Is it common to have second thoughts about signing our settlement agreement?

Additional Info: My spouse and I are going to be signing our settlement agreement this week. But I am having second thoughts about parts of the agreement. I am not so sure I want to sign because of that. As I read over the agreement days prior to signing, I am not so sure now. I know once it is signed by the parties, it is very difficult to change, if at all. I am really thinking about holding off on signing it until I figure these things out. Is it fairly common to have second thoughts at the end? Should I proceed with signing it anyway or hold off until I get things figured out?

You should absolutely wait to sign until you are sure of all the parts of your agreement. If you have an attorney, discuss these issues again with your attorney. Perhaps you need a financial advisor or Certified Divorce Financial Analyst to review it with you and to make sure that your financial needs have been given proper consideration. Your agreement is not final until it is signed and approved by the Judge, but it is more difficult to change once it is signed. You may always have some unease with different parts of the agreement. Looking at the whole agreement you need to decide if the complete agreement is fair and equitable. Do certain parts that may be more favorable to you make up for any concessions or areas where you are more concerned? You can be upfront and explain to your spouse that you have some concerns and need time to make sure that the decisions you are making are right for you. It is far better for everyone to do this now, rather than later when it would be more difficult and maybe not possible to change. It is common to have second thoughts as with any major and difficult life decisions, but your second thoughts are telling you something and you should listen to them.

How is income divided at divorce?

Additional info: For MA, I’ve heard 30% of the difference in income is typically paid from the higher income spouse to other spouse as alimony until retirement. Does this include only primary job, or also occasional consulting, book royalties, etc? What if income spikes or falls in some years? What if someone quits or gets fired or gets sick? Do we have to exchange tax forms forever to do this? And how is “retirement” defined?

The questions you ask really get to the fine details of how alimony works. Remember, the alimony law is a standard to follow, however Judges have broad discretion in many areas of it. Because of this discretion spouses are able to negotiate and come up with alimony plans that will work for them. Alimony is modifiable based on income, therefor the issue of income increasing or decreasing in various years does need to be taken into consideration when clarifying this in the divorce agreement. Often divorced spouses do exchange their tax returns each year while alimony or child support is being paid if they want to take into account income variations. Retirement for purposes of the alimony law is not actual retirement. The law states that alimony will terminate when the payor reached their full social security retirement age; they can continue working and have alimony end. However, again in this area Judge’s have broad discretion. A judges decision will depend on the financial circumstances of the parties and how close to this age the parties are when the divorce is taking place.
You may want to consider divorce mediation as a way to amicable and fairly come to these agreements with the help of a neutral trained professional mediator. Mediators are skilled in conflict resolution and the legal, financial and family issues inherent in divorce. Go to mcfm.org for a list of certified mediators.

What Color Is This Dress And Questions Of Perception In Divorce Mediation

By Tracy Fischer

This dress is creating an internet frenzy. It has even had an appearance on the network news – is it blue and black or white and gold? It turns out people interpret color in different ways, though the dress is actually blue and black. Each individual’s brain assigns more or less weight to a color, when other colors are weighed against each other it results in a totally different color perception.

When one looks at a picture and sees a specific color, it seems so obvious that there is one clear right answer and one clear wrong answer. In this conflict between what is right and what is wrong, the answer seems to be perception. The color of the dress is a direct example of how we, as unique individuals, see situations differently and may not be necessarily right or wrong. [Read more…]

New Mortgage Rules: The Effects on Separation and Divorce

By Tracy Fischer

Recent Fannie Mae mortgage guidelines changes are causing delays and difficulties among couples who are going through separation and divorce. It is crucial to be prepared and to know what to expect. In the past, husbands or wives could fairly easily begin the process to move on by preparing to purchase a new home. Sometimes, this included either selling the marital home and each purchasing new homes, or one person retaining the marital home by refinancing. Completed and finalized divorce agreements were not always necessary.

Often, couples may have lived together in the home and planned on separating and divorcing while waiting for more optimal market conditions or better springtime weather before putting the marital home on the market and each going the separate ways into new homes. Sometimes, couples want to wait until they were sure of their final plans before telling their children.

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Alternatives to Massachusetts Family Court

By Tracy Fischer

Family law disputes such as divorce, child custody, visitation, and spousal support discussions are often emotional and can be stressful. When two parties cannot agree, they may believe taking their case to court is the only option. However, litigation is expensive, emotionally draining and can be a very lengthy process. Additionally, the courtroom environment empowers the judge to make decisions instead of allowing the two parties involved to decide what is best.

There are viable alternatives to litigation and these options often allow the parties involved to determine what works best. Consider these effective alternatives.

1. Use a Mediator. Mediation is a productive way for each party to discuss, generate options and decide for themselves the issues that are important to them, including child custody, financial support and property division. A professional mediator is a neutral facilitator trained in the process of helping couples find common ground. Through a series of meetings, the mediator will draft a document outlining the agreement on all aspects that are required in a comprehensive divorce agreement. That document will then be submitted to the court for approval. It is not a legally binding document until approved by a judge. Since a mediator gives legal information only, it is recommended that both parties consult an attorney to discuss their individual rights and the consequences of certain decisions within the agreement drafted by the mediator. Look for a Certified Mediator at MCFM.org.

