Can I Protect My Pension From My Soon-to-be Ex?

MA adopts the position that ALL assets of the parties (individual and marital) are put on the table for distribution at time of divorce. Many states honor “separate property” doctrine at time of divorce–that is property the parties’ owned before marriage or in their name only — but MA does not.  So, any pension in place during the time of marriage is subject to division. Its very hard to get away from the strict letter of the law when it comes to pensions; however, you and your spouse are free to negotiate and make any arrangement you want, that is acceptable to the Court, if you settle your divorce by agreement.  You can negotiate the distribution of assets (including pension funds), custody, child support, alimony–ALL OF IT. You can have a lawyer draft an divorce agreement which addresses all the issues that must be addressed, present it to the Court and once approved, the Agreement will be incorporated into the final judgment of divorce and those will be the orders you will live by thereafter.

Your spouse my waive the right to her share of the pension funds in exchange for something or for nothing in return. It’s the spouse’s right to waive. If she is truly willing to make the transition as painless as possible she might consider waiving her interest in the pension, or exchanging it for some benefit she wants, such as paying for college for the kids or keeping the marital home–this, of course, should be based on the value of the pension assets she is waiving. Typically, the spouse is entitled to half of the pension funds.

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Health insurance: You can voluntarily agree to continue the children’s health insurance after the divorce. In fact, if the spouse doesn’t have a comparable policy or if the children are dependent on your coverage for their insurance you may be ordered by the court to continue their coverage as part of the child support order.
Another thing you might want to consider is a separation agreement, if you and your spouse are not ready for a divorce but want to live apart. MA doesn’t recognize legal separation but does have provisions for separate support. This addresses living apart, the support for the children and possibly support for the spouse; it will NOT address distribution of marital assets or the divorce itself.  Separate Support judgments  in MA do not convert into divorce (as in some other states); if you decide you want a divorce, you would have to start an action distinct from the separation papers.

Hope this was helpful 🙂

Estela Matta, Esquire

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If giving up custody of my two children to my husband can I go back in several years and try to get custody?

caring father with childrenLet me correct you about certain assumptions your question seems to be making:
In today’s environment, “fault” is not necessary to prove against the other spouse to get a divorce. In other words, infidelity, cruelty, abandonment etc., does not have to be plead or proved to get a divorce, and frankly most lawyers do not file a fault based divorce because it only means more expense and time (though of course the option is still available). There are more difficult issues that have to be argued, such as custody, support and distribution of marital assets– which is where the modern divorce attorney should focus time and energy.
Children born to a married couple gives BOTH parents legal and physical custody rights unless and until a court of law says otherwise. So there is no need for you to “give up custody” of your children simply because your spouse is alleging or threatening to allege infidelity. The topic may never come up and the Court would rather focus on who is the appropriate parent to have physical custody of the minor children. The Court prefers to see shared legal custody and physical custody to one parent. So don’t be in too much of a hurry to give up your lawful rights to your children.
To answer your question: custody and all matter relating the the care of children can ALWAYS be revisited while the children or minors or in college when they are older (unless you surrender these rights through an adoption –which is non-reversible).
I suggest you consult with a Family Law attorney, including my own firm, and get the right information about what is likely to happen in a divorce action, and what rights you have unless you voluntarily give them up.

How Fast Can I Get A Divorce If I Can’t Locate My Spouse?

Respectfully, you seem to be a bit confused about the process involved in the dissolution of a marriage.  Lets start with: you cannot get a divorce if you cannot locate the other party. To begin the divorce process you must file a Complaint for Divorce with a court of competent jurisdiction (in Massachusetts, a Probate & Family court in the county where at least one of the parties resides).  The Complaint must be filed and SERVED on the other party.  Proof of service must be filed with the court. The court will then schedule a hearing (anywhere from 30 – 60 day later). But that is only the beginning…

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The fact that you “have no assets TOGETHER” is not controlling, since under MA law, ALL ASSETS of BOTH parties (whether held in joint title, owned before the marriage, acquired during the marriage or owned individually) are subject to distribution at the time of dissolution of the marriage.

Your first concern must be to locate the other party.  If he or she cannot be found and served, no court will allow the divorce to proceed–its a Constitutional requirement.

