Sunday, April 21, 2013

What will the Court do in a divorce when I prove that my spouse cheated?

Discovering that your spouse has been unfaithful can be an emotional disaster. To many people, this is a wrong that can never be corrected. It can destroy a marriage. People expect that infidelity will be punished by a Judge in a divorce and the innocent spouse will be rewarded by a favorable property division or alimony as a result. Some people think that a person who commits adultery should not have custody of children. While the actions of the courts vary depending on the specific facts of a case, usually, a Massachusetts Court will do very little when adultery is proved.

Grounds for Divorce

Massachusetts is a no-fault divorce state. There is no advantage to filing a fault grounds divorce if the other party will appear in the divorce action. While Massachusetts allows a divorce on the grounds of adultery, Judges will encourage parties to change the divorce to no-fault. If a divorce is filed on the grounds of adultery, a motion must be filed to name the third party who participated in the infidelity. Judges will deny this motion as soon as it is filed.

Alimony and Property Division

Alimony and property division in a divorce require a Judge to consider many factors. There is no factor specifically addressing marital fidelity. One of the factors is "conduct of the parties during the marriage." Certainly cheating should be considered wrongful conduct. However, it is hard to imagine a marriage where the only conduct by one party was bad conduct. Usually every person has good conduct and bad conduct during a relationship. The Judge must consider all conduct, good and bad. As a result, it is rare that a person has behaved so badly during a marriage that it has a significant affect on the outcome. Massachusetts divides marital property under a concept of equitable division. I have never heard a Judge describe any part of equitable division as including the concept of punishing a party for bad behavior.

Sometimes when Infidelity occurs one spouse has established an on-going relationship with a third party. Sexual infidelity may be a part of this relationship. Another part of the relationship may be using marital resources to benefit the third party. Expensive gifts or trips can constitute a diversion of marital assets. If spending of substantial money to conduct the affair or benefit the paramour occurred, then a Judge may be expected to take the expenditure into account when dividing assets. It is not the sexual acts that impact the property division, it is the spending of money.

The standard for deciding custody is “the best interests of the child.” If the affair was unknown by the child and had no effect on the child, then the Judge should not consider the affair when deciding child custody or visitation. Although it is predictable that the paramour may be exposed to the child in the future, unless there is evidence of inappropriate sexual conduct occurring in the presence of the child, the Judge should not let an affair control a custody decision.

Child support is decided by application of the child support guidelines. Once child custody is determined, child support will follow. An affair is not related to the child support guidelines.

An affair may violate societal and religious morals. However, in most cases, it has almost no effect on an divorce. Of course, each case is fact specific and if your spouse has committed adultery you should consult an experienced family law attorney to discuss what effect, if any, this can have on a divorce.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

How to prepare for a divorce.

Some people make the decision to divorce in an instant. Others find the decision to divorce is a long process that percolates over time. If you are a person who is thinking about divorce and moving towards ending your marriage, then the following actions can help you prepare for divorce and to make the decision about your future:

  1. Consult a family law attorney.
    A lawyer can discuss the specifics of your case with you and give you advice on preparing for a divorce. The lawyer can also help you understand divorce process, cost, and how a divorce will affect your family. The sooner you consult a lawyer, the better prepared you will be.
  2. Gather financial information.
    Financial information is the center of a divorce. From the first time you go to court until the last, financial information is critical to your case. Financial statements must be filled out almost every time you go to court. These forms are signed under the pains and penalties of perjury and must be accurate. When you have documents that accurately explain your financial status, you will save attorney fees and have more accurate financial statements. As you approach a divorce, make copies of financial documents and put them in a safe place where your spouse won't find them. If you have assets that are not documented like paintings, coin collections, or other collections, you should make a list of these items and photograph them.
  3. Start tracking your budget.
    A financial statement discloses your income, expenses, assets, and liabilities. Many people have difficulty calculating their expenses. If you start recording your expenditures it will help you complete a financial statement. If you don't get divorced, you may find that tracking your expenses will help you take command of your budget. If financial problems are damaging your marriage, recording your expenses may help you discuss your issues with your spouse.
  4. Don’t hide assets.
    Courts expect people to be honest. If you get caught hiding assets, you can expect that the Judge will punish you. If you are caught hiding assets, a Judge may charge you with more assets than you actually took. Judges have great discretion in resolution of divorces and you don't want the Judge to think that you are trying to perpetrate a fraud on the court. You always want the Judge to think that you are honest and acting in good faith.
  5. Don't speak ill of your spouse.
    If you haven't decided to end your marriage, trash-talking about your spouse is not going to help your relationship. If you have decided to end your marriage, nothing good will come from saying bad things about your spouse. If you have children you don't want your children to hear you speaking poorly about your spouse. The same is true for friends and relatives. Any statements you say about your spouse can be brought into court and influence the Judge. If you have a custody battle, these statements may be the basis for awarding custody to your spouse. Remember that bad statements are not limited to verbal statements. Make sure you behave on social media like Facebook. Any postings on the internet may be introduced in court. Don't post anything that you don't want a Judge to see.
  6. Don't destroy evidence.
    If you destroy documents or other evidence, a Judge may treat this as if you are hiding assets. Just as a Court looks to good faith in disclosing financial information, the Court will also look to good faith in preserving evidence. Since social media (Facebook) may be introduced as evidence, you should not destroy postings on social media.
  7. Get help from a therapist.
    The decision to divorce can be one of the most difficult and stressful decisions in a person's life. Consult a therapist to deal with the stress and possibly the decision about terminating your marriage.  Massachusetts health insurance policies have mental health benefits.  Consult your health insurance company to understand your coverage and to choose an appropriate therapist who is covered by insurance.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Every child of a divorce should have virtual visitation.

One of the unfortunate consequences of divorce is that children no longer live in a household with both parents. This means that the child's time must be divided between the two parents. Very few parents are satisfied with visitation plans but acknowledge that it is necessary. Typically, the non-custodial parent feels that they deserve more time with the child.

Virtual visitation occurs when a parent or grandparent uses computers to see and talk to the child. Using programs like Skype or Facetime a parent can see the child while talking. Furthermore, this occurs in real time. As a result, parents can do a lot more than just chat with a child. I had one client who played duets over the internet with the child using one instrument and the parent another. Parents can teach yoga, karate, and dance using virtual visitation. Children can show parents art projects from school. There is no limit to creative use of the internet when using these programs.

When I draft separation agreements, I usually include language that allows virtual visitation. Even if the parties don't have computers, I include the language as they could get computers or smart phones in the future.

If you don't have virtual visitation and would like to use it, consult an experienced family law attorney to discuss adding virtual visitation to your custody arrangement.