Friday, December 26, 2014

Health Insurance, Emancipation, and Separation Agreements

In Massachusetts divorces health insurance is a priority concern for judges. It is standard practice to
provide health insurance for children until they are emancipated. In addition, unless there is a remarriage, health insurance is usually provided for an ex-spouse until all children are emancipated. The ex-spouse is may also be included in coverage because in Massachusetts most family health insurance policies cover an ex-spouse at no additional cost. As long as there is a dependant child, a family health insurance policy is needed. It is now time to reconsider the standard approach to health insurance in separation agreements.

Under prior law, once a child graduated from college or was otherwise emancipated, they had to get their own insurance policy. The law did not allow them to be covered under their parents' policies. Obamacare has changed this. We can now cover children under a parent's policy until age 26. If a parent is going to provide insurance for a child after emancipation they should also cover the ex-spouse as well. While a parent may voluntarily cover a child they may find that employers won't cover an ex-spouse unless there is a court order that requires such coverage. Divorce attorneys should anticipate the ability to cover the ex-spouse for an extended period due to Obamacare and draft language to address this.

Not every child will need health insurance coverage from a parent after emancipation. Many children will find employment and obtain health insurance from their employer. If this happens, there won't be a family health insurance policy available to cover the ex-spouse. Whatever language is used in a separation agreement needs to consider this potential.

There is also the issue of the cost of providing post-emancipation health insurance for a child. A family plan will always cost more than an individual plan. Child support in Massachusetts presumes that both parents will contribute to the cost of raising a child. It would be reasonable for the parents to share the cost of post-emancipation health insurance for a child. While a judge can't order health insurance for a child after emancipation, the parties can contract for such insurance. Splitting the cost of the health insurance would constitute consideration to support the contract. In the event the parties later litigate over the enforceability of such a contract, splitting the cost may make the difference between enforceable and non-enforceable.

A good separation agreement should anticipate as many possible changes as possible. Planning for a child and ex-spouse to continue to have health insurance after the child's emancipation should be part of every separation agreement. An experienced divorce attorney should draft language to provide health insurance for this additional period.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Child support agreements need court approval

seeking approval from a court. A recent case, Zizza v. Zizza, from the Massachusetts Appellate Division (Oct. 27, 2014) is an example of the problems created when parents make an agreement without judicial approval.

In the Zizza case, the parties, after a foreign divorce, entered into a private agreement regarding property division, child custody, visitation, and child support. The agreement also had a clause that stated that the agreement could not be be modified by any court. This agreement eventually resulted in litigation in Massachusetts District Court with the court ordering a modification of the child support obligation. On appeal, the Appellate Division upheld the modification of child support. The court added a comment which explained that the Massachusetts Legislature has declared that it is against public policy to make an agreement that prevents the courts from changing child support obligations.

If you are about to make an agreement for child support you should consult a lawyer who is experienced in family law to make sure you don't fall into a child support trap.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

How do you probate an estate in Massachusetts when you can't get a death certificate?

Sometimes people die under circumstances where their body can't be found or can't be reached. Years ago I probated the estate of a man who sailed his boat into a hurricane and was never found. A few years ago there was a story in the news of a man in Florida who fell into a sinkhole and they didn't recover his body. A person can die in the military in a combat zone and his body may not be recovered. In all of these situations no death certificate will issue. Contrary to popular belief, an estate can still be filed.

Most estates in Massachusetts are filed in court with a copy of the death certificate. The death certificate is used to prove the death but it is not the only way death can be proved. The uniform probate code allows death to be proved by other means. If there is an official report such as from the police, coast guard, or army, then the official report can be used to prove the death. Even without an official report, witnesses can give testimony to prove that the person is dead.

In all of these situations, there is evidence that the person died. Witnesses saw the event that killed the person or they saw the body. It is different if the person just disappears and is never heard from again. Merely disappearing does not mean the person has died. In this situation, the family may have to wait five years before they can seek a declaration of death.

If you are in the unfortunate situation of knowing that a relative has died but no death certificate has issued, then you should consult an attorney who can probate the estate and prove the death without a death certificate.