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FAMILY LAW FAQ

Divorce

 

Many couples simply cannot work things out amongst themselves and find the need for a fresh-start. The average marriage in the United States lasts about 8 years. In fact, about 50% of the married couples will get a divorce. Divorces are court judgments which legally terminate a marriage. Divorces are very common, and we are here to help you navigate throughout this complicated process.

What issues can I encounter during my Divorce?

There are many issues which may or may not apply to you during a divorce. Some of the issues that need to be decided in a divorce are:

  • custody of children

  • support of children

  • parenting time or visitation with the children

  • division of assets (for example, pensions, bank accounts or stocks)

  • alimony (or support for the spouse)

  • division of personal property (that is, who will get which personal property, such as the car or furniture)

  • division of real property (what will happen to any real estate including the marital home)

  • who gets to live in the marital home

  • division of debts (for example, credit cards or electric bills)

  • taking back the name you had before you got married

  • possibly, an order for protection from abuse.

 

Do I need a lawyer to get divorced?

No, but it is recommended that you do have a competent attorney handle your case. The truth is, your rights may be compromised if you do not have an attorney handling your case. If you own assets such as a house, car, or bank accounts, having an attorney insures your rights are protected. In most cases, the price of hiring an attorney is justified by the amount of money you could lose during a divorce. Contact Georges Cote for a consultation so that an attorney can review your case and guide you every step of the way.

 

Do I need a reason to divorce my spouse?

No. You may elect to choose a reason or “grounds” to divorce your spouse; however, we recommend that you do not because your divorce case is a public record. We at Georges Cote, carefully choose to craft your divorce case in order to shield your private life from the potential public eye. We recommend filing for a “no-fault” divorce. A no-fault divorce is a divorce in which the marriage is broken beyond repair and neither spouse blames the other. We call this term an “Irretrievable Breakdown of Marriage”.

 

There are two type of irretrievable breakdowns:

 

 1A--Irretrievable Breakdown, both parties participate:

By Agreement each party swears in an affidavit (a written statement made under oath that the marriage has irretrievably broken down), and files that affidavit with a Joint Petition for Divorce, and a notarized Separation Agreement. 

For more information about the process see these articles in our Self-Help Guide for victims of domestic violence.

 

1B--Irretrievable Breakdown, only one party files:

One spouse files a Complaint for Divorce claiming "Irretrievable Breakdown of Marriage." Whether or not the other party agrees,the plaintiff (the person filing for divorce) can have a hearing no sooner than six months after filing the Complaint. No affidavit or Separation Agreement is required.

 

Where can I file for Divorce?

 

You can file for divorce in Massachusetts, if you meet the following criteria:

 

  • if you have lived here for a year, or

  • if the conduct that is the reason for divorce occurred in Massachusetts and you have lived as a married couple in Massachusetts, regardless of where your spouse now lives, or even if his address is unknown.

  • You file a divorce in the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court in the county where you and your spouse last lived together if either of you still lives in that county. If neither of you lives in the county where you last lived together, you may file in the county where you live, or you may file in the county where he or she lives.

How much are the filing fees for a divorce?

The court charges a fee to file a divorce and get a summons ( the paper you serve your spouse with which requires their attendance in court).  The filing fee is $220.00. Additionally, you will have to pay a constable to serve your spouse, unless it is an uncontested 1A divorce, which may vary in prices. Usually, constable charge around $30.00 to $80.00 for service.

Can my spouse pay for my divorce?

In some cases, yes. If the spouse you are divorcing makes most or all of the income, you may be awarded attorney fees to pay for the divorce. You do not need your spouses permission to get a divorce or pay for your divorce, and a judge will make a determination of whether or not you should be provided money for an attorney. Contact Georges Cote for a consultation and we can explain whether or not you qualify to have your attorney fees paid by the other spouse.

How much does a lawyer charge for a divorce?

It depends. At our office we offer one time flat-fees for certain types of divorces; others may require an hourly retainer.

 

 

ALIMONY

What is Alimony?

Alimony is when one spouse is ordered by the court to pay his spouse in need of financial support.  When you are divorcing or divorced, you can ask for alimony.

 

Who can ask for Alimony?

Either you or your spouse, or both, can ask for alimony at the time of divorce. Also, if the original divorce judgment did not mention alimony at all, you can file a complaint for alimony for the first time at any time after your divorce.

How much Alimony can I receive?

 

It depends, Judges at the Family and Probate Courts usually look at the following factors in order to make a decision:

  • length of the marriage

  • age of the parties

  • health of the parties

  • income

  • employment and employability of both parties

  • economic contributions during the marriage

  • other non-economic forms of  contributions during the marriage

  • marital lifestyle

  • ability of each party to maintain the marital lifestyle

  • lost economic opportunities as a result of the marriage or its termination

There are different types of Alimony, however, as a general rule, the amount of alimony should generally not be more than the receiving spouse’s need or 30 to 35 percent of the difference between the parties gross incomes established at the time of the order being issued. 

What are the court fees for alimony?

If you are asking for alimony for the first time after you divorce, the fees are:

$100 Complaint for Alimony

$15 Surcharge

$5 Summons fee

Plus fees to the sheriff or constable for service and attorneys fees, if applicable.

Where do I file a complaint for Alimony or for modification of existing Alimony order?

You must file in the county where the alimony was originally granted, usually where you were divorced.  For example, if you lived in Suffolk County when alimony was first ordered, but you now live in Essex and the defendant now lives in Plymouth County, you must file in Suffolk Probate and Family Court.

 

Do I need an attorney if I want to receive Alimony?

