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.

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.

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.

How to Choose a Divorce Mediator in Massachusetts

When 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…

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.

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.

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.

Parenting Together Through Divorce

By Tracy Fischer

Our children are an integral part of our lives and keeping them safe and feeling secure is what parenting is all about.  Parenting together after divorce presents new challenges to an already difficult process, but navigating painful emotions to maintain a united front is an essential part of the job.  The bottom line is, kids feel healthiest when their parents get along.

Breaking the News

Depending on age, discuss the process openly in your family.  If possible, include both parents in the discussion.  Emphasize that while the family is changing, it is not ending.  Divorce means that a marriage is over, it does not mean that a parent’s relationship to his or her child is over.  Your children should feel secure that both their parents love them and neither parent will leave their lives.  Make sure they understand that the divorce is not their fault, that there is nothing that they can or should do to change things.  If possible, tell your children what decisions have been made, where they will live and that they will still be spending time with both parents.  Remember to answer their questions with as much care and honesty as possible.  They will probably have quite a few questions, and answering them, repeatedly if necessary, will help them regain the sense of security that they’ve lost.

Dealing With Your Own Hurt

Painful feelings are a natural part of the divorce process.  When co-parenting, however, those emotions must take a back seat.  Remember to make the happiness and security of the children your shared priority.  When feelings of pain and anger arise, take them into a separate space.  Try to make sure those feelings don’t leak out into interactions with your children.  Find a therapist or a close friend to lean on instead.  Be aware of your body language as well.  Make a conscious effort to take deep breaths and relax your shoulders.  If you’re feeling momentarily tense, smile.  It’s remarkable how some emotions can work from the outside-in.  Divorce mediation or counseling can allow divorcing parents the opportunity to sort through and communicate some of those unpleasant feeling.  Sometimes, just the opportunity to express them and know that they have been heard an acknowledged by the other parent may be a start to letting them go.

What’s In A Name?

By Tracy Fischer

When a couple marries one of the big decisions made initially will be…. what last name the female spouse will use. There may be a difference of opinion that will need to be ironed out.  Will she keep her maiden name, will she take her new husband’s name or will the name be hyphenated? Many women see this change as an exciting rite of passage.  What impact will this name have on the children they hope to have.  This decision has a far- reaching impact that is often not considered at the time when the relationship is happy and the marriage is intended to last forever.

Some women look at their last name as a key part of their identity.  Others may have always disliked their original last name because of spelling complications or not like the sound of it and be very excited to take a new name.  Some may feel that the transition from their family of origin to a new family with their new partner will be solidified by having the same name.

If a couple then later decide to divorce, again the female spouse will have a decision to make.  Should she keep the name she is used to, may be using professionally and is the same as her children? Should she return her maiden name immediately, which may be a time consuming and paper-ridden process?

Supreme Court Decision’s Effect on Same-Sex Divorce

By Tracy Fischer

The new Supreme Court ruling striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a union between only a man and a woman, has surprising ramifications not only for marriage but also for divorce.  Until now, in Massachusetts a same-sex marriage that led to a divorce had several complicating factors.

Often same-sex couples choose mediation as a way to end their marriage in an amicable and cost effective manner,  just as opposite-sex couples have for many years.  While many of the same issues arise in a same-sex divorce, the opportunities to divide property and deal with tax issues are very different.  Here are just a few examples.

Currently, in a same-sex divorce, a pension that one spouse may have earned during the marriage could not be divided through a Qualified Domestic Relations Order.  This Order divides pensions and retirement accounts at the time of divorce without any tax payments or penalties and insures that the non-owning spouse, or alternate payee, would have their rightful share of the pension at the time of retirement.  Divorcing same-sex couples were forced to use other assets to effectuate an equitable division of the marital assets, many times in ways that were not in either parties’ financial interest.

Is The Time Right To Sell The Former Marital Home?

By Tracy Fischer – June 2013

Many divorce agreements drafted over the past few years provide for joint ownership of the marital home, with one party residing in the home usually with the children. Often when these arrangements are made, parents want to maintain stability for the children, trying to keep the same school system and friendships. One spouse may not be ready to make the decision about where to move. Situations have occurred over the past few years where it would not be financially feasible to sell the home because property values had decreased. The person who does not live in the home is usually not financially responsible to pay the costs of the home, but may be responsible for larger necessary maintenance and repair costs.

Often agreements provide for a specific length of time that the house will be owned jointly before there is a buy-out or sale. This length of time can be increased or decreased by agreement of the parties. The party who does not live in the home may be unable to purchase a new home because of equity that is tied up in the jointly held property or because of the mortgage which remains in joint names.

Massachusetts’ New Alimony Law and How it Could Affect You

By Tracy Fischer

The Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act was signed into law in 2011 and became effective a little over a year ago. This law brought about sweeping new changes in the way alimony is awarded in the state, and many orders issued prior to its enactment could be modified as a result.

One of the biggest changes brought about by this act was the length of time a spouse may receive alimony. In the past, alimony was sometimes awarded for an indefinite period even when marriages lasted less than 20 years. The current law requires couples to have been legally married for at least 20 years before alimony will be awarded indefinitely. Cohabitation and the forming of an economic partnership prior to marriage can add on to the length of the marriage. Those who were married less than that amount of time may receive spousal support for a period of time ranging from 50% to 80% of the number of months married depending on the length of the union.

Alimony may be suspended under certain conditions including if the recipient later remarries. If he or she cohabitates with another for a period of time that exceeds three months, a judge may also order alimony be suspended. In most instances, payments will automatically cease when the spouse who is ordered to pay reaches full retirement age.