If the divorce is uncontested (which you cannot determine at this point because you have not conferred with the other party) the parties can file a joint petition for divorce, file an Agreement to be incorporated into the judgment of divorce, etc., that settle by stipulation all the issues the court will require be addressed in order to be satisfied that all the issues have been resolved by the parties voluntarily.  If the the other party objects (to either the divorce itself or any of the proposed terms) the matter will have to be litigated in court.  There are innumerable permutations that can occur if the other party objects.  Notwithstanding the fact that today parties have the option of filing under “irretrievable  breakdown of the marriage”  –essentially a “no fault” provision, marriage is a special type of contract and the State and the Court take the dissolution very seriously. A judgment of divorce can be entered anywhere from 60 days to several years after the action has been commenced.

Can I back out of divorce/separation agreement?

An agreement isn’t binding until a judge signs and enters it. If you find, after consideration and possibly advice of independent counsel, that the terms and conditions enclosed in the Agreement are not tolerable or include things you feel you can not live with, then do not passively allow it to happen to you.  Once the Agreement is entered into the court and made into an Order, you are bound by it. But, you can stop it at any time before that.  (There are ways to open the Agreement and modify certain terms and/or conditions, but they are difficult and costly.)

An Agreement memorializes the things the parties want and agreed to.  If you don’t agree, then its pointless.  Step back from an Agreement that does not represent what you agree to.  Don’t be bullied or coerced into signing.  If you signed it already, you have a last chance at the final hearing to express to the Court that you did not willing sign the Agreement.

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Whether you live in an equitable distribution state or a community property state, property (personal and marital) can be put on the chopping block for distribution. The time and money and effort you put into the marriage  has a quantifiable value. I think every party should fight for their fair share.

You should retain a lawyer and fight for the things you are entitled to receive. The short answer to your question is: YES.

 

How to Find Your Spouse’s Hidden Assets.

What ever happened to that collection of priceless sports memorabilia? What did she do with all the expensive jewelry you gave her over the years?  Are you shocked that your soon-to-be-Ex’s Sworn Financial Disclosure Statement didn’t mention that 2nd IRA you know he has?

Divorcing spouses in all states can use powerful legal tools, called “discovery,” to help them find hidden income and other assets when they are in the midst of a divorce or child support action.

Any court action that will ultimately involve a court order for distribution or payment of money will require financial disclosure statements.  The first step in dividing assets during a divorce is to create a complete financial picture of all of the assets owned by each spouse. Generally, these assets will be categorized as “marital” (property acquired during the marriage), “separate” (property acquired before the marriage, after separation, or by gift or inheritance), or “comingled” (where you’ve mixed marital and separate property together, for example, in a bank account or retirement fund). These are general definitions; the laws of your particular state will dictate exactly how property is characterized.

Even though you may not have ownership rights in your spouse’s separate property, it’s important to account for all of it because (depending on your state’s laws) a court may consider the value of both spouses’ separate property when deciding how to divide marital property and debts.

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Finding Assets When You’re the “Out-Spouse”

If your spouse handled the bookkeeping during your marriage, and you played little to no part in tracking finances, you are what some attorneys refer to as the “out-spouse.” This simply means that you don’t have immediate access to or knowledge of financial information, but your spouse does.

If you’re the “out-spouse,” your first course of action should be to simply ask your spouse for copies of all financial records. If your spouse can and will produce all records, the information gathering process might not be too painful. Alas, this is rarely the case. Sometimes, your spouse simply can’t find the records. If so, the two of you can work together to gather information. With online access to just about everything nowadays, it’s easy to get account records. You can also send joint requests for records to mortgage companies, banks, retirement plan administrators, and other third parties.

Unfortunately, many spouses refuse to produce information because they’re hiding assets. Finding hidden assets in divorce can be challenging, especially for non-attorneys. This article explains what a basic search should entail, but we’re not suggesting that you should conduct every search yourself.

If you believe your spouse is hiding assets, you may want to contact an attorney with experience in asset search and investigation. Even if you don’t suspect your spouse is hiding assets, it’s wise to consult with an attorney to ensure you’re asking the right questions and if appropriate, using the discovery methods listed below.

