Family Law Frequently Asked Questions
In a divorce, who decides where the children will live?
Ultimately, the Judge of the Probate & Family Court for your county will issue a custody order which the Judge thinks is in the best interest of your children. Parents themselves have an opportunity well before a divorce trial to design their own parenting plan with provisions for custody, visitation and support.
In a divorce, are all of the assets divided evenly or is there some other formula?
Massachusetts uses the rule of equitable distribution in dividing assets. Unlike in “community property” states, where all property is divided equally in a mechanical fashion, the court in Massachusetts will first identify and value all marital assets, which include property held jointly and property held individually by the spouses. The assets are then distributed in a manner which takes into account many factors which are found in The Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 208, Section 34:
In determining the amount of alimony, if any, to be paid, or in fixing the nature and value of the property, if any, to be so assigned, the court, after hearing the witnesses, if any, of each party, shall consider the length of the marriage, the conduct of the parties during the marriage, the age, health, station, occupation, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, estate, liabilities and needs of each of the parties and the opportunity of each for future acquisition of capital assets and income. In fixing the nature and value of the property to be so assigned, the court shall also consider the present and future needs of the dependent children of the marriage. The court may also consider the contribution of each of the parties in the acquisition, preservation or appreciation in value of their respective estates and the contribution of each of the parties as a homemaker to the family unit.
My spouse has always controlled our finances and knows much more than I do about our income and assets. Will I be at a disadvantage?
The preliminary divorce process will help remove any disadvantage. A court order will prohibit any significant or non-routine transfer of marital assets or new loan commitments. The automatic discovery rule will require each party to disclose all assets and income information from the previous three years and will require the exchange of financial information, including records relating to credit cards, bank accounts, income sources, businesses, tax returns and similar records. In addition, a party may request the court to order the production of specific records or other materials which will help reveal the financial history of the marriage or the current assets, income, and income potential of the parties.
How is child support determined? Is there a formula?
In most cases, the Court relies on the Child Support Guidelines to determine the amount of support to be paid from a non custodial parent to a custodial parent. Though there are some exceptions, these guidelines apply to the great majority of child custody arrangements. The guidelines take into account the age and number of children, the income of both parents, and the contribution of a parent to health insurance premiums.