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Worcester Family Law Blog

Protecting independent assets in the event of divorce

Many Massachusetts couples likely maintain separate bank accounts with the assumption that in the event their marriage ends, each person can walk away with his or her own money. According to researchers, the percentage of married couples opting to keep their finances separate has more than doubled in recent years. However, experts warn that married people who assume that this practice will protect their assets in the event of divorce may encounter an unwelcome surprise if they actually find themselves in the position of dissolving their union.

States have different laws regarding distribution of assets. While some are community property states, most states (including Massachusetts) operate under equitable distribution laws. This means that, typically, any assets acquired during marriage are considered marital property and will be divided fairly, although not necessarily equally.

Divorce often calls for change to retirement plan

Aside from suffering emotionally, many Massachusetts couples who are ending their legal union will also experience a difference in their financial status, as one household becomes two. In addition to having only one income to support themselves on a daily basis, many people find that divorce has significantly affected their retirement savings plan. However, to help ease the process of achieving financial independence, divorcing couples can benefit from the following advice.

In some cases, each party in a divorcing couple will have about the same value in retirement savings, and in this situation, they may decide to simply go their separate ways with their own personal accounts. However, in many cases, one person will have more savings than the other. The individual with less money saved may negotiate for a portion of the ex-spouse's savings, although he or she can claim only savings accrued during the marriage. To legally transfer retirement assets from one party to the other, the person transferring will likely need a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO). One person may also be able to claim some of the ex-spouse's pension.

Pay careful attention to credit during a divorce

Married people who have decided to go their separate ways often experience some distress during the ensuing legal process over the loss of control of many aspects of their life. Typically, people going through a divorce must negotiate living arrangements, child custody and visitation schedules, financial obligations and, in some cases, much more. However, divorcing Massachusetts couples can take specific action in some areas of their lives to increase the chances of a positive outcome, and one of these areas is credit and how it is affected during and following the divorce.

First, early on in the process, divorcing individuals should access a complete credit report, which they can purchase from one of several credit bureaus, or at no cost once a year. As part of the required process of gathering financial information, a divorcing person should note anything that would appear on a credit report, including credit cards, home loans, lines of credit, etc. Second, each party must clearly understand who is responsible for each debt. The divorcing couple should ensure that they continue to pay debts in a timely manner. Unless one party is legally released, both will be held responsible to pay any debts accrued during the marriage.

Speeding vehicle results in fatal personal injury for woman

It's a scene played out in Massachusetts and all over the country, likely on any given day. A group of young people are out for an evening of good times that sometimes involves a thrill-inducing drive through city streets. This may have been what was happening on a Boston street when a horrific car crash resulted in fatal personal injury for one woman and serious injury for another woman.

The incident happened early in May on an East Boston street. The 22-year-old man arrested in connection with the crash recently returned to district court for the first time since the accident. According to prosecutors, the man had been driving at a high rate of speed in the very early hours of a Sunday morning when his vehicle hit several parked cars, then the center median and ended upside down.

Spousal support negotiations during divorce can be challenging

Any Massachusetts couple in the midst of legally ending their marriage would likely agree that all aspects of the process are unpleasant, at best. However, for many divorcing couples, spousal support (also called alimony) tends to be one of the more challenging steps in the divorce process. Therefore, to assist divorcing individuals in successfully negotiating this type of support, industry experts offer some tips.

When calculating spousal support, courts consider various factors, but typically, the payer's ability to provide support and the payee's need for support are very important considerations. They may also look at factors such as the length of the marriage, division of property in the divorce and standard of living established during the marriage, among others. Although many alimony arrangements involve the payer providing the payee with a regular monthly payment, some divorcing couples may consider alternative payment structures, such as an alimony buyout, in which the payer provides alimony in one lump-sum payment or by transfer of certain assets.

