Choosing a Divorce Lawyer (VIDEO)

Choosing a divorce attorney is a highly personal experience and there are many factors that should influence your decision. Finding a divorce lawyer that you connect with and trust is important, and it is equally essential that they have the capabilities to handle the unique circumstances of your individual situation.

Watch this video to hear Attorney Jon Fields’ advice on finding the right divorce lawyer to handle your case.

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Divorce and Trust Interests: Demystifying the Legal Landscape for the Practitioner

The interplay between divorce and trust interests may be one of the most vexing for practitioners and mediators.  This primer attempts to synthesize the legal landscape in this area and to demystify the issue so that we may better serve our clients. Read the article.

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Speaking Engagement at MAGAL Conference

Thanks to the Massachusetts Association of Guardians Ad Litem (MAGAL) for inviting me to speak at their annual conference on November 7 on high-conflict cases in litigation and mediation.  The keynote speaker, Bill Eddy, was terrific.  The title, too, was excellent– “I’m OK, You’re a X$!#@&%!!!: High-Conflict Behavior in Family Law Cases.”

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The Behavioral Impact of Divorce on Children of High-Income Families

A recent study out of Georgetown University and the University of Chicago looked at the impact of parental separation and divorce on the behavior of children in families of different income brackets.

Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, a survey conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics starting in 1979, the study honed in on the reactions that children had to divorce over time.

The study sampled nearly 4,000 children aged 14-21 (when the survey began in 1979). Family structure, income and the emotional state of the children was surveyed biennially through speaking with the children’s mothers, and the data collected allowed researchers to comment on the impact divorce or separation has on a child’s behavior. Behavioral outcomes were separated into two categories: external (i.e. aggression, bullying) and internal (i.e. anxiety, low self-esteem). Because income was also a question in this survey, the results could be further analyzed to look at the role played by financial wealth.

The results of the survey suggest that divorce or separation significantly impacts the behavior of children in high-net worth families, and not to as much of an extent the children in moderate and low-income families.

This is an interesting conclusion and one that requires a bit more work. Why are the children of high-income families more susceptible to behavioral changes after a divorce?

Researchers hypothesized that a number of factors could explain this phenomenon. For one, because the father is typically the parent that leaves a home during the divorce, and for many families it is also the father who is the primary financial provider, a divorce may mean a significant change in the wealth and status of children from high-income families. Another hypothesis posited that because divorce is less common statistically among those in higher income brackets, a divorce may be impact children more since it is not as common and they also may have less of a peer support system.

The survey showed that the introduction of a stepparent improved the behavioral results of the children, especially those from high-income families. Again, while researchers were able to find the connection, it is harder to explain why this may be the case. One hypothesis suggests that the mother’s increased happiness may make the child happy in turn. Another hypothesis suggests that the stepparent bringing in additional income may assuage some of the financial concerns.

Yet, despite the data, it is important to remember that every family situation (and therefore every divorce) is distinct. While the data shows an interesting trend, it should only serve as a reminder that children should always be the most important concern in a divorce or separation. Always be mindful of changes to your children’s behavior, especially during times of stress of change, such as those brought on in a divorce or separation.

The experienced divorce attorneys at Fields and Dennis, LLP are well-versed in all aspects of family law and understand the importance of protecting the interests of the children involved, offering a compassionate approach to divorce and other family concerns.

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Orthodox Judaism and Divorce

The unique circumstances of Jewish law as interpreted by those who practice Orthodox Judaism can make divorce an extremely difficult predicament for women in the religion. For starters, only the husband can grant a divorce with a document called a “get.” While a woman can still seek a legal divorce, without the “get” she is still married in the eyes of her religion, even years after a civil divorce is granted.

Someone unfamiliar with Orthodox Judaism may not understand the gravity of this scenario. Without the husband’s consent to a religious divorce, and without a “get,” an Orthodox Jewish woman cannot remarry or have more children. Without a religious divorce being granted, any remarriage is seen as adultery and can result in her being shunned from her Orthodox community.

Unfortunately, this phenomenon is not uncommon and women put in this predicament have come to be known as “chained women” (“agunot” in Hebrew), stuck for years, unable to move on with their lives. This problem does not impact the man in the same way. Jewish law has for centuries allowed men to have multiple wives, and so their additional partners and children do not suffer the same consequences as the first wife. Because of this, men may not feel the same urgency to pursue a religious divorce.

What makes this problem unique and difficult to alleviate from a legal perspective is the religious nature of the issue.  The First Amendment to the Constitution prevents secular courts from becoming involved in matters pertaining to religion, thus, there is no clear-cut legal solution.

A man may deny his wife a religious divorce for a number of reasons, many of which can appear manipulative – whether the man is seeking monetary compensation, a particular settlement outcome, custody agreement, or is simply refusing a get out of ill will. A religious court will sometimes step in and rule that a husband grant a get, but this is not a given in many cases.

While the religious nature of the problem makes it more difficult to combat by legal means, if you are an Orthodox woman, there are steps that you can take to ensure a religious and civil divorce be available options. If possible, procure a get before a civil divorce. This will limit the husband from using the get as leverage to unfairly negotiate a better civil settlement for himself.

