How Judges Make Decisions During a Massachusetts Divorce
Family court judges have a lot of discretion in deciding:
- Who gets custody of the children
- How much child support should be ordered
- Whether to award alimony
- How to divide property
On the upside, this unpredictability and a lack of black-and-white rules gives your attorney room to make arguments.
Who Gets Custody?
Judges must use a “best interests of the child” standard when ruling on custody and parenting plans. This generalized standard lends itself to having your judge making subjective beliefs about what may be best for your children.
You can expect judges to consider:
- Your children’s relationships with each parent
- Parenting abilities and stability of each party
- Parental ability to encourage the child’s relationship with the other parent
- Each parent’s work schedule
- Any history of abuse, neglect, alcohol or substance abuse
Judges Do Not Automatically Let Children Decide Where to Live
Children have their own motives. These may not align with their best interests. If children could decide, they would choose to live with the parent who has promised inappropriate benefits (new car, later bedtimes, no curfew, etc.). They may feel obliged to live with the parent they feel needs them, putting them in the role of a parent, which is unhealthy. Some children may choose to live with the parent who has more money. If courts approved these decisions, it would promote putting children where the money is—and not putting money where the children are.
Deciding Child Support
How Much Child Support?
The biggest factor in calculating child support is a formula based on how much each of the parents earn. Each state has its own child support guidelines that provide an estimate that is presumed to be sufficient. However, legal arguments can move the court to deviate from the guidelines under certain circumstances.
Some of the most common factors that generally warrant deviation from the established child support guidelines may include:
- When a parent has extraordinary travel or other expenses relating to parenting
- When a child has special needs, aptitudes, or extraordinary medical expenses
- When an application of the guidelines would result in a gross disparity in the standard of living
Both parents are ordinarily ordered to share the cost of child’s uninsured medical expenses and extracurricular activities.
Child Support Cases Are Handled Locally
Child support laws are the same across the state, but it is critical to work with a family law firm that is familiar with the individual counties, courts and judges. Judges have their own beliefs and preferences when it comes to child support. Because we assign our attorneys to different regions of the court system, we are familiar with judges in your local court and can help predict results based on our in-depth knowledge.
Make Sure the Child Support Calculations Work in Your Favor
Child support calculations, while they appear straightforward, can be easily manipulated. There are a number of different ways to calculate income, percentage of parenting time and dependency exemptions. Evaluate the percent of time that the children are with you. Is it accurate? Calculate the amount of time shared by hours instead of days; you’ll find the number may be more accurate.
Choose the Best Lawyer for Your Child Support Case
Our Massachusetts family law attorneys pride themselves on thinking outside of the box and making compelling arguments for upward or downward modifications in child support. Our ability to analyze financial information and incorporate this data into legal arguments makes us especially persuasive in child support cases. When a spouse is self-employed or makes it difficult to track down his or her true income, we look at every factor and present creative legal arguments.
In one case, we may argue that because you are paying for your child’s private school tuition, your support payments should be less than what the guidelines suggest. In another case, we may document to the court how you are constantly spending money on everyday items your children should have and how your former spouse is not using the support you pay for the proper reasons.
Generally speaking, alimony, also referred to as spousal support, is money paid by the higher income-earning spouse to the lesser earning spouse. Alimony is tax-deductible for the spouse who pays. The recipient must report the support amount as taxable income. Very often, two spouses have completely different viewpoints about alimony—including whether or not it is appropriate, how much should be paid (or received) and for how long. If you expect spousal support to become an issue in your divorce case, it is important to make sure you hire a Massachusetts divorce lawyer who is well experienced in handling complicated alimony disputes.
Courts consider several factors when determining the amount of alimony to award. The rule of thumb is that alimony should amount to 30 to 35 percent of the difference between the spouses’ gross incomes, but other factors the court may consider include length of the marriage and the age and health of both parties. What constitutes income for purposes of calculating alimony is the same as that used for determining child support under the child support guidelines. However, when a spouse is under-employed or unemployed, the judge can attribute income and make orders based on how much that spouse could or should be earning.
How Long Is Alimony Paid?
The question is often asked, but answers may vary. Given the Alimony Reform Act in Massachusetts, there are time limits designated for each type of alimony: general term, rehabilitative, reimbursement and transitional.
Deciding Property Division
In Massachusetts, divorce laws dictate how property and debt is divided. Each state follows the equitable distribution statute, which means that marital assets are divided equitably, but not necessarily equally. Judges consider more than 20 factors to determine what equitable means in each particular case. These factors include length of the marriage, age of the parties, contribution to the acquisition and preservation of assets during the marriage, contribution as a homemaker and financial conduct—including issues of asset dissipation by spending money on gambling, drugs or an extramarital affair.
Property Division Begins by Taking a Full Inventory of All Assets
You should include any asset, held by either spouse or acquired during the marriage, including:
- Retirement plans
- Pension plans
- Deferred compensation
- Stock options
- Bonus compensation
- Club memberships
- Brokerage accounts
- Bank accounts
- Family-owned businesses
- Medical practices
- Real estate
- Tax refunds
Our Divorce Lawyers Excel in Property Division Cases
We consult industry-leading experts, including forensic accountants and others, when determining the value of assets in a marital estate. We have experience uncovering hidden assets and tracing financial records to understand how your finances were handled during your marriage. No type of property division case is too complicated for us to take on. We protect your financial interests at every turn.
When You Divorce, Don’t Forget to Divide These Marital Assets
- Wine collections
- Fine art and antiques
- Income tax refunds
- Money loaned to others
- Gifts given to each other during the marriage
Beware of Spouses Who Hide Money Through Their Job or Business
This is often done by the spouse who will likely have to pay child support or alimony. He or she will complain about his or her poor financial condition. This strategy may be done as an attempt to lower the support payment by:
- Deferring income until after the divorce
- Living off expense accounts
- Storing vacation time, sick days or personal days for future payment
- Creating fake loans that are listed as debts on their financial statements
- Only reporting partial bonuses
You Only Have One Chance to Divide Property When You Get Divorced
Dividing marital property is almost always a one-shot deal. Thinking that your outcome was unfair is not enough to reopen your judgment. To successfully appeal a division of property ruling, you have to clear a very high bar. To be successful, you must convince the divorce court that a mistake was made when considering the facts of the case. Alternatively, you may have to prove fraud or duress.
Contact Our Massachusetts Divorce Lawyers Today
Dividing property and debt is one of the things we do best in divorce cases. Discover why our clients return to us and recommend us to their friends. Call us or contact us online for an initial case evaluation. We also invite you to start finding answers by reviewing our FAQ section or learning about the Massachusetts Divorce Courts.
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