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Worcester Family Law Blog

Spousal support versus child support in Massachusetts divorces

For divorcing couples with children in Massachusetts, one confusing aspect might be that of alimony. Alimony, or spousal support, is a separate issue from child support. The two are treated differently by the courts and addressed in a different way when it comes to taxes.

From the perspective of the payor, child support is not deductible on a tax return, while alimony is. Spousal support is considered deductible from gross income on the payor's return. Likewise, the same is true in an opposite fashion for the recipient. Alimony must be counted as income on the tax return, while child support is not included.

Child custody: Helping a child deal with the news of divorce

The end of a marriage can be a stressful and daunting period for everyone involved. However, kids may have more difficulty dealing with the news of divorce, and parents might wish to shield them from unnecessary suffering, but they could be uncertain how to achieve this goal. Along with pursuing a child custody agreement with their needs in mind, parents in Massachusetts may also find it beneficial to consider how the situation might be affecting their kids, and take steps to help them through it.

Divorce can be a challenging concept for kids to grasp. However, parents may still find it helpful to speak with them about the situation in a manner they can understand, which could prevent them from attempting to form their own conclusions. Opening up the lines of communication may also make them less hesitant to come forward with any issues they may experience during this period, which in turn can help a parent understand how to help them deal with the situation.

Some of the "taxing" issues of a Massachusetts divorce

While tax season may feel a long way off, divorcing couples in Massachusetts might wish to start thinking about it now. With divorce comes a number of adjustments, and amongst those are major tax changes. To avoid hassle later, a divorcing or recently divorced individual will likely find it helpful to begin addressing these matters now.

The first item to consider is filing status. If a divorce was finalized before the last day of the year, the IRS will consider the divorced spouses unmarried, meaning that when a Massachusetts individual files taxes for that year, he or she should no longer file as married, whether filing jointly or separately. Instead, the individual will need to file as either single, or possibly using "head of household" status, when applicable, if children or dependents are involved. The issue of dependents is another that will need addressed, as only one member of the former couple can claim the children as dependents. By default, this dependent exemption usually goes to the custodial parent, but the matter is often not so simple, and professional advice may be highly beneficial in such instances.

Joint child custody benefits far outweigh negatives in most cases

Despite the great strides that have been made towards gender equality in parenting, the fact remains that, over 80 percent of the time, mothers are awarded full physical custody in court ordered cases. A large reason for this seems to be the decades-long belief that conflict between divorced parents places too much stress on children. However, recent studies have demonstrated again and again that joint child custody with near-equal parenting time is far and away the best option in most situations.

Obviously, there are exceptions, like when children need protection from a negligent or abusive parent. Barring these, however, experts are advocating shared parenting as the new assumed default for divorcing Massachusetts couples. Opponents argue that placing children in the middle of disagreements exposes them to high levels of conflict, but researchers disagree as to the degree of the negative effects.

Lessening blows to retirement savings in divorce asset division

For older Massachusetts couples, the end of their marriage often packs a one-two punch. Not only is their relationship ending, but along with that goes the carefully laid plans and savings for retirement. When it comes to divorce, the financial aspects can be just as upsetting as the emotional ones. Thankfully, however, this doesn't necessarily have to be the case, as there are some possible strategies that may soften the financial blows.

The cost of divorce varies depending on a variety of factors, and it can be tempting for individuals to dip into their retirement savings to help cover divorce expenses, but advisors strongly recommend against this. Withdrawing early from IRAs and 401(k) accounts results in additional taxes. Even worse, perhaps, doing so carries the risk of a 10 percent penalty if a judge has not yet ordered asset division.

Divorce: A little financial planning now can go a long way later

No one goes into a marriage thinking about the day it might end. However, since Massachusetts is said to have one of the lowest divorce rates in the nation, it never hurts to be prepared. Divorce is not just an emotional and legal process. It's a financial one as well, so a little bit of fact-gathering and planning now can potentially make a big difference later.

Nationally, almost 40 percent of first marriages end in divorce, and that percentage nearly doubles to 70 for subsequent marriages. With statistics like these, some upfront financial and legal preparation seems like the only smart choice. Familiarizing oneself with household finances is advisable, even for the spouse who does not handle the bulk of the marital money-managing.

Is it possible to expedite a divorce in Massachusetts?

Once individuals have decided that they're ready to end their marriage, they're usually eager to get the process over and done with as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, some divorcing couples find themselves embroiled in a complicated and lengthy divorce process that they weren't anticipating. Many people want to know if there are ways to help speed the process along.

Massachusetts does have a mandatory waiting period that must be completed before a divorce is finalized, and it is not possible to get this waived. The 120-day waiting period is known as the "Nisi period" and it begins after the divorce is approved by a judge. So, this means that even after the divorce has been "granted," the parties will have to wait 120 days until it is official.

Shared parenting seems most beneficial approach to child custody

Most of the time, a Massachusetts custody battle "victory" has no real winners. While every divorce is different, an increasing number of family courts across the country are realizing that, when it comes to child custody, shared parenting is often the best for everyone involved. Of course, there are exceptions, such as cases involving domestic violence or abuse where joint custody isn't an option as a matter of safety, but otherwise, shared parenting offers clear benefits for all parties.

Across the nation, sole custody is still awarded to mothers more than 80 percent of the time. While, to some, this may seem the most beneficial solution for the majority of those involved, in practice it is unfortunately less than ideal. Mothers soon find themselves exhausted and overburdened, attempting to balance childcare, homemaking and earning a decent income.

Financial planning can be crucial in a Massachusetts divorce

Massachusetts individuals who worry over how ending their marriages may adversely affect their financial situation are not alone. Divorce does typically have a significant impact on finances. The good news is that, with proper preparation, there are ways individuals can prepare – before, during and after the divorce – for a more stable future, both emotionally and financially.

An experienced divorce attorney may be able to give a reasonably accurate estimate of what assets a person may end up with after property division. This, in turn, allows that individual to create a budget based on these assets, expenses and income sources. This will give one some idea of how best to negotiate an equitable settlement agreement. Things like retirement, college tuition for children, health care and more will all be affected, so it can be important to understand how IRAs, pensions and other benefits will be modified by divorce.

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