It is not impossible but very difficult to obtain an Alimony order on your own. Given the fact that you could be entitled to tens of thousands of dollars over a period of time, hiring an attorney could make a significant difference in your case. Please call us and schedule a consultation if you would like more information on Alimony or on your specific case.

CHILD CUSTODY

 

It can be a difficult time in your life when you separate or get a divorce, especially if you have children. Our lawyers will do everything in their power to zealously represent you and fight for your rights as a parent.

 

Who can file for child custody?

Either or both parents can file for sole or shared custody in Massachusetts.

If the parents are unmarried, the father must first establish paternity before seeking custody of his child. A judge may establish paternity if one parent files for paternity in court, or if both parents sign and file a voluntary acknowledgement form, which the father may have already signed when the child was born. 

 

Who has child custody before going to court?

If the parents are unmarried — The mother has sole legal and physical custody of her child until a court orders otherwise.

 

If the parents are married — Both parents share legal custody of the child and equal rights to parenting time until a court orders otherwise or they agree on a parenting schedule/plan that's approved by the court. This means that both you and your spouse have equal rights to make major decisions about your child’s life. This may change after a court hearing on custody. 

 

What will a child custody order decide?

One or both parents can ask the court to make decisions for them by seeking a court order for custody and parenting time.  A court child custody order can decide:

 

The parenting schedule, which will include details of how much time the child physically resides with each parent. This can be referred to as parenting time or physical custody.

 

How the parents make important decisions for the child, which is called legal custody.

The court will always consider what is in the best interest of the child to make its decision. This means that the judge will focus on what is best for the child, not what is best for either parent.

How can I change my existing child custody order?

One parent can ask for a change (called a modification) in custody or parenting time, or if both parents agree on the change, they can request the change together. Modifications are usually granted if they are in the best interests of the children.

 

Parents can rely on the experience of the Massachusetts Family Law Attorneys at Georges Cote Law in obtaining child custody judgments. We fight hard to make the system work for our clients.  Contact us today for a consultation.

 

 

CHILD SUPPORT

What is Child Support?

Child support is financial support, otherwise known as “money” which one parent pays to another parent. The parent who does not live with the children pays the parent who lives with and takes care of the children or child for most of the time. The parent who lives with the child and is eligible to receive Child Support, is called the “custodial parent”. The custodial parent is entitled to money from the other parent to pay for the child’s needs such as housing, health insurance, education, food, clothing, etc…

 

Do I have to be married to receive Child Support?

Absolutely not. It does not matter if you are divorced, married, separated, or never married, you can always receive support if you are the “custodial parent” (the parent who lives with the child or children for most of the time).

How do I apply for child support?

You would have to file in a court that has jurisdiction to hear your case. Jurisdiction means a court that has the “authority” to listen and make rulings in your case. For example, if you live in Boston, you could ask a judge in Suffolk Probate and Family Court for Child Support. Our attorneys at Georges Cote will help you every step of the way, please contact us for more information.

 

How much Child Support will I have to pay?

It depends. Usually, they are based on a formula the courts use called the “Child Support Guidelines”. This formula takes into account how much one parent makes and how much the other parent makes and allocates an amount based on the difference of incomes. Sometimes, in rare cases, the judge will not follow the Child Support Guidelines and allocate a different order, solely based on the needs of the child or children. This is called a “deviation” from the Child Support Guidelines.

If I do not work, will I have to pay Child Support?

Usually, yes. The minimal amount of Child Support is usually $80 a month from one parent to another. Additionally, if a parent is able to work and unemployed, a judge may attribute income to that parent. An attribution of income is when a judge finds that one parent is able to work but chooses not to on purpose. Theoretically, the amount of child support would be based on the amount the judge finds the payor parent able to make.

 

If I have children with another person, will I still have to pay Child Support?

Yes, absolutely. The amount you pay the other child of another marriage will be applied when the judge determines the amount you owe. You will still owe child support however to all children you have. The judge uses a special formula called the  Child Support Guidelines which takes into consideration the amount you pay in child support to children of another parent.

 

How long do I have to pay Child support for?

In Massachusetts, you may be obligated to pay child support until your child is 23, however, you obligation to pay usually ends when the child is 21. The court can order a parent to pay child support if the child is between 18 and 21 if the child lives with the custodial parent and is mainly dependent on that parent for there maintenance.  The court can order you to pay child support until the child is 23, however, the child must be mainly dependant on one parent and currently enrolled in a full time education program.

 

How can I stop paying child support or pay less?

You would need to file for a “modification” of your existing Child Support order. You would need to convince a judge that your existing child support order warrants a change. Usually, if one or both parents have a change of income, you will be granted a modification of your existing order.

 

Can I stop paying child support if my child is 18? 

No. Absolutely not. You would have to file a “complaint for modification” to terminate your obligation to the other custodial parent. We suggest you contact one of our attorneys at Georges Cote to assist you. This is a very complicated process, and we do not recommend you attack this problem on your own. If you are found in violation of a Child Support order, you could be found in “contempt of court” which could mean big fines or jail time. Additionally, if you owe more than 2,000.00 in back Child Support, also called “arrears”, the Department of Revenue may suspend your driver’s license and cancel your passport.

 

I owe Child Support arrears; can I settle my case to pay a lower amount?

In most cases, yes. Sometimes, an agreement can be worked out with the other parent, to pay a lesser amount than what is owed in back Child Support or arrears. In some cases, if the parent receiving the Child Support was receiving state or federal aid such as welfare or food stamps, the amount owed cannot be lowered  unless D.O.R agrees. At Georges Cote we have negotiated many “arrears” cases with D.O.R. for pennies on the dollar of what is owed. Please contact our office for an appointment. 

 

Please call us for a free consultation so that we can can provide more information for your divorce or family law matter.

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