If this isn’t possible, there are other ways a divorce attorney may be able to help. New York has two laws that attempt to prevent these situations: the 1992 get law, which gives a judge the ability to award a greater share of property to the wife, and the 1983 get law, which denies a civil divorce to those who do not agree to grant the get. While these laws certainly help, they are not the last word on the issue.  Some Orthodox communities believe that a get must be granted free of coercion and see legal intervention as such.

One newly emerging solution is a specific prenuptial agreement where both parties agree that any marital dispute will be decided by binding arbitration and also provides monetary compensation to the wife for each day that she spends waiting for a get to be granted.

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Jonathan Fields Selected for Inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America® for Family Law

Jonathan E. Fields was recently selected by his peers for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America ® 2015 edition in the field of Family Law. The listing is based entirely on exhaustive peer-review surveys and, according to the publisher, “is the oldest and most respected peer-review publication in the legal profession.” A Federal Court judge praised the list as “a shorthand way of knowing a person is possessed of all the skill, the integrity, and the qualifications to serve and meet the highest ideals of a lawyer.”

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Heading Back to School after a Divorce

With fall quickly approaching, it is that time again, at once bittersweet and anticipated by parents everywhere – back-to-school. But, if you are recently separated or in the midst of a divorce, this first back-to-school season will be another in a series of adjustments. Summer certainly had its own challenges and negotiating vacations when children are not in school can be tough, but the upcoming school year poses its own unique issues to face.

You made it through summer (mostly) unscathed, and trust us, you will handle this next challenge with the same strength and patience. Our advice: proper planning and open communication.  While the latter may be difficult if a split was less than amicable, putting the children first is always a good idea. As you race through the aisles of Staples, loading up your cart with notebooks and pens, consider these back-to-school strategies to make the transition easier on you and your children.

Keep Teachers/Counselors in the Loop.

Divorce can be tough on children and often times they are hesitant to open up. Since the school year will mean spending a significant amount of time away from home, it can be wise to discreetly inform teachers or a school guidance counselor of the divorce. Each child may handle their parents’ divorce in different ways, but having a second line of defense at school can help you stay updated on their progress when they are away from home.

Update Contact Information.

If both parents have custodial rights, make sure all applicable people at the school have contact information and permission to contact both parents. It is important for the child that both parents are actively involved in their academic life, including being notified of academic progress and special events/assemblies.  Having both parents on file with the school prevents problems from arising if one parent forgets to inform the other, however innocently, of various updates.

Maintain a Routine.

While you and your ex may not be on the best terms right now, it is important to keep up the appearance of civility (whenever possible) for the children’s sake. While a divorce is a big change for children, it can be much smoother if parents communicate and maintain tried and true routines. For example, while living arrangements are changing and a child may be spending time at two different residences throughout the week, keeping routines the same may make for an easier transition. This can include maintaining regular “rules” regarding homework, TV/Computer usage and bedtime.

When all else fails, use technology.

If the divorce is contentious or there are deep rooted feelings of anger/sadness that make communication difficult, coming up with an organized system using technology may be a smart move. Using Google calendar or another online repository to communicate and keep track of schedules, activities, schoolwork, etc. can be a great way to stay on track if communication is difficult. School-related finances can be handled in a similar way, by keeping track of expenses online so that there is less contention over financial responsibility.

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Why a Divorce Agreement May Not Provide Relief from Joint Tax Liability

There has been a recent rise in “gray divorce” – a buzzword coined for those couples divorcing after the age of 50, many of whom have been together for a number of decades.  The number of divorces in this age group may be increasing, but this does not change the unique challenges faced by these splitting couples. After all, the longer you are married the more intertwined your life, finances and obligations.

For many of these couples, the woman is at an additional disadvantage. While more and more women are nurturing their own careers and playing an active role in financial planning, there was a time when this wasn’t necessarily the case, and many women deferred the handling of financial matters to their husbands. While this may have made sense at the time, especially in a single income household, it can cause a number of tax related problems when a couple decides to divorce.

Regardless of which spouse is the accountable party, if one partner handled the brunt of the financial matters and was solely responsible for filing taxes on the other’s behalf, there may be some surprises when it comes time to separate. After years spent deferring the financial obligations, you may be surprised at the state of your joint finances – which are equally your responsibility, regardless whether or not you played a role in their management during the marriage.

If one partner makes poor financial decisions on behalf of a couple, his or her bad decisions will impact both parties if they decide to divorce. Even if the offending partner takes accountability for his or her actions and the Separation Agreement specifies that the responsible party will pay back taxes or other financial obligations incurred, the unsuspecting party may still be liable in the eyes of the Internal Revenue Service.

Because a divorce agreement is between two spouses, it does not hold weight with the IRS. Even if it is clear in the Separation Agreement that one partner is financially responsible for money owed and that party fails to pay the debt, the other party certainly may take them back to court, but that will not change the innocent spouse’s standing with the IRS.

