Tag Archives: alimony

A Few Things We’re Thankful for this Season

Before we break to celebrate Thanksgiving, let’s pause to remember what we’re thankful for. . .

  • The fact that the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights provides for three co-equal branches of government: Executive, Legislative, and the Judiciary.
  • The work of our Amicus Committee in Bird and Fisher. Our Bird brief brought clarity and predictability to the estate planning process, and our Fisher brief articulated our long held commitment to diversity and inclusion in the legal profession.
  • The passage of the Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act, a great example of true grassroots activism, coalition building and collaboration. Democracy is not always efficient, but the process was exemplary, allowing stakeholders to speak and be heard.
  • The passage of the Transgender Equality Rights bill. This bill was 5 years in the making, and it was high time that Massachusetts provided important protections to the transgender community.
  • The CORI Sealing Order was made permanent by the Boston Municipal Court. This will allow multiple motions from different districts to be heard in one of the courts with jurisdiction over a case to be sealed.  More important it facilitates re-entry.

-Kathleen Joyce
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association
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Change is in the Air at the Probate & Family Court

A hat tip to the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court for embracing change.  Legislative reforms enacted in the last 2.5 years have completely transformed the way business affecting guardianship, conservatorship and alimony is conducted in the Probate and Family Court.  More changes in the area of estate practice will become law by March 31, 2012.

Article V of the Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code, which became effective July 1, 2009, codifies the new laws for guardianship and conservatorship.  These changes provide a person, oftentimes a family member, with legal tools to manage the affairs of an individual who is not legally competent to manage his own affairs.  These new laws also create alternatives to guardianship taking into consideration situations where a person’s incapacity might not impact all aspects of the person’s life.

On March 1, 2012, the new alimony law went into effect (read all about alimony reform in Issue Spot).  At last week’s BBA event “Alimony Reform: Here and Now,” Chief Justice Paula Carey advised attorneys to read the bill and then read it again and again.

And after much anticipation, the remainder of the Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code, which will change estate practice significantly, will become law by the end of this month.  This will substantially change the way business is done in Probate and Family Court.  There’s a lot to know in that area too (Issue Spot has you covered here).

So what is the Probate and Family Court in Massachusetts doing to respond to these things?  Check out their website.  The Probate and Family Court has gone to great lengths to provide practical instructional materials for the public.  Not only does the website have downloadable and printable forms, but the forms can be filled out online.  This might not seem like a big deal but it is and for a couple of reasons:

  1. There is a large and growing population of pro se litigants who appear in court and these are cases that involve family, housing, employment, and financial issues – all of which are of great personal importance.  Cases involving pro se litigants often require more time from judges and court staff to explain the procedures and court rules to pro se litigants.   The self-help resources that are available online are excellent and useful tools.
  2. Having these forms available to the public also saves the Court money.  They no longer have to print the forms and distribute them to the fourteen Probate and Family Court divisions across the state.  The Probate and Family Court is really leading the way in protecting the rights of individuals whose abilities may be compromised due to mental illness or deficiencies.

The new changes to the law in these areas mean a great deal to the courts, but will mean even more to the people who use our courts every day.

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
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Judiciary Committee Year in Review

With the start of the 2nd half of the 187th Massachusetts Legislative Session set to begin on January 4th, the BBA is still advocating for several bills in the waning days of the informal session.  Back in January 2011, the BBA was the lead sponsor for 17 bills and a co-sponsor of a handful of other bills. Just about all of our bills were referred to the Judiciary Committee.

Overall, 5,388 bills were filed at the beginning of this session. Roughly 900 of those bills were referred to the Judiciary Committee.  This constitutes over 15% of all bills filed in the Legislature and gives the Judiciary Committee the distinction of having the highest volume of non-budgetary legislation referred to any committee.  To put this in perspective, the Public Service Committee has the next biggest number of bills at just over 600.  Not surprisingly, issues concerning the state courts, criminal procedure and penalties, torts, privacy, real estate, probate and judicial management end up in Judiciary.

