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What To Expect (Legally) When Your DNA Test Says “Not Parent Expected (NPE)”

Joseph Coupal - Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Walsh Law Office, Hingham, MAFor those of you who have ever read a family law blog, you may know that January kicks off the annual “divorce season:” that time of year that many people decide to file for divorce. The most common reasons that people file for divorce in January have to do with waiting to get through the holidays (usually for the sake of the kids), for tax planning purposes, or so that they can sell their home on the spring market before the start of a new school year.

However, with our ever-burgeoning technology, January may become a time for others than just divorcing spouses to be seeking legal counsel. It may also become a time for those who received the holiday gift of a DNA test kit from 23andMe, AncestryDNA and the like to seek legal counsel because they received a finding from the test that they never expected: NPE.

NPE stands for “Not Parent Expected” or, in the medical world, “Non-Paternity Event.” In layman’s terms, a result of NPE from a DNA test means that the man or woman you thought was your biological parent, is not. Such information can be devastating, shocking, life changing and confusing all at the same time. While many of the issues that arise from an NPE determination can best be addressed through counseling or therapy, some of the issues fit squarely into the legal realm.

For example, for a child who learns that the parent he has always known is not his biological parent, he may have questions about such things as changing his last name, amending his birth certificate, accessing records (like medical or legal records) regarding his family, and whether he (or perhaps his mother) is entitled to some sort of retroactive child support. NPE children may also wonder what the legal status of the parents they grew up with actually is, now that they know that there is no biological relation.

The parents who raised NPE children may have questions, too. A father who raised an NPE child may wonder, for example, whether he can revoke paternity. He may also wonder whether he is entitled to be reimbursed for child support he has paid to that child’s mother over the years.

Some of these issues have clear-cut answers and some of them do not. Over the next several weeks, our blog will address each of these issues in turn and try to shed some light on how Massachusetts law affects NPE children.

For more information, contact Walsh Law.

Timing of Divorce in Violent or High Conflict Relationships

Joseph Coupal - Friday, January 11, 2019

What is the best time to divorce?

Walsh Law Office, Hingham, MAThe trouble is that there's no simple answer. It all depends on what's going on in your family, what kind of parents you are, how much you can cooperate, and what your child’s age and temperament is.

Of course, if there is chronic violence at home, the answer is "the sooner the better," regardless of your child’s age. Violence means physical attack – hitting, kicking, throwing objects – or chronic threats of physical violence. Exposure to such violence has serious consequences for a child's development that may last well into adulthood. As a result, the sooner that a child can stop being exposed to such violence, the better.

Filing for divorce sooner rather than later is also preferable when there is repeated high conflict in your marriage like yelling, screaming, and pounding the table. Whether these behaviors emanate from serious differences between you and your spouse, or whether they erupt over relatively insignificant issues like grocery bills, local politics and less than stellar report cards, such high conflict can be terrifying for children to witness. In such an environment, children can lose the capacity to trust or even to feel. The longer such conflict goes on, the worse it will be for your children. Again, the sooner the children can stop being exposed to such conflict, the better.

Unfortunately, while divorce in violent marriages provides important, and often immediate, relief for one or both parents, it does not always instantly help the children. When children have witnessed violent behavior, they will typically need therapy during and after the divorce to, among other things, learn new and healthier models for spousal relationships. In the same vein, divorcing a high conflict partner alone is not enough to immediately help children who have grown up under such conflictual conditions. These children, too, will likely need therapy to help them resume their development without a distorted view of how people treat each other.

Naturally, in such violent and high conflict households, the children are not the only ones who benefit from therapeutic intervention. The parents who terminate such marriages also need help, not only to protect their children but also to learn how to let go of their fear and anger. Engaging in such therapy will often help these spouses become better parents to their children and may even allow them to learn to co-parent (to the extent that such co-parenting is safe and appropriate) in the future.

For more information, contact Walsh Law.

divorcemag.com

Timing of Divorce in Low-Conflict Relationships

Joseph Coupal - Thursday, January 03, 2019

What is the best time to divorce?