The Divorce Discovery Process

If you don’t think your spouse will voluntarily disclose all financial information in your divorce, you or your attorney will need to use a formal, legal process to get information and documents. Attorneys and judges refer to this as the “discovery process.” The discovery process provides several methods of getting information, which vary slightly from state to state, but for the most part include all of the following:

Document demands. Your attorney can ask your spouse to produce specific documents, such as tax returns, financial statements, loan applications, and account records.

Written questions called “interrogatories” or “requests for admission.” Using these discovery tools, your spouse must answer questions in writing, or admit specific statements that you believe are true.

Inspection demands. You can ask to inspect property like a safe deposit box or wine collection.

Testimony given under oath. In what’s called an oral deposition, you, your spouse, and your lawyers appear before a court reporter; your spouse is sworn to tell the truth and must answer questions asked by your attorney.

The discovery process is a good way to get financial information from an uncooperative spouse because the court has the power to compel compliance. For example, if your spouse fails to produce documents, you can ask a judge to order your spouse to do so. If your spouse disobeys the order, a court may punish your spouse by imposing a “sanction,” which can include monetary fines or even a judgment against your spouse on a particular issue.

A deposition is a particularly good way to get information from a dishonest spouse. Anyone who lies under oath during a deposition can be charged with perjury. This may be just the right kind of pressure your spouse needs to tell the truth about hidden assets. Typically, you should wait to depose your spouse until you’ve obtained some financial records. This way you can ask your spouse questions about records and information you’ve already examined.

What to Ask For During Discovery

You should ask for documents and information relating to assets, income, debts and liabilities. Don’t forget that assets come in different forms. Tangible assets include cash and other hard assets that can be sold or liquidated like the family residence, cars, jewelry, fine art, a wine collection, and other personal property. Intangible assets include assets such as savings accounts, checking accounts, brokerage accounts, retirement accounts, stocks and stock options, investment income, royalties, copyrights, and patents. So be sure to request a wide variety of records including receipts, loan documents, deeds, title records, account statements, stock certificates, subscription agreements, royalty agreements, tax documents, and W-2 forms.

Start with the tax return

If you’re the “out-spouse,” you probably weren’t preparing or reviewing tax returns during the marriage. It’s essential you examine these during a divorce. Some important areas of a return are covered below. But don’t stop here—tax laws and accounting issues are complex. It’s important to consult a tax advisor if there are complicated tax issues in your divorce.

Form 1040: Income from wages. As discussed in more detail below, this is where you’ll find income from all reported sources, including wages, salaries, tips, interest income, dividends, business income, capital gains, IRA distributions, pensions and annuities, unemployment compensation, and social security.

Form 1040: Interest and dividend income. Income-earning investments like bonds, bank CDs, savings accounts, money market accounts or loans made as a lender will show up here. It’ll also show dividend income like income paid to stock shareholders. If either the interest or dividend income exceeds $400, a Schedule B should be attached that will identify the source of the income.

Form 1040: Retirement plan distributions. Distributions (money received) from a deferred-compensation plan or IRA account are listed on the 1040. If there were distributions, ask where the funds went.

Carryforwards. A “carryforward” is an IRS or state income tax rule that allows taxpayers to save an unused deduction, credit, or loss and use it in a later tax year. For example, you may “carryforward” charitable donations that exceed 50% of your income and apply these in another tax year. Similarly, if you exceed the yearly limit for contributions to your child’s 529 college savings plan by say $2000, you may be able to carryforward the $2000 and use it as a deduction in a later year. These types of credits should be accounted for in the property division.

Refunds. Review old returns to find previous tax refunds. Sometimes a spouse who anticipates a divorce will intentionally overpay taxes for a previous year, expecting to get the entire reimbursement after the divorce is final.

Schedule A: Itemized deductions. This is where itemized deductions are entered including any state and local taxes paid on income, real estate and personal property. These payments may be related to hidden assets located (or income generated) in another state. For example, if your spouse paid property taxes for a property you weren’t aware of, you’ll need to learn the name on title, the purchase date, and the source of any payments on the property.

Schedule A: Miscellaneous deductions. Deductions here may include expenses for tax and, possibly, estate planning advice. If you didn’t know your spouse consulted a tax professional or estate planner, you may want to follow up directly with these individuals. Your search could uncover additional assets, such as a hidden trust.

Schedule B – Part III: Foreign accounts. In addition to the sources of dividend and interest income, Part III of Schedule B may contain a list of your spouse’s foreign accounts and trusts.