But there is something you can do about it. First, don’t be too hard on yourself. Filing a joint return, when married, makes a lot of sense.  It may mean saving money on taxes. According to Reuters, approximately 95% of married couples file using this joint status, even when both work and they have the option to file separately.

Second, there is still hope. Innocent Spouse Relief (if you qualify) affords you a release from taxes owed if your spouse failed to report income or otherwise improperly filed taxes. In order to qualify for innocent spouse relief, you must meet a number of conditions and you must request this relief no more than two years from the first attempt by the IRS to collect the tax.

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3 Ways to Financially Prepare for Divorce When Emotions are High

Divorce is a highly emotional time and when you are going through such a trying life event, practical matters may be far from your mind. But despite the emotional toll, it is important that you consider financial matters – if not for yourself, for the well-being of your loved ones. You will get through this difficult period, and once you are on the other side, you will surely want to enjoy your new life.

Asset division can make an already emotionally heightened experience even more overwhelming, but if you take it one step at a time, you will get through it and be glad that you didn’t let your finances fall by the wayside in the midst of turmoil.

Here are 3 financial tips to help you through a complex divorce:

Get Organized – Because this is such a stressful time for most, memory and organizational skills are not at their best. Getting and keeping your financial information organized can help tremendously. Compile copies of your tax returns from the past five years and document your total net worth – including all assets, investments, property and liabilities. In contentious divorces, one may be worried that their partner is attempting to hide assets, but producing income tax returns is a simple way to ensure honesty. (Lying on tax returns is illegal and many do not want to risk the repercussions — although, unfortunately, this is not always the case.) In the end, you want to pursue a fair division of assets, alimony and child support, if applicable. Keeping solid financial records is the first step in making that happen.

Consult a Professional – As previously stated, divorce is a highly emotional time. It can be difficult to think clearly and make important decisions on your own. Adding to this difficulty is the problem that asset division can be more complicated than it seems. Not all assets are equal and while certain assets may seem at first glance to be worth the same amount of money, that is not always the case. For example, taxes can ultimately decrease the value of a home, as can paying for upkeep, and the real estate market fluctuates so much that value may change. Similarly, illiquid assets such as art and antiques can be risky and may not be a financially sound prospect. Consulting with a trusted legal advisor can be vital to making smart decisions when it comes to asset division.

Prepare for the Future – When a marriage ends, splitting assets and separating finances can be a tedious and emotionally draining prospect. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel and that is your future. Once the dust has settled, you will be able to set off on this new adventure. While it can be easy to focus on the negative, you should also try to see the positive aspects of this fresh start. And to make the most of this new beginning, you will want to have a solid financial foundation to pave your way. If you don’t already have your own credit or bank accounts, now is the time to establish these necessities.

Ultimately, once your divorce is finalized, you will be able to enjoy the benefits of these financial decisions. The experienced divorce attorneys at Fields and Dennis, LLP understand that divorce can be complex and emotional and is hardy ever easy on either party, but with proper planning, you will emerge on the other side stronger – and with your financial security intact.

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To Litigate, or Not to Litigate, That is the Question

If you are going through a divorce, there are many things to consider. It is a difficult time, emotions are high, and you are confronted with a number of decisions that you may not be in the best state of mind to make. Now, no two divorces will be identical, so while having a support system who has “been there” can certainly be helpful, their situation may be extremely different then yours.

There are a variety of factors that can contribute to a divorce, and depending on how the decision was come upon, you and your ex may be on civil terms, but other times, if the relationship ended badly, communication and compromise may be impossible concepts to wrap your mind around. Because each divorce is different, each course of action is also different. While some couples have relatively simple cases without much contention between spouses, other couples may have more complex divorces that require careful and strategic planning.

In a complex divorce, attorneys work to negotiate a settlement agreement. How long this will take is dependent on the complexity of a couple’s assets and financial portfolio and how willing each partner is to compromise. If an agreement is reached and signed by both parties, a trial can be avoided.

While the majority of divorces are handled out of court, some circumstances do unfortunately require a courtroom.

If you are in the midst of a divorce, or just starting the process, you may be asking yourself what is the best course of action for you? If it is a difficult divorce and agreeing with your spouse seems like a pipe dream, you may be considering litigation. If this is the case, you should consider a few things before putting yourself in front of a judge.

Child custody issues are often one of the most contentious and difficult aspects of any divorce. While shared parenting is a popular solution, it does not work for everyone. If one partner is seeking sole custody without visitation and refuses to compromise on the issue, litigation may be unavoidable.

Similarly, in high-net worth divorces, assets may become an issue. If you feel your partner is not being truthful about disclosing their income and you believe they are being fraudulent, litigation may be the only means to assure a fair outcome.

Trials can be lengthy and taxing, causing a divorce to be prolonged and emotionally heightened for all involved. While trial can be necessary, one should be prepared for the difficulties it may bring. While reaching a settlement out of court allows you to negotiate and compromise, once you are in front of a judge, their decision is likely final.

If you are considering a divorce, it is best to make an informed decision regarding your course of action. The experienced and compassionate divorce attorneys at Fields and Dennis, LLP tailor their approach to your unique circumstances. For a confidential consultation, contact Fields and Dennis today.

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