Walsh Law Office, Hingham, MAIf your relationship with your spouse is low-conflict – and this encompasses more than half of all divorces – deciding when to file for divorce is a very different calculation than in the cases of violent or high conflict marriages. In such instances - - and different from violent or conflictual relationships where it is almost always best for the relationship to end as soon as possible - - parents might want to take into consideration the ages of their children and how they will react to a divorce either now or later. Considering such factors will help low-conflict parents decide whether it is best to end their marriage immediately or, perhaps, wait a few years, if such waiting would be in the best interests of the children.

Perhaps not surprisingly, preschool age children tend to have the hardest time during the breakup of a marriage, and sometimes for many years afterward. Young children often find that their relationships with their mothers are particularly impacted by divorce. For example, many women who were able to stay home part-time with their babies during the marriage are required to re-enter the workforce full-time after divorce. Mothers who took care of their little ones with long bedtime rituals, reading together, and playing favorite games, sometimes find after divorce that they have to cut back these pleasurable activities - - not because they want to - - but because they no longer have the time or energy after a long day at work. In light of this, some parents may want to delay their divorce until their youngest child enters school and adjusts to the school day routine. Once a child is in school, he will have an interesting world outside your home and a school structure that supports activities and friendships. As he begins to find his own interests and friends, you may be better able to protect him from feeling that he has lost more than he has gained with your divorce.

The second most vulnerable age for divorce is early adolescence, when children are developing rapidly and need a strong family to guide and protect them. If you have a preteen child in trouble – failing at school or not keeping up with peers in some important regard – it may make sense to hesitate before getting a divorce. Your child may be too troubled at this age to adjust to the demands of a post-divorce family. That said, before you make any moves, consider whether your child is developmentally on target. If not, try to get her some help including with an experienced adolescent therapist, if appropriate, before you embark on the divorce.

Of course, sometimes best laid plans may go astray and you find yourself filing for divorce at one of these pivotal times in your child’s life. If this happens to you, keep in mind the importance of maintaining the stability of care with young children and the special vulnerability of children entering adolescence. This is the time to call on your family and friends for help and to work - - as best you can - - with your spouse to set up plans for your children before you separate.

For more information, contact Walsh Law.

divorcemag.com

Making Your Holiday Visitation Schedule

Joseph Coupal - Friday, December 28, 2018

Arrangements for holiday time

Walsh Law Office, Hingham, MAAs part of your divorce or parenting plan, you can make a holiday schedule to show where your child will spend holidays and special occasions. This schedule has priority over the day-to-day residential schedule.

Here are some common ways that parents divide and share holiday time:

  • Alternate holidays every other year. You can assign holidays to each parent for even years and then swap the holidays in odd years. With this arrangement, you won't miss spending a holiday with your child more than one year in a row.
  • Split the holiday in half. You can split the day of the holiday so that your child spends part of the day with each parent. This arrangement requires planning and coordination because you don't want your child to spend holidays traveling all day. This also works best when the extended families both live close by; it is almost impossible to split the holiday in half when one Grandma is in California and the other is in Florida.
  • Schedule a holiday twice. You can schedule time for each parent to celebrate a holiday with your child. For example, one parent can celebrate Christmas with the child on Dec. 20th and the other parent on the 25th.
  • Assign fixed holidays. You can have each parent celebrate the same holidays with the child every year. If parents have different holidays that they think are important, each parent can have those holidays every year.

You can use any combination of these ways to divide and share holiday time to create holiday arrangements that allow your child to enjoy family traditions and spend quality time with both parents.

Holidays with special considerations

Some holidays have special considerations because both parents usually want to spend time with the child on or near the holiday.