Schedule C: Profit or loss from business. Schedule C is used to report profit or loss from a business operated or a profession practiced as a sole proprietorship (a businesses owned by a single owner). Be sure to review the reported sales, expenses of the business, costs of goods sold and net income to get an idea of how your spouse’s business is doing.

Schedule E: Supplemental income and loss. Here you can find income-generating assets including

rental real estate

royalties from literary and artistic works such as music and books

royalties from copyrights, patents, and software

investments in partnerships and S-corporations, and

estates and trusts.

Loan applications and financial statements

Before approving a loan, a lending institution will ask for a completed application, copies of recent pay stubs, account records, and a signed declaration regarding all assets and debts. If your spouse applied for a loan, get a copy of the application as it might reveal hidden income or assets.

In addition, your spouse may have submitted a personal financial statement to a lender. A personal financial statement should include all assets, debts, income, and expenses. It’s basically a report from your spouse to the bank regarding all of his or her own finances and the marital estate. You should definitely ask your spouse (or the lender) for copies of all personal financial statements your spouse prepared.

Trace accounts and cash flow

Tracing (analyzing) accounts and cash flow during the marriage (tracing all money in and money out) may lead to the discovery of hidden assets. In order to perform a complete tracing, your attorney or accountant will need records for all accounts under one or both spouses’ names (whether held alone, jointly, or with a third person). This includes savings, checking, brokerage, trust accounts, and any other accounts used by either spouse during the marriage.

Get copies of cancelled checks and ask for copies of wire transfer documents, including authorization forms and wire instructions, to see if your spouse authorized any major transactions you weren’t aware of. Find out where the funds went. Did your spouse set up another personal account that holds a stash of cash? Did your spouse “gift” money to a relative or friend that your spouse will undoubtedly get back once the divorce is over? Did your spouse move money into a joint account with a third party? Tracing is a great way to uncover hidden assets.

Search for hidden bank accounts

You or your attorney can send a subpoena (a written request issued by the clerk of the court) to any bank where you suspect your spouse has an account. When subpoenaed properly, a bank is obligated to produce all records associated with your spouse’s name. If the bank fails to do so, it can be held in contempt of court.

Review account records carefully. Search for transactions into and out of known accounts. Look for unfamiliar account numbers. For example, if you find a large transfer into or out of your spouse’s account, check to see where the money came from or went. Banks typically list the name of the sending and receiving institutions and the last four digits of all accounts. If you find an unfamiliar account, you may have discovered a hidden asset. Follow up with a subpoena for records to that bank as well.

If you have questions about finding assets in your divorce case, you should contact an experienced family law attorney in your area for advice

Can My Husband & I Just Agree How We’ll Divide Our Property?

Verbal agreements between the parties are totally unenforceable in law. You must memorialize an agreement in writing and file it with the appropriate court. Any Settlement Agreement between the parties is subject to approval of the court.  In addition to certain statutory requirements, the Agreement must be “fair”, not entered into under duress and each party should have advice of independent counsel.  Retaining a counselor to draft, file and argue the matter in a court is the best course of action.  This is really not a time for self help.

MA does not recognize legal separations, but does have other provisions to protect the separated spouses. If you are contemplating a separation, consider a separate support petition.  This is will allow a couple to establish a support order for spouse and custodial parent, if you have children.  It will NOT  address distribution of property and does NOT dissolve the marriage.

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http://online-divorce-lawyer.com.au/tag/divorce-property-settlement/

http://www.avvo.com/attorneys/02110-ma-estela-matta-4257429.html

How is an inheritance treated in a divorce?

Generally, inheritances are not subject to equitable distribution because, by law, inheritances are not considered marital property. Instead, inheritances are treated as separate property belonging to the person who received the inheritance, and therefore may not be divided between the parties in a divorce.

However, state laws determine how an inheritance is treated in a divorce based upon how it was treated by the heir upon receipt of the asset(s).  If it’s “shared”, the rules vary greatly among the states. For instance, if the inheritance is deposited into a joint bank account and used for joint marital expenses (called “comingling of the inheritance”), the inheritance loses its immunity. Likewise, if the inheritance is used to make improvements to the primary residence, it may also lose its immunity.