Admittedly, not all of the 900 bills are unique.  Some of the bills are the same piece of legislation just filed separately in each branch.  For instance, the BBA often tries to find both a House and Senate sponsor of its bills especially if the issue at hand is one that may require leadership in both branches.

Since public hearings began in March, the Judiciary Committee has held eleven hearings.  These take place in small hearing rooms or in the larger Gardner Auditorium and are always well attended.  The Judiciary Committee hearings last for hours, often late into the night.  These hearings are packed with lawmakers and members of the public. The BBA has experienced this firsthand.  We patiently waited several hours for our turn to testify in Gardner Auditorium twice this year and in the smaller hearing rooms several other times this session.

Here are just some examples of bills for which the BBA has advocated this session and which already received a favorable report from the Judiciary Committee:

  • Alimony reform was released from the committee and signed into law on September 26th and will become effective on March 1, 2012.
  • Transgender civil rights will go into effect in the Commonwealth on July 1, 2012.
  • A major court reform bill that included a provision to keep the Probation Department in the Judicial Branch as well as providing for the hiring of a professionally trained, non-judicial court administrator was signed by the Governor on August 4th and will become law on July 1, 2012.

Now that those three bills have already been signed into law, the Judiciary Committee can begin focusing on other equally important bills.

Some of the other bills that have been released from the Judiciary Committee thus far but that have not made their way to the Governor’s desk just yet include the BBA’s access to DNA bill, the Uniform Trust Code and the corrections to the MUPC.  Elsewhere in the Legislature, budget requests are being reviewed and budget priorities are beginning to take shape.  When formal session resumes in a few weeks, there will be more public hearings, meetings with lawmakers and other opportunities to advance our agenda.

-Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
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Practictioners’ Perspectives on the Alimony Reform Act

With the Alimony Reform Act of 2011 poised for passage, we thought we’d ask some of our members to share their reactions on the coming changes.  Here are the independent thoughts of the expert family law practitioners we canvassed:

Nan Elder – Bowman Moos & Elder, LLP

I think the principle benefit of the impending statutory change lies in the fact that it provides some scaffolding around which alimony awards can be negotiated and structured.  But the amount is only “some,” and the structure only “scaffolding” because the legislation also provides significant opportunity for deviation and modification – the exercise of judicial discretion – and it will take some years and quite a bit of litigation and appellate work to better clarify the full structural outlines.  For shorter term marriages, it may provide more guidance and definition sooner, and thus enable more ready resolution of them.   Longer term marriages will, however, quite probably still raise significant issues regarding its application.  This will be especially true in both new divorces and modifications for those “traditional” cases where one spouse has been the primary wage or salary earner and the other the caretaker and homemaker, often in expectation of, reliance on, and even with the express understanding between spouses of, the indefinite continuation of this family model.

As with any change of such magnitude, the transition will be arduous in a number of respects.   For litigants, it presents both an opportunity for relief and resolution for some and a source of reopening of wounds and the burdensome expense of extended or renewed litigation for others.  For lawyers, it presents an opportunity for some really creative thinking and lawyering, as well as for providing a framework for advising clients – but cynics might also suggest it presents an unexpected or unwarranted bonanza of new work.  For the courts, its implementation risks further burdening an already broken system.  Although the legislation staggers the availability of modifications of alimony judgments predating its effective date in March 2012, most practitioners I’ve talked with expect a flood of requests in addition to the uncertainty and litigation that will inevitably ensue as the statutory structure is fleshed out.

While the transition and implementation may well be both lengthy and rocky, the end result will hopefully provide some measure of clarity, if not certainty, especially for shorter term marriages.

Jennifer Rivera-Ulwick – Middlesex Probate & Family Court

The benefit of the proposed changes is the potential sense of predictability and consistency in determining alimony which will allow people to resolve this issue without seeking court intervention at the trial level.   Like the Child Support Guidelines, the law will provide a roadmap of sorts in formulating the appropriate alimony award, if any, based on the circumstances of the parties.  Given the new scheme for setting the duration, amount and form of alimony awards, I anticipate not only a decrease in the number of cases tried over alimony but also an increase in modifications being filed with the court to adjust prior alimony orders in accordance with the new legislation.  The roll-out dates, which determine when a modification may be filed as a result of the change in the law, will initially help relieve the courts from being overburdened with modification filings although the number of filings may depend in part on the level of awareness of the changes on the part of alimony obligors which is sure to increase each year after the law becomes effective.