Here are some ideas of how to share and divide these days:

  • Your child's birthday: You can schedule a short visit for the parent who doesn't have the child on the birthday, give both parents birthday time in the schedule, or allow the parents to alternate having parenting time on the birthday.
  • Parents' Birthdays: Your child can spend some time or the whole day with the parent on the parent's birthday.
  • 3-day weekend holidays: These holidays include Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents' Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Columbus Day. Parents can alternate the 3-day weekends, split the weekends, or give the Monday holiday to the parent who already has the weekend with the children as per the regular parenting schedule.
  • Mother's Day and Father's Day: Usually your child spends every Mother's Day with the mother and every Father's Day with the father.
  • Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving weekend: One parent can have Thanksgiving Day and the other parent can have the weekend, you can give both parents time on Thanksgiving Day and on the weekend, or parents can alternate having Thanksgiving and the weekend.
  • The Christmas holiday season: One parent can have Christmas Eve and the other parent can have Christmas Day, one parent can have Christmas and the other parent can have winter break, or you can make New Year's Eve and New Year's Day into one holiday and the parents alternate celebrating it with the children.

Holidays to include in your schedule

Common holidays to include in your holiday schedule include:

  • New Year's Day—Jan 1st
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Day—3rd Monday in Jan
  • Lincoln's Birthday—Feb 12th
  • Presidents' Day/Washington's Birthday—3rd Monday in Feb
  • February School Vacation
  • Easter
  • April School Vacation
  • Mother's Day—2nd Sunday in May
  • Memorial Day—last Monday in May
  • Father's Day—2nd Sunday in June
  • Independence Day—July 4th
  • Labor Day—1st Monday in Sept
  • Columbus Day—2nd Monday in Oct
  • Halloween—Oct 31st
  • Veterans Day—Nov 11th
  • Thanksgiving—4th Thursday in Nov
  • Christmas Eve—Dec 24th
  • Christmas Day—Dec 25th
  • Winter Break/School Vacation
  • New Year's Eve—Dec 31st
  • Your child's birthday

You can also include:

  • Religious holidays
  • State holidays
  • Days when your child is out of school, like teacher preparation days
  • School vacation time, like fall break
  • Each parent's birthday
  • Other special occasions

For assistance with holiday visitation schedules or parenting schedules, contact Walsh Law.

custodyxchange.com

Divorce Trivia: How Much Do You Know?

Joseph Coupal - Monday, March 05, 2018

Walsh Law Office, Hingham, MA1. On average, it takes this long to complete a divorce proceeding:

A. 6 months
B. 1 year
C. 2 years
D. 5 years

2. This state has the highest overall divorce rate:

A. California
B.Oklahoma
C. Alabama
D. New York

3. If you attend college, your risk of divorce decreases by:

A. 6%
B. 13%
C. 48%
D. It actually increases your risk.

4. This celebrity holds the record for shortest marriage:

A. Kim Kardashian
B. Britney Spears
C. Demi Moore
D. Drew Barrymore

5. Average age of couples divorcing the first time is:

A. 25
B. 30
C. 35
D. 45

6. If your parents are happily married, your risk of being divorced decreases by:

A. 4%
B. 14%
C. 24%
D. 44%

7. The average length of a marriage that ends in divorce is:

A. 3 years
B. 8 years
C. 15 years
D. 23 years

8. The average divorcee typically waits this long before getting remarried:

A. 2 years
B. 4 years
C. 8 years
D. 10 years

9. 80% of divorces begin during what period of a couple’s marriage:

A. 1-3 years
B. 4-5 years
C. 8-10 years
C. 13-15 years

For speak with divorce law attorneys, contact Allison Walsh.

Answers:

("B" is the answers for every question!)

Managing Divorce and Children During the Holidays

Joseph Coupal - Friday, December 29, 2017

Walsh Law Office, Hingham, MAWhile co-parenting with your ex is never easy, there are certain times of year when it may be more difficult than others. While the holiday season is supposed to bring out the best in everyone, it often brings out the worst in our former spouses (or in us when we have to interact with them). Knowing that, it is best to keep the following ten tips in mind as you navigate the holiday season with your children and your ex.

1. Remember the holidays are not all about you.

Your children deserve their celebrations even if you feel cheated out of yours. Encourage them to have a blast with their other parent, even if you can't stand the prospect of being alone.

