time. What happens, then, when the couple -- in which each individual has a markedly different income level -- decides to divorce? How will property division and spousal support be determined?

While the calculations can be complicated, the law attempts to take a fair approach to these issues. When it comes to the division of property and assets, Massachusetts is an equitable distribution state, meaning that everything that came into the marriage, beginning from the wedding date, is marital property. As such, it will be split fairly -- though not necessarily equally -- during the divorce, with only a few exceptions, such as cases involving an inheritance or a prenuptial agreement.

Co-parenting in Massachusetts after a divorce

Parenting is difficult, no matter what. When parents divorce, it creates a whole new set of child-rearing challenges. Thankfully, for Massachusetts parents who are worried about how ending their marriage might affect their children, there are several ways moms and dads can co-parent effectively after divorce.

Parents should – and likely will – try to make the children and their well-being the main focus of any decisions.  As challenging as it may sound, a key to this is open communication between ex-spouses, at least when it comes to co-parenting. It's important to discuss issues like differing parenting approaches, rules and discipline. In this way, parents can avoid confusion or children's attempts to play one parent against the other, and can ensure that both homes are a structured, consistent and healthy environment.

Simple financial tips to consider during a Massachusetts divorce

In Massachusetts – or anywhere else, for that matter – the fact is that divorces cost money. However, when divorce becomes inevitable, there are certain methods anyone can employ to be more prepared and to weather the divorce process in a more financially sound manner. A few simple financial tips can make a big difference during the divorce process.

The end of a marriage is an emotional time. As such, many individuals have a hard time taking a step back from their feelings of anger, hurt and resentment. However, sometimes these emotions end up affecting the divorce process negatively and costing everyone involved both time and money.

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.

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