Signing your name to just about any document relative to a divorce or family law case matters.  The public oftentimes expects that they can argue ignorance, duress or lack of representation later on.  Unfortunately, your signature can create a binding, contractual obligation for you.  If you have regrets later on, you may have little to no recourse to “undo” your signature, much less what you’ve obligated yourself to.

         The best advice we at Ryan Faenza Carey can offer is this:  When in doubt, don’t.  If you have any hesitation, err on the sign of caution.  If you feel pressured or don’t understand what you’re signing, put the pen down.

         Before you sign, ask questions, educate yourself and seek counsel.  Don’t ever sign something based upon the representations or promises of others, especially if those representations or promises are not contained in the document you’ve been asked to sign.  Read every word, line and paragraph of the document. 

         If you have questions or need something clarified, contact an independent attorney to review the document for you and with you.  Make sure your attorney explains to you the meaning, significance and implications of the document you are considering signing in a way that you understand. 

If you are going through a divorce or preparing to file, the best thing you can do is to limit or stop yourself from posting on social media, especially photographs.

This is increasingly important as we are confronted daily with new social platforms and smartphone applications. We live in an age of constant written communication and sharing (i.e., iMessage, WhatsApp, Google Hangouts, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, Twitter, etc.).

Today we have the ability to share our every moment – the good and the bad. It is easy to become excited and share personal or professional accomplishments and announcements. You may have the urge to voice concern or frustration about an issue that is personal or not in nature.

Before you reach for your smartphone, stop and think.

What you perceive as acceptable may have harmful consequences to your case. Remember, a social connection is a connection and not necessarily a “friend.” A connection may share your post with your spouse. So even if blocked, your spouse might obtain your posts and photographs and use them as leverage in negotiation against you, or in court to damage your credibility and challenge your fitness as a parent or ability to work.

Be mindful that anything that you write, post, tweet, or share could be used as evidence against you in court, even if you think your previous posts were deleted or hidden. It is possible to recover deleted posts or for an individual to take a screenshot. Do not be fooled by apps such as “Snapchat” in believing the picture you sent will disappear after a few seconds. The recipient can save the image with a screenshot and possibly show it to a judge.

If you must use social media, then you need to exercise discretion and good judgment in what you share and put in writing. The general rule of thumb is “when in doubt, don’t.”

The dog days of summer will soon come to an end and children will return to school. Some will even transition to college in the fall or begin filling out college applications.  Even for parents whose children are young, the thought of college brings excitement, along with anxiety about how they will cover the costs of college.

Any parent is weighing these questions about college expenses:

  • Should the adult child have skin in the game and take on debt to pay a portion, or all of the cost?
  • Did the parents or family members contribute to college savings funds for the child?
  • Should the parents commit to taking on student loans for their child?
  • How are college expenses defined?
  • Do college expenses include college visits, college application fees, admission fees, and travel to and from school?

These questions are further complicated for parents with children of all ages who are going through a divorce. Here’s what you need to know about your rights as a parent with respect to your adult children’s college expenses.

A judge will help determine how to split costs of education in a divorce

In Massachusetts, a parent’s obligation to contribute to college expenses is not presumptive but is left to the discretion of the judge. The Court considers a series of factors in determining whether a parent must financially contribute to their children’s education. These factors include the cost of the college or university, the child’s aptitudes, the child’s living situation, the available resources of the parents and child, the availability of financial aid, and other relevant factors.

There are limits on the amount you can be ordered to pay

Under the Massachusetts’ Child Support Guidelines, no parent shall be ordered to pay college costs in an amount greater than 50% of the undergraduate, in-state resident costs of University of Massachusetts Amherst, unless the Court enters written findings that a parent has the ability to pay a higher amount. The Guidelines define “costs” as mandatory fees, tuition, and room and board for UMass Amherst, as set out in the “Published Annual College Costs Before Financial Aid” in the College Board’s Annual Survey of Colleges. The Guidelines’ limitation on payment of college expenses is recommended for most cases, but not mandatory.

College expenses can impact other factors in the child support agreement

A parent’s child support obligation may be reduced or terminated when paying for the adult child’s college expenses. However, it is also possible for a parent to pay child support in addition to paying for the adult child’s college expenses.

Whether a parent will have to pay for his or her children’s college expenses varies on a case-by-case basis.

