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Massachusetts Divorce Law Monitor

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

Cost-Benefit Analysis of Experts in the Divorce Process

Posted in Divorce Process, Finances and Divorce

Hi there,

From start to finish there is no question that divorce is expensive. Sometimes it is a juggling act; do you spend the money for  the expensive expert or do you agree on a shared one? Or do you skip an expert altogether (which can be dangerous)? The most commonly needed experts, outside of parenting matters, are residential real estate appraisers, business valuation experts, commercial real estate appraisers, defined benefit pension valuation experts, and forensic accountants.

If money is tight – and no matter how much you have, money is tight when you are in the process of divorcing – maybe you can share the costs of a joint expert. This is often a plausible idea for residential real estate because there is a common sense way to reality-check the results. Most folks have a reasonable idea of their residential real estate values, thanks to Zillow.com and your town assessor’s office.

It also makes economic sense to share the cost of the actuary doing the defined benefit pension valuation. There generally will be some form of information from the pension provider which also will provide a good reality check.

But, if it is at all possible, you should have your own expert to value a closely held business. Business valuations are complex and the reality check often comes in the comparisons of  2 competing valuations. This is also true of commercial real estate of any significance. The way to save money here is to, before hiring them, make sure your expert is willing to sit down with the expert for your spouse and try to reach an agreement on the values. If the appraisals come in too far apart to compromise the number then the experts need to sit down and discuss their assumptions and methodology. The good ones can generally work things out if they are allowed to. This is something the court will encourage you to do as well. At the very least this will save you the costs of prepping the expert for trial and prepping for the cross of the other expert, and at a minimum it will save a day of trial costs too.

Obviously, if you need the services of a forensic accountant, this is not something that you can share with the other side. This need arises when the disclosed income or expenses of your spouse do not match what you believe the reality is. Often it arises in a cash business, and this can be tricky as there may be tax implications and concerns that arise from undisclosed income. It is critical to quantify the amount of income or assets you believe are hidden before you hire the accountant. The cost of doing a forensic analysis can be extremely high.

In any case, be sure to discuss with your attorneys the cost-benefit analysis of your needs and options for experts – before an expert is hired.



Grandparent Visitation During and After Divorce

Posted in Divorce Process, Parenting, Children & Divorce

Hi there,

Fireworks grandfather grandchildI hope all of you are enjoying the weather this beautiful Fourth of July week. I took the week off to help care for my grandkids  – there is nothing better!

I cannot imagine how tough it must be as a grandparent to find yourself in the position of having to ask a judge for time with your grandchildren. Thankfully, in most cases grandparents see their grandchildren when the kids are in the custody of their parent (the grandparent’s child), but not always.

If you are one of those unfortunate grandparents, here is a very good article by my partner, Robin Lynch Nardone, which recently appeared on examiner.com:

“Massachusetts law allows grandparents to seek visitation rights with their unmarried, minor grandchildren in certain circumstances. General Law Chapter 119, Section 39D provides that if the child’s parents are divorced, living apart under a temporary court order, if one or both parents is deceased, or if the parents were never married (but paternity has been established) and the parents are living apart, a court may give a grandparent reasonable visitation if it is in the best interests of the child. Interestingly, when the parents are living together, they can make the decision to deny a grandparent access to the grandchild and the grandparent has no recourse. But, once a divorce is initiated, a grandparent gains access under the law to ask the court to grant visitation rights.

A Petition for Grandparent Visitation will be allowed only if there is a showing of a significant preexisting relationship between the grandparent and child such that visitation is in the best interests of the child, or, in the absence of such preexisting relationship, where the visitation is necessary to protect the child from significant harm. To succeed in obtaining visitation, the grandparent must prove that the failure to grant visitation will cause the child significant harm by adversely affecting the child’s health, safety or welfare. A detailed affidavit must accompany the Petition, describing the nature of the involvement and relationship between the grandparent and the granchild; the circumstances surrounding either the curtailment or termination of contact; a description of current level of contact, if any; and a statement describing the significant harm to the child’s health, safety, or welfare likely to be suffered by the child if visitation is not ordered. That affidavit is key to success in a grandparent visitation action.”



Body Language in Court

Posted in Divorce Process

Hi there,

Copyright: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/profile_xalanx'>xalanx / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

The perfect example… of what not to do.

Summer is almost here (thank goodness!), and instead of my usual rant on what NOT to wear to court I thought I’d write about body language in court.

Body language and facial expression are more important than you might think. Most first impressions are made in the first few seconds, and in that time it’s how you look and convey yourself that counts. A calm demeanor translates as trustworthy and believable.

When you are in court is not the time to appear angry, frustrated or furious, even though you may legitimately feel all of these emotions. Displaying these negative emotions can come across as a lack of self control, which usually is not a good thing. A party who has been abused can believably show fear in subtle body language. Anyone who cries legitimately at a tough moment on the witness stand can be moving. But these may be the only overtly emotional poses that will not be held against you.

One of the worst things you can do in court is show exaggerated disbelief, roll your eyes, sigh deeply, or shake your head when your soon-to-be ex or her attorney is speaking. Don’t succumb to temptation and do any of this – you will hurt no one but yourself. In these instances lack of expression is better than exaggerated expression.

If you are accompanied by friends or family (and another point: bring no more than an entourage of two well-behaved folks, EVER), be sure they understand courtroom etiquette – self control and a lack of emotion are of great importance.

When your attorney or your ex’s attorney are speaking to the judge, be calm and listen expressionlessly. Jerking your attorney’s elbow and furiously whispering in her ear translates as controlling and over-anxious, and may cause the judge to disregard your position.

All of this can be very hard to do when it’s your money and your kid’s future on the line, and you are asked to appear calm, detached and dispassionate. Think of it as an opportunity to convey silently how serious you are and how respectful you are. It’s your contribution to a well-thought-out performance by your attorney.