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How to Choose a Divorce Mediator in Massachusetts

MCFMWhen looking for and choosing a divorce mediator you should consider a variety of factors.  The most important is experience and training of the mediator.  The Massachusetts Council of Family Mediators has a rigorous certification process for divorce and family mediators.  As the current chairperson of the Certification Committee for MCFM, and a Certified Mediator since 1996, MCFM certification is a clear indication of the competence and experience of a divorce and family mediator.  The committee has recently implemented some major changes to encourage mediators to apply for certification.  There are currently less than 30 MCFM Certified Mediators in Massachusetts.

A mediator can apply for certification if they have an advanced degree, 90 hours of substantive training in specified areas and over 100 hours of face to face mediation experience in 10 or more mediations. The MCFM certification committee reviews these applications and the three sample agreements that must be submitted.   A certified mediator is required to maintain malpractice insurance and must renew their certification status every two years.  The renewal process requires 20 hours of continuing education and a minimum number of hours of actual mediations during that period. MCFM Certified Mediators can display the MCFM Certified Mediator Logo.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts does not license or credential mediators in any way, so really anyone can say they are a divorce mediator. Mediators who are lawyers or therapists have professional licensure and board processes.  MCFM Certification provides the public with a clear indication that the particular mediator has the appropriate high level of training and experience; and has been evaluated by a committee of their peers.

Alimony and Remarriage in Massachusetts

Divorce is a challenging time for both spouses. So many factors involving the outcome can have lasting effects. Alimony is no exception. Alimony refers to a specified amount of money paid to one spouse by the other spouse during and after divorce. The purpose is to help the lower-earning spouse maintain a reasonable standard of living. One of the most popular questions asked is, “can remarriage discontinue alimony?” A change in the Massachusetts alimony law in 2012 clarified that provision and several others. Consider these four frequently asked questions about alimony and remarriage in Massachusetts.

How Much is Alimony?
The main consideration in calculating alimony in Massachusetts is each spouse’s income or income earning ability. However, many other factors are at play when a court determines how much alimony a spouse is required to pay. While the actual amount is usually a percentage of the difference between each  spouse’s income, the following factors are also considered:

  • How long the two were married;
  • The standard of living while married and the ability of both spouses to maintain that standard of living;
  • The income, skills and employment opportunities of both spouses;
  • The current liabilities and needs of each spouse;
  • The age and health of each spouse.

What if the receiving spouse gets remarried?
Massachusetts changed the alimony law in 2012 to include a provision that terminates alimony if the receiving spouse remarries. However, don’t assume termination upon remarriage is automatic and an agreement or  Complaint for Modification would need to be approved by the court. [Read more…]

Massachusetts Financial Statement in Divorce Mediation

By Tracy Fischer

When you are in the process of getting a divorce, you may feel overwhelmed by all of the decisions you have to make. If you and your spouse are able to be amicable towards each other, then mediation is a viable and effective alternative to litigation especially when it comes to settling your finances. An experienced Massachusetts divorce mediator can help.

There are specific rules regarding financial disclosure in Massachusetts divorce. Both parties are required to provide a full and complete Probate Court Financial Statement.  This Financial Statement is used in mediation as a tool to help the parties understand their income, assets and expenses.  The ability to understand your current financial situation allows you to better predict a future financial picture and make informed financial decisions.

If you earn less than $75,000 each year, you can fill out the “short-form.” If you earn more than $75,000, you are required to fill out the “long-form”. Both forms require specific and detailed financial information.  For the purpose of mediation, the Mandatory Self Disclosure rules require back up documentation, such as recent bank and retirement account statements, credit card statements, life insurance policies, loan documents and tax returns.  The reality is that you may end up having to complete this form more than once depending upon how long it takes for your divorce to be finalized.  The final Financial Statement must be current at the time you appear in court for the divorce hearing. [Read more…]

With the new Massachusetts Divorce laws on alimony, can my alimony be ceased due to new circumstances?

Additional Info: I have been divorced for over 27 yrs. and am still paying alimony. I am now 72 yrs. of age and live solely on social security.

 

Answer: With the new changes in the law it is possible that your alimony obligation would be modified however, what your divorce agreement or judgment says is very relevant. You may want to consider mediation as a way for you and your ex-spouse to come to a fair resolution of this issue. In mediation, you both would meet together with a neutral, objective mediator who would help the two of you disclose your financial circumstance to each other and then review your financial circumstances so that each of you understands the position of the other. Then the mediator would help the two of you discuss the changes that may be fair, help you to understand the legal information that has changed since the time of your divorce and finally to craft an agreement that meets with both of your approval. Mediation is often less expensive and less time consuming than the traditional adversarial process of a court modification. I hope this information will be of help to you.

Spousal Support Modification – Is it right for you?

There are many existing divorce agreements that have orders of spousal support or alimony. Recently, many states, including Massachusetts, have instituted new guidelines to determine who will receive alimony and for how long. The alimony that was set in an agreement or judgment years ago may no longer make financial sense.   There may be specific reasons why you may need to modify the results.

Remarriage

According to the recent Massachusetts alimony statute, if the spouse who is receiving the support marries or moves in with someone else and “maintains a common household” for at least three months before the alimony period ends, the support would be suspended or terminated. However, it is often up to the payor to take an action, either through mediation or the court, to modify the support officially.  Ultimately there would need to be a court order that changes the alimony amount or length of time.

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