2. A lesson from Scrooge: Get into the spirit of the season.

This is a time of giving, forgiving, and fresh starts. Turn Scrooge's emotional lessons about holidays past, present, and yet to come into New Year's resolutions about letting go of anger and treasuring all you have -- despite all you have or might have lost.

3. Another lesson from Scrooge: Love means far more than money.

Your time, attention, and emotional presence are much more important to your children than lavish gifts. You may be short on money but you can always be long on love.

4. The holidays are not a competition with your ex or for your children.

Teach your children the true meaning of the holidays, not the meaninglessness of materialism.

5. Communicate and coordinate with your children's other parent.

A brief email, telephone message, or conversation can insure that you don't duplicate presents (imagine trying to explain why Santa brought the same gift to both houses when he is all-knowing!) or plan back-to-back feasts for stuffed and confused children. Ten minutes now can save days (or weeks) of fuming later.

6. Do the details.

Work out exactly where your children will be during all times, and determine when, where, and how exchanges will take place. Your children will feel more secure, and all of you will avoid frustration and disappointment.

7. Celebrate with your children's other parent.

Consider celebrating part of the holidays together with your children's other parent, especially if your separation is fairly recent. Some people are shocked when divorced families celebrate holidays or birthdays together. Go ahead and shock them! You might even find that you have some fun!

8. Set up a plan for next year now.

If you went through the agony of 11th hour negotiations this year, set up a plan for next year now (or after New Year's). Everyone will be happier knowing what is coming, and avoiding conflict on the eve of the holidays.

9. Plan in advance with your extended family.

Work things out in advance with your own extended family too, whether that means that you say "no" to them, you spend the holidays a little differently than usual, or you ask for your family's understanding and help.

10. Establish traditions with your children.

Establish traditions with your children, even new ones that may be different from past rituals. Your kids may not remember the details of years past, but year-in, year-out traditions will stay with them for a lifetime.

For more information on parenting plans or child custody, contact Walsh Law.

psychologytoday.com

How do Divorced Families Handle Holidays?

Joseph Coupal - Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Walsh Law Office, Hingham, MAThere are probably as many ways to handle holidays as there are divorced families. Ultimately the schedule that works for you will depend largely upon you and your child's other parent, and the type of co-parenting relationship that you have.

Some families handle holidays by alternating each holiday. It is quite common to allot one parent "even-year" holidays and the other "odd-year" holidays. Alternating holidays means that you must deal with your disappointment about not spending every holiday with your children, and must work with your extended family and friends to make plans for yourself on those holidays when you do not have your kids.

While some families alternate holidays, others choose to split time with the children on each holiday. In this option, both parents get to spend some time with their children on the actual holiday day. This option can work well when both parents’ families live in close proximity. For example, the kids may get to spend Thanksgiving at the maternal grandparents’ home in the early afternoon, and then have Thanksgiving dinner with their father’s family later in the day. This option is not ideal for families who must travel to visit relatives for the holidays as it is not conducive to extensive travel time.

Despite being divorced, some families actually choose to spend the holiday together with their children. For some parents, this can work. However, if there is even the slightest chance of negativity, hurt feelings, or "bad vibes" arising from such a holiday interaction, this may not be the right type of parenting arrangement for you.

For more information on parenting plans, the holidays and creating the best holiday parenting schedule for your family, contact Walsh Law.

divorcehelpforparents.com

Understanding and Calculating Alimony in Massachusetts

Joseph Coupal - Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Walsh Law Office, Hingham, MAIf you are going through a divorce, a judge may order you to provide financial support to your spouse while the divorce is pending or once it becomes final. This is known as alimony, and Massachusetts courts generally award it to the lower earning spouse so that that spouse can maintain a reasonable standard of living during and after divorce.

Types of Alimony

There are a number of types of alimony in Massachusetts: rehabilitative alimony, reimbursement alimony, transitional alimony, and general term alimony.

Rehabilitative alimony is intended to help a spouse who needs additional education or job training to become financially independent within a certain amount of time. Rehabilitative alimony cannot last longer than five years.