Co-Parenting Successfully through Divorce – Establish a Parenting Plan

By Tracy Fischer

The decision has been made and action has been taken. Whether your divorce was mutually agreed upon or contested, what should be agreed upon is the direction for raising your children. Whether you are the mother or father, you need to make sure that you are parenting together.

Your children have the right and need to freely love both parents. You may have bitter feelings or feelings of indifference towards your ex-spouse, but don’t let those feelings ruin your child’s relationship with you or their other parent. Those feelings may have a greater negative impact on your relationship with your child than you may have expected.

Putting together a parenting plan will help each party see that the needs of the children are the utmost priority. If the parents cannot agree, attorneys and the courts will have to intervene to resolve visitation, support and custody.

A Divorce Expo?

By Tracy Fischer
This weekend, for the first time ever, a divorce expo is being held in Manhattan and the week before in Michigan.  Modeled after the very popular Bridal Expo these events will combine exhibitors like divorce lawyers, mediators, therapists, collaborative law specialists with make up specialists, life and dating coach’s.  One has the tag line Start over Smart and the other Reducing the Impact of Divorce – Learn Interact Inspire.  The latest innovations in cosmetic surgery and ways to rejuvenate oneself with tips on healthy eating and cooking will be just a few of the exhibitors.  These events are not trying to promote divorce, but instead taking a fact of life that most people feel embarrassed and ashamed about when it happens to them and turning it into a positive.  If you are starting over – start over smart! It makes a lot of sense.  People that are in the process of thinking about or going though divorce can turn the situation they are in from one of depression to inspiration.  The opportunity is there to get a great deal of information all in one place. The massage kiosks, dating coach’s, keynotes on the new opportunities in dating on line are all designed to encourage and inspire those attending.  Instead of feeling alone, these events encourage a community of individuals all going through the same life changing event.  And the purpose here is to see life changing for the better. It’s a great idea who’s time has certainly come.  ~ Attorney Mediator Tracy Fischer

Massachusetts Council of Family Mediation Annual Conference

By Tracy Fischer

A divorcing couple can work with a neutral mediator and take control of the process in a more timely manner than going through the court system.

I recently attended the Massachusetts Council of Family Mediation’s Annual conference and was able to hear news from the Probate Court by Keynote Speaker Paula Carey, Chief Justice of the Probate and Family Court.  Her comments about the Probate Court system, while very positive in general, highlighted areas of major cutbacks due to budget constraints. Of major importance is that over the next year the court will lose 10 Probate Court Judges.  There is no guarantee that these positions will be replaced or when. Over the past 5 years, the number of law clerks used by the Judges of the Probate and Family Court has gone from 24 to 4.5 currently.  Lawyers and litigants will have to wait even longer for Judges to render decisions or even to have hearings scheduled. With the numerous potential modifications that will be filed under the new Alimony Reform Act of 2011, the case- load is only continuing to grow.  It is clear that there is a significant benefit to couples and families who have the opportunity to privately and amicably decide parenting arrangements for their children and how to divide their property. With the help of a neutral mediator, a couple can take control of the process and retain the ability to move forward in their lives in a much more timely manner than would be available through the court system. ~ Attorney Mediator Tracy Fischer

New Massachusetts Alimony Law

By Tracy Fischer

October 2011 – read the entire Alimony Reform Act (PDF)

The Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act of 2011 was just passed into law amending Massachusetts  General Law chapter 208 section 34, adding section 48, clarifying the nature and duration of alimony.  The law will become effective in March of 2012

First, four different categories of alimony are identified and defined: General term alimony is simply a periodic payment of support to one spouse to another.  Rehabilitative, Reimbursement and Transitional alimony are all defined as periodic or one time payments, considered after a marriage of five years or less.  They are all seen as a means to an end and for the particular purpose of enabling a spouse a short period of time to become independent.

Massachusetts Post-Nuptial Agreements

By Tracy Fischer

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts found that post-nuptial agreements entered into under specific conditions would be enforceable. Post-nuptial agreements are made by couples contemplating divorce but still trying to work on their marriage and not yet ready to commit to divorce. They are able, through this type of agreement, to decide how their assets will be divided, make financial arrangements for support, and how their children will be cared for in the event of a divorce in the future. This agreement would then allow couples to feel secure in whatever the outcome of a divorce would be and allowing the couple the opportunity to put their emotional efforts into strengthening their marriage.

Post-nuptial agreements have been fairly uncommon in Massachusetts because the law has been unsettled as to whether or not the agreement would be enforceable at the time of divorce. Now that the Supreme Judicial Court has found that post-nuptial agreements are enforceable, mediation becomes an appropriate and effective process for couples to work out the terms of their post-nuptial agreement.

Changes in Massachusetts Alimony Rulings

By Tracy Fischer

What This Means For You

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has made a controversial ruling recently regarding alimony payments. They decided that alimony payments do not automatically end when the paying spouse reaches the age of retirement.

In the recent case the spouse who had been paying alimony, voluntarily retired at the age of 65 and requested to be relieved of his alimony payments. The ex couple’s divorce agreement did not specify that alimony would end at retirement, rather upon the death of either or remarriage. The Supreme Judicial Court ordered that he continue paying alimony to his ex spouse because she had lost her job, concluding that retirement is only one factor in several when it comes to rulings on alimony modifications.

You may be wondering what this means for you. In terms of mediation, it gives divorcing couples additional knowledge to use in the discussion of appropriate alimony provisions for your particular situation. An understanding of what the courts are doing now will aid in the construction of mediated agreements so both parties can address these particular issues before they arise.