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Massachusetts Divorce Law Monitor

What you never thought you'd need to know about divorce

NFL Sheds Spotlight on Domestic Violence

Posted in Domestic Violence

Hi there,

I wrote a post in July on domestic violence referencing the Ray Rice situation. At that time I had only seen the first video showing the aftermath. The second video is even more shocking (viewer discretion advised). However, viewing the first video left no doubt in my mind as to what had happened in that elevator. I am glad that the Ravens and Roger Goodell decided to penalize Rice for real, but disappointed as to how much it took to get there.

It is good to have this discussion in public, because often it isn’t public. If it weren’t for the casino’s security cameras, I doubt that Mrs. Rice would have done anything in response to her attack. And the next time it happens, or the time after that, there will be very real damage.

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. As such, and in light of the recent NFL situations, a blog in California recently published some astonishing and scary statistics about domestic violence. Statistics and experience show that it does not occur just against women. And I know anecdotally from 35 years of practice that it is very under-reported by men. We’ve come a long way in those 35 years, from the shrug and the “it’s just a family matter” then, to the shock and penalties now. The state of Massachusetts has even created a new Domestic Violence Law that requires employers to give domestic violence leaves of absence to affected employees.

I hope the hype surrounding the Rices and the NFL will continue to keep the spotlight on a real problem.

Best,

Nancy

Rehabilitative Alimony: A Big Change

Posted in Alimony and Child Custody, Court Decisions

Hi there,

On August 1, 2014, the Supreme Judicial Court rendered its second decision (no doubt of many) on the cases coming in on the new Alimony Reform Act.  The case is an appeal from a decision of Justice Amy Blake, who has just been elevated to the Appeals Court.  The opinion in Zaleski v. Zaleski was written by Judge Fernande Duffly, who has been a domestic relations practitioner, a Probate Court Judge and now a Supreme Judicial Court Justice. She is the only one on the SJC to have a background in family law; as a result her opinions are extremely helpful.

This case makes four major points:

  1. The Probate and Family Court judges still have great, even expanded discretion.
  2. Even if general term alimony is possible, in certain circumstances the judge can limit it to rehabilitative alimony.
  3. If the Court orders a party to maintain life insurance, the insurance required must have a relationship to the parties’ financial obligation
  4. All income, including bonuses, must be included in the alimony calculation.

Rehabilitative alimony can only last for 5 years. General term alimony in the circumstances of the Zaleski case would have lasted 13 years.  This decision makes it very clear that the judge does have discretion to look at the circumstances of the case, including the wife’s prior earning and employment history, and order rehabilitative alimony. Unsaid but implied is the factual question: If the wife cannot find employment, or can only find poorly paying employment, then she can seek to modify for the longer term.

With a new law as far reaching as this, no case can answer every question. This case does leave very open the disparity between the wife’s prior highest earnings ($170,000) and the husband’s earnings,  (base $400,000, bonuses in the $200,000 – $300,000 range). If the wife does manage to become reemployed at a similar salary, then she might be able to argue based on her need and the husband’s continued high earnings that she receives general term alimony based on a calculation that includes her income.

I am sure there will be more cases to come as the courts and the divorce bar come to grips with the major changes wrought by the Alimony Reform Act.

Best,

Nancy

Lawyers, Legalese and Latin: Why Lawyers Are Such Language Junkies

Posted in Divorce Process, Domestic Violence, Miscellaneous

Hi there,

I think of myself as a down-to-earth person,  but I unthinkingly use language that is the opposite. I blame this on my law school education, although I think lawyers self-select with a love of language and words.

Last week’s post was titled “Domestic Violence Redux.”  It wasn’t until I was asked for the meaning of “redux” that I realized how arcane the normal language of the law can be. So with no further ado a dictionary, of sorts, of the more commonly used legalese you may hear your attorney using in your divorce or other matters.

  • Redux = revisited
  • Pro se = a litigant is by himself, no counsel
  • Guardian ad litem = a guardian for the purposes of the litigation, commonly referred to as a GAL
  • Propounded, as in “we propounded interrogatories” = “we asked”
  • Interrogatories = written questions to be answered under oath in a set time frame
  • Pro bono = literally means “for good.” Lawyers do a lot of pro bono work for free or reduced fees generally representing folks who can’t afford lawyers, and also when writing briefs for causes the lawyers believe are good
  • Res judicata = already decided in this case, so can’t be litigated again
  • Stare decisis = settled law, which of course is never really settled as law is always changing
  • Mens rea = criminal intent, not usually an issue in family law
  • Res ipsa loquitor = the thing speaks for itself, generally used in personal injury

Many of these terms came from Roman Law through British Common Law to our present day law. I hope they’re helpful!

Best,

Nancy