Reimbursement alimony may be ordered when your spouse financially supported you while you completed an education or received job training during the marriage. Support may be paid in a lump sum or over a time period.

Transitional alimony can be awarded for a short period of time to help the recipient spouse adjust to a new lifestyle or location.

Lastly, general term alimony - - probably the most common type of alimony - - is awarded depending on the length of your marriage. Essentially, and as more fully set forth below, the longer your marriage, the longer you typically pay general term alimony to your ex-spouse.

Duration of Alimony

If you were married for more than twenty years, the court may award indefinite alimony; however, general alimony orders will end when the paying spouse reaches full retirement age. Otherwise, the number of months or years you receive alimony will be dependent on how long you were married. For example, if you were married for six years, you are eligible to receive alimony for up to three years. If you were married for twelve years, you may receive support for approximately eight years and four months.

Whether to Award Alimony

To determine whether to award alimony, the court will consider various factors, including:

  • the length of the marriage
  • each spouse's income, skills, and employment opportunities
  • each spouse’s current liabilities and potential needs
  • each spouse's age and health
  • the present and future needs of any children of the marriage
  • conduct during the marriage, such as adultery, abuse, or abandonment.

The actual amount of support will be based on each spouse's income or ability to earn income. The amount will usually not exceed the recipient spouse's need or a certain percentage of difference in the payor’s and recipient’s incomes, but the judge will have discretion to stray from these guideline amounts if necessary.

Modifying and Terminating Alimony

If you or your spouse wants to modify the alimony amount, you must show a material change in financial or other circumstances, such as a change in employment or a change in income. Support may end when the recipient spouse remarries or begins cohabitating with a significant other.

Do you have questions about alimony in Massachusetts? Contact Walsh Law.

divorcenet.com

Is Divorce Bad for Children?

Joseph Coupal - Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Walsh Law Office, Hingham, MAThe breakup may be painful, but most kids adjust well over time

Many of the 1.5 million children in the U.S. whose parents’ divorce every year feel as if their worlds are falling apart. Divorcing parents are usually very concerned about the welfare of their children during this troublesome process. Some parents are so worried that they remain in unhappy marriages, believing it will protect their offspring from the trauma of divorce.

Yet parents who split have reasons for hope. Researchers have found that only a relatively small percentage of children experience serious problems in the wake of divorce or, later, as adults. Below are the findings as well as factors that may protect children from the potentially harmful effects of divorce.

Rapid Recovery

Divorce affects most children in the short run, but research suggests that kids recover rapidly after the initial blow. In a 2002 study it was found that many children experience short-term negative effects from divorce, especially anxiety, anger, shock and disbelief. These reactions typically diminish or disappear by the end of the second year. Only a minority of kids suffer longer.

Most children of divorce also do well in the longer term. In a quantitative review of the literature in 2001, a researcher examined the possible effects on children several years after a divorce. The studies compared children of married parents with those who experienced divorce at different ages. The investigators followed these kids into later childhood, adolescence or the teenage years, assessing their academic achievement, emotional and behavior problems, delinquency, self-concept and social relationships. On average, the studies found only very small differences on all these measures between children of divorced parents and those from intact families, suggesting that the vast majority of children endure divorce well.

Researchers have consistently found that high levels of parental conflict during and after a divorce are associated with poorer adjustment in children. The effects of conflict before the separation, however, may be the reverse in some cases. Some children who are exposed to high levels of marital discord prior to divorce adjust better than children who experience low levels. Apparently when marital conflict is muted, children are often unprepared when told about the upcoming divorce. They are surprised, perhaps even terrified, by the news. In addition, children from high-discord families may experience the divorce as a welcome relief from their parents' fighting.

Taken together, the findings suggest that only a small percentage of young people experience divorce-related problems. Even here the causes of these lingering difficulties remain uncertain. Some troubles may arise from conflict between Mom and Dad associated with the divorce. The stress of the situation can also cause the quality of parenting to suffer. Divorce frequently contributes to depression, anxiety or substance abuse in one or both parents and may bring about difficulties in balancing work and child rearing. These problems can impair a parent's ability to offer children stability and love when they are most in need.