Anita Robboy – Prince, Lobel & Tye, LLP

Massachusetts is long overdue for a critical look at Section 34 as our Commonwealth is very much out of line with nearly every state in the duration of alimony awards.  The Bill has clear guidelines regarding expected points of termination.  The major change will be that attorneys can no longer state that a Probate and Family Court judge lacks the power to terminate alimony.  The Bill specifically enables judges to limit the duration of alimony and to amend prior judgments that had no termination point.  The interplay between alimony awards, if any, and the division of assets is forever altered.  The recipient of alimony has lost an important ‘chit’: the value of future alimony.  The payor can rely on obtaining termination upon the happening of certain events, such as age, the length of alimony already received in relation to the marriage, and cohabitation.  Counsel must now advise clients that alimony comes, if at all, in a variety of flavors.  It will be important to strategize which form of alimony is applicable and/or most advantageous.

John Fiske – Healy, Fiske, Richmond & Matthew

As a mediator, I see the greatest benefit of the alimony bill as analogous to the Child Support Guidelines: it gives clients a good idea of what a court would do without their having to go to court.  In my 32 years of mediating divorces, the uncertainty of the length of alimony has been the most challenging obstacle for many husbands and wives.

I will tell [my clients] I want them to make informed choices, and to read the law, or any available summary of the law including my own, to get an idea of what a court would do before they choose their own solution.  The outcome of many of my cases would not be very different [had the reforms been in place previously], but the process of getting there will be more efficient. The outcome in some of my cases will be different, probably reducing the number of cases where clients define alimony for a certain period and then agree to leave open the question of whether to continue alimony in some amount after that date.  This law will be beneficial to just about everybody: clients, children, lawyers, mediators, judges, probation officers and financial planners for example.

-Michael Bouton

Government Relations Department

Boston Bar Association

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Long Overdue Alimony Bill Hits Gov.’s Desk

**UPDATE 9/26/2011 – Governor Patrick signed The Alimony Reform Act of 2011**

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Today the Senate picked up where the House left off last week — passing the long awaited Alimony Reform Act of 2011.  Advocates of alimony reform packed the Senate gallery, wearing red shirts as a sign of solidarity and as a visual reminder of the legislation’s numerous supporters.  Tucked into the cramped viewing area, members of the legislative task force on alimony patiently waited to witness their hard work come to fruition.

Getting to this point, with comprehensive alimony reform on the verge of enactment, has not been easy.  For years lawyers have shared anecdotes of clients forced to pay alimony indefinitely, regardless of circumstances.  They have also pointed to inconsistent rulings leading to forum shopping, and the need to consider cohabitation as a factor in modifying existing alimony agreements.

These past few weeks we have witnessed the culmination of years spent analyzing Massachusetts’ antiquated alimony laws and offering recommendations in the form of legislative proposals.  The process has had starts and stops.  It has been protracted and often contentious.  Yet now, thanks to the perseverance of the BBA and other organizations, the bill is on the Governor’s desk awaiting his signature.

It is remarkable how far we have come.  This outcome is an example of what can be accomplished when individuals with different perspectives identify a common goal.  By working collaboratively and cooperatively, stakeholders approached the problem rationally and hammered out an agreement in which everyone sacrificed something for the common good – the sign of a successful negotiation.

Session after session, alimony bills have been filed, many of which have garnered the BBA’s support.  One such bill added the words “and duration” to the current alimony statute, a simple addition thereby giving judges the discretion to place durational limits on alimony awards.  Pushing for a small change like this can have the advantage of quietly accomplishing a revision without causing as loud a clamor as sweeping change tends to do.  Yet in hindsight, it takes more than just a couple of words to fix the Commonwealth’s broken alimony system.