Divorce is complicated- especially with children in the mix, and particularly when college is on the horizon! If you are a parent and involved in any legal matters involving custody and child support it is important that you speak with an attorney who specializes in the field of domestic relations law to ensure that all of your rights are preserved. Contact RFC today for help!

When it comes to children; unmarried parents have rights and obligations, too.

Massachusetts Courts have taken pains to see that children of unwed parents and married parents, at least theoretically, are treated alike; and that children of unwed parents should be entitled to the same rights and protections as children of married parents. Here are some of the legal boundaries that maintain equality for unmarried parents in Massachusetts law:

Unmarried parents have rights to see their children, and obligations to support them. Child support obligations can be retroactive to the date of the child’s birth. The Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines apply to children of unwed parents in the same way they apply to children of married parents.

  • Unmarried parents have rights to seek, or obligations to provide, health insurance for their children, and to pay uninsured health expenses for them.
  • Unmarried parents may be obligated to provide (or seek for their co-parent to provide) life insurance to secure child support and other child related obligations.
  • The Court has the authority to make orders concerning custody and parenting of children of unwed parents.
  • The Court has the right to enter orders concerning payment of college or extracurricular activities.
  • Children of unwed parents are entitled to receive a share of their parent’s estate if there is no Will or other estate plan in place.
  • Curious about the rights or obligations of yourself or a co-parent? Ryan Faenza Carey is here to help you navigate the law in the best interests of your child(ren). Contact us today.

Federal regulations mandate each state review child support guidelines at least every four years. In September 2017, Massachusetts enacted new child support guidelines after a review. However, the Trial Court has worked to alleviate several issues outstanding from these revised guidelines by amending the 2017 guidelines, as well as completely overhauling the child support guidelines worksheet in June 2018.

Here’s a breakdown of what has changed, and the still-remaining issues that could be addressed in future amendments.

What’s New?

The 2018 child support guidelines give a credit for the amount of medical, dental and/or vision insurance or child care costs to the party who pays these expenses (rather than 

just a deduction from their total income).

Prior to the June 2018 amendment, there was a problem of “double counting” the credit that a party receives for paying insurance or child care, in a shared physical custody arrangement. Prior to the June 2018 amendment, to calculate child support for a 50/50 parenting plan, the court

calculated the guidelines with each parent as the custodial parent and the net amount would become the child support payment. The challenge with running the 2017 guidelines twice was that the party who pays the insurance or child care would receive twice the credit. The June 2018 child support guidelines alleviate the necessity to run the child support guidelines twice, therefore preventing the issue of double counting any insurance or child care credit.

Child support calculated differently for families with children over the age of 18, and additional children under the age of 18.

The September 2017 child support guidelines reduced support orders for children over the age of 18. However, the chart included in the 2017 child support guidelines resulted in some puzzling results for any families of four or more children, where at least one of the children was over the age of 18, effectively awarding a greater amount of child support to a party who has custody of just three children under the age of 18, than to a party who has custody of three children under the age 18 and at least one child over the age of 18. The June 2018 child support guidelines stated, in a comment, an attempt to “fully preserve the increases in child support for additional younger children,” as reason for amending the way child support is calculated.

What Changes Could be Next?

While the new Massachusetts child support guidelines are utilized in the majority of custody cases, there are still several issues with the guidelines that have not been addressed by the Trial Court, causing some inconsistencies in rulings among Judges. These issues could be up for review next time the child support guidelines are amended.

  • The child support guidelines only calculates orders at a combined total income of $250,000 between the parties.   Any income above and beyond the combined $250,000 is to be addressed at the discretion of the Judge. The Trial Court has yet to address a uniform method for handling such an overage when calculating the child support guidelines.
  • The new child support guidelines deal with different custody arrangements: primary custody of all children to one parent, each parent having primary custody of one or more child, and joint physical custody of the children. However, there is no method set forth regarding how to calculate child support when the parties have multiple children and to which the parties share physical custody of one or more children, and one or the other of the parents has primary physical custody of at least one child. Under such a parenting plan, there are no instructions as to how to calculate the child support guidelines.
  • The child support guidelines remain silent on whether or not child support should be reduced in one or both parents are contributing toward college, and if so, what the formula should be for such a reduction.

If you are involved in any legal matters involving the issues of custody and child support it is important that you speak with an attorney who specializes in the field of domestic relations law to ensure that all of your rights are preserved. Contact us today so we can help.

To read the full Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines, visit https://www.mass.gov/info-details/child-support-guidelines.