Grown-up Concerns

Scientific research does not support the view that problems in adulthood are prevalent; it instead demonstrates that most children of divorce become well-adjusted adults. For example, a 25-year study followed children of divorce and children of parents who stayed together. The researcher found that 25% of the adults whose parents had divorced experienced serious social, emotional or psychological troubles compared with 10% of those whose parents remained together. These findings suggest that only 15% of adult children of divorce experience problems over and above those from stable families. No one knows whether this difference is caused by the divorce itself or by variables, such as poorer parenting, that often accompany a marriage's dissolution.

The relationships of adults whose parents' marriages failed do tend to be somewhat more problematic than those of children from stable homes. For instance, people whose parents split when they were young experience more difficulty forming and sustaining intimate relationships as young adults, greater dissatisfaction with their marriages, a higher divorce rate and poorer relationships with the noncustodial father compared with adults from sustained marriages. On all other measures, differences between the two groups were small.

Bouncing Back

Children fare better if parents can limit conflict associated with the divorce process or minimize the child's exposure to it. Further, children who live in the custody of at least one well-functioning parent do better than those whose primary parent is doing poorly. In the latter situation, the maladjusted parent should seek professional help or consider limiting his or her time with the child. Parents can also support their children during this difficult time by talking to them clearly about the divorce and its implications and answering their questions fully.

Other, more general facets of good parenting can also buffer against divorce-related difficulties in children. Parents should provide warmth and emotional support, and they should closely monitor their children's activities. They should also deliver discipline that is neither overly permissive nor overly strict. Other factors contributing to children's adjustment include post-divorce economic stability and social support from peers and other adults, such as teachers.

In addition, certain characteristics of the child can influence his or her resilience. Children with an easygoing temperament tend to fare better. Coping styles also make a difference. For example, children who are good problem solvers and who seek social support are more resilient than those who rely on distraction and avoidance.

The good news is that although divorce is hard and often extremely painful for children, long-term harm is not inevitable. Most children bounce back and get through this difficult situation with few if any battle scars.

To speak with a divorce lawyer, contact Walsh Law.

Scientific American

Divorce and Retirement

Joseph Coupal - Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Walsh Law Office, Hyannis, MAEven if your divorce happens decades before you retire, your retirement savings will likely take a major hit. First, a divorce usually means that the funds in your retirement accounts are divided between yourself and your ex-spouse, so your retirement savings will shrink substantially. And second, divorce means that you'll at least temporarily become a one-income household -- so you'll probably end up saving a lot less for retirement than you had planned, at least in the near term.

Splitting your retirement savings

State and local laws determine how your retirement savings gets divvied up between you and your ex-spouse.

Massachusetts uses "equitable division” to figure out who owns what after a divorce. Under the concept of equitable division, it's up to the judge to decide the fairest way to split the divorcing couple’s assets, including retirement. Judges generally consider factors like how long the marriage lasted, each spouse’s contribution(s) to the marriage, age, health, and so on.

Protecting Your Retirement Savings

Given the way in which courts divide assets in a divorce, the question becomes how can you best protect your retirement savings? The surest way to protect your retirement savings is to set up a prenuptial agreement that specifies who gets what from the retirement accounts should your marriage end. If you don't have a prenup, your best bet is to try to come up with a compromise with your spouse that will work out to your mutual advantage. If you cannot reach an agreement with your spouse, having your lawyer make a compelling argument for the judge can help you to get a favorable decision in court, but it's definitely not a sure thing.

Building a new plan

Once you know how much of your existing retirement savings you'll get to hang on to, it's time to draft a new retirement plan. You'll need to factor in both the reduction of your existing savings and (most likely) the reduction of your future income. On the other hand, now that it's just you, you'll probably be able to set a lower goal for how much income you'll need in retirement.

For more information on divorce and retirement, contact Allison Walsh.

madison.com


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