Therefore, comingling is key — if this “separate property” is used in a way that benefits joint marital assets, the inheritance is no longer considered separate property, and may be subject to equal division upon divorce.

If this inheritance has never been commingled with marital assets, a divorcing spouse will have no right for inclusion in the distribution.

If the inheritance was acquired before the marriage, it is advisable to have a pre-nuptial agreement that specifies the property is not a joint or marital asset.  However, the same rules of comingling will still apply if the assets are joined with other marital funds or used as marital property.

This issue is fact-specific and subject to state law, so it is advisable to contact a  local divorce attorney to review your facts and circumstances to best advise you of your legal options.

I received a summon for a divorce, but nothing has happened since. What am I supposed to do?

The first thing you have to do is serve and file an Answer to the Complaint.  This should be done within 20 days of service of the summon and complaint.  If the time to answer has passed, you or an attorney can request an extension of time to answer.  failure to answer to the complaint could result in a default judgment of divorce against you.

One the issues have been joined (summon and complaint has been answered) you can make a motion for a temporary orders. You can also ask for temporary custody, child support (if you get the temporary custody order); and if circumstances permit, you may be able to get support for yourself–all pending the final dissolution of the marriage. A smart lawyer would have done that for you as soon as the divorce action was filed. Once an order is in place there will be no more game playing (or he does so at his own risk).

There are also required sworn financial disclosures that both parties must file. Lying on these financial disclosures is on pain and penalties of perjury.

There are many legal tools and procedures that an attorney would have already put into place to eliminate many of the issues you are concerned with.

If you do not have an attorney, your every effort should be to retain one—yesterday! Your legal costs can be paid by your husband, in some circumstance. Speak to a lawyer and s/he will know what to do for you and if they can get fees from the husband. Don’t waste another minute. Start calling lawyers today.

Does a legal separation freeze assets and debts at the time of filing?

The short answer is: NO

There are big difference between divorce and “separation”. MA does not have a provision for legal separation—only for Separate Support. Which means if you want to stay married but live apart, support orders can be entered which can include child custody and child support as well other provisions. However, the distribution of marital assets are not considered when a separate support application is filed with the Probate & Family court unless there is abandonment by the defendant spouse.

If you are concerned with treatment of property and assets should you and your spouse part ways, you are better off filing a Complaint for Divorce, which places an automatic stay on both parties restraining the sale, transfer, gifting or dissipation of assets or the further accrual of further marital debt to may have to be divided. 

Legal Separation is treated differently in different states.  MA does not have provisions for legal separation, while New York, on the other hand allows a legal separation to be converted into a divorce after a 12-month period.

You should consult with a local divorce attorney familiar with divorce and separation laws in your state about your concerns and rights.

As part of divorce, I agreed to pay half of college costs for kids. However, last year I declared bankruptcy Am I at all protected?

Your legal remedy is go file a Complaint for Modification of the Divorce Agreement immediately. Only the court can determine if you are absolved of this legal/contractual responsibility due to the bankruptcy. 

However, you should know  that when filing a Chapter 7 or 13 bankruptcy petition, an automatic stay provided by Bankruptcy Code section 362(a) immediately goes into effect which prohibits all creditors’ attempts to pursue collection of a claim against the debtor or against property of the debtor’s bankruptcy estate unless excepted.

Section 362(b) of the Code provides for certain exceptions, including many family law matters and domestic support obligations. On the other hand, some family law obligations may also be considered priority claims under Section 507(a)(1) of the Bankruptcy Code, entitled to a priority in payment in bankruptcy, specifically, Bankruptcy Code Section 362(b)(2)(A)(ii) provides:

The automatic stay created by a bankruptcy filing bars the commencement or continuation of most legal proceedings, but it has no effect on a proceeding for the establishment or modification of an order for a Domestic Support Obligation such as child support. 

In other words, the Bankruptcy code allows a modification of the child support order; however this still leaves a question of whether the terms under the divorce agreement in also covered by this. Typically, if you filed and received a discharge in a Chapter 13 case, you may be able to discharge property settlement obligations. It is likely that an agreement to pay for college would be in the nature of support, rather than property settlement, so the likely answer to your question is “No.”   However, only a court of competent jurisdiction allow you to modify your obligation under the Divorce Agreement.

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