Even after divorce, a few important actions must be taken

As any separated Massachusetts couple knows, typically, both parties are exhausted, emotionally, physically and sometimes financially, by the time their union is legally dissolved. Most people who have endured the divorce process probably felt that the final divorce decree spelled the end. However, in truth, divorced individuals need to be aware of the tasks they still need to deal with post-divorce.

For one, divorced people may need to adjust their medical insurance. For example, if they were included on their spouse's medical insurance, they need to secure their own insurance. As well, if a divorced person is changing his or her name post-divorce, he or she needs to remember all places in which the name must be changed, and the process usually requires a certified copy of the divorce judgment. In addition, after a split, both parties should change all passwords on digital websites, etc. Ideally, new passwords should be quite different from the ones used in the past.

Job loss during the divorce process can add an extra challenge

From the beginning of the separation process to the final dissolution of a marriage, both parts of a couple, typically, will experience a great deal of stress. Most Massachusetts couples in this situation face many difficult decisions as well as a general upheaval of their accustomed lifestyle. Unfortunately, sometimes, while a person is going through the divorce process, he or she encounters additional challenges, such as a job loss. Other than the obvious fallout from employment loss, people finding themselves in this situation during divorce negotiations may worry about how the courts will handle the change in financial circumstances.

Firstly, the court will want to know the reason for the job loss. If the job loss was due to circumstances beyond the person's control, such as a layoff, that person could then, rightfully, argue that, for the purposes of determining spousal and/or child support obligations, the court should not consider his or her income level prior to termination. Of course, the unemployed person must be making a sincere effort to secure comparable employment elsewhere. However, if the job loss is due to negative behavior, the court will likely consider that person's financial responsibility based on the previous income. Both parties need to be realistic about what they can provide financially, and the court can provide various options, depending on individual circumstances.

Head-on collision ends in fatal personal injury for 2 people

Head-on collisions can happen for various reasons. Sometimes this type of crash results from circumstances seemingly out of the control of the driver, such as a medical condition or mechanical failure. However, unfortunately, often people who cause these potentially fatal incidents have simply exercised poor judgment of some sort, either prior to or during their time behind the wheel. Earlier in May, in an incident that seems to fall into the latter category, a Massachusetts woman allegedly caused a crash resulting in fatal personal injury for two people.

Reportedly, police began pursuing the woman after noticing her driving her SUV erratically on an Easton road. Prosecutors in the case have said that she was driving at a high speed and then collided with another vehicle. Two people died in the crash. A 77-year-old woman was pronounced dead at the crash scene, and her 79-year-old husband died later in the hospital.

Divorcing couples need to consider mortgage options

Couples who have decided to end their marriage may encounter many different issues that require negotiation: child support and custody, spousal support and division of assets. Many Massachusetts divorcing couples who own a family home together find a particular set of challenges in negotiating who will retain control of the property and then what options exist for that person regarding the mortgage, assuming he or she has decided to not sell the home. A mortgage expert provides valuable information for divorcing individuals in this position.

Some divorcing couples opt to retain the original joint mortgage. However, ex-spouses must fully trust each other for this option to work, as a payment default could lead to damaged credit for both parties. To avoid such a consequence, many people choose to refinance the mortgage in their name only.

Life and health insurance needs should be reviewed during divorce

Probably any divorcing Massachusetts couple will attest to the fact that once the decision to split has been made, everyone involved begins a process that is often lengthy, stressful and fraught with challenges. During this difficult period, with all the issues that must be considered, people sometimes overlook important areas that will change with the divorce, such as insurance coverage. Divorcing individuals should be sure to review all insurance policies and prepare for any changes that will happen with the change in their marital status.

Regarding health insurance, often one spouse carries an employer-sponsored health plan through work that also covers the other spouse. Under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), individuals can continue coverage they've received through their ex-spouse's employer insurance plan for up to three years. However, since this is a short-term solution, a divorcing person in this position is wise to explore other health insurance options if the individual does not have access to his or her own employer-sponsored insurance. The Affordable Care Act has opened up more affordable health insurance options for such situations.

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