Last session, the Legislature finally saw the full scope of the problem.  After years of study and advocacy, how could they not?  The Judiciary Committee brought all of the stakeholders together to reach a fair and realistic consensus.  This bill goes beyond the BBA’s initial concerns; it tackles the broken system of alimony head-on in a clear and concise manner.

This entire process has broadened our view of a systemic problem in the administration of justice.  It has also opened our eyes up to just how much can get done when all of the stakeholders in an issue put everything aside to focus on the problem at hand.  The Alimony Reform Act of 2011 is the culmination of years of hard work and will be a victory for justice in the Commonwealth.

-Kathleen Joyce

Government Relations Director

Boston Bar Association

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State House Update

With less than 8 weeks left for formal legislative sessions, the Legislature’s focus has shifted away from the state budget and onto other, significant policy issues.  Last week two conference committees were named to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate versions of the state budget and the court reorganization bill.  This week the Judiciary Committee heard testimony on two bills of importance to the BBA.  Here’s a snapshot of some of the things we’re keeping our eyes on.

Court Reorganization Bill in Conference

The Court Management Conference Committee has been appointed to come up with a single version of H 3395 and S 1911.  In May, both the House and Senate advanced the court reorganization bills with unanimous votes.  While both bills would split trial court oversight between civilian court administrators and judicial managers and impose stricter hiring standards with wide reforms relative to job recommendations, there are differences between the bills.  For instance, the Senate’s bill eliminates several new management positions proposed by the House bill.  The six members of this conference committee are Senators Creem, Joyce and Tarr and Representatives O’Flaherty, Dempsey and Winslow.

State Budget in Conference

With budget deliberations complete in both branches, the Budget Conference Committee, the group tasked with negotiating the differences into a single budget bill, met for the first time on Wednesday.  The final budget has to be in place by July 1st, but their work must be resolved before that in order for Governor Patrick to have the required statutory 10 days to review the budget proposal and offer amendments and vetoes.  The six members of the Budget Conference Committee are Senators Brewer, Baddour and Knapik and Representatives Dempsey, Kulik and deMacedo.

June Judiciary Hearing

Yesterday the Judiciary Committee held a public hearing lasting nine hours in a packed Gardner Auditorium.  The BBA participated in the hearing by supporting two bills on the agenda.  The BBA submitted written testimony in support of the Transgender Equal Rights bill, joining with advocates from theMassachusetts chapter of the ACLU.  The Transgender Equal Rights bill will extend explicit protection in discrimination and hate crimes cases to transgender people.

The second piece of legislation, S 753 and H 2165 the Access to DNA bill, will provide post conviction access to DNA evidence.  David E. Meier, Martin F. Murphy, Gregory J. Massing, and David M. Siegel, all experts in the criminal justice system and members of the BBA Task Force to Prevent Wrongful Convictions, testified on behalf of the BBA in support of legislation that would put in place a mechanism for post conviction DNA evidence testing.  The panel discussed their work on the Task Force, presented the need for this statute and set the stage for a group from the New England Innocence Project which followed with compelling stories of how Massachusetts’ lack of an access to DNA testing statute has harmed them.

Betty Anne Waters shared her story.  Her brother Kenny was wrongfully convicted of murder and robbery in 1983, and spent 18 years in prison while Betty Anne earned her college and law school degrees in order to represent and exonerate him.  The Committee also heard from Dennis Maher who was wrongfully convicted of two rapes and an attempted rape.  Dennis was sentenced to 20 to 30 years in prison but was finally released after DNA proved he did not commit those crimes.  Dennis’ Op Ed describing what happened to him appeared in yesterday’s Boston Herald.

Alimony Reform Moves Favorably from Judiciary

The Alimony Reform Act, S 665, was reported favorably by the Judiciary Committee last week.  It is expected that the House will debate the bill next Wednesday.  The bill will move on to the Senate soon after the House finishes its debate.  You can read more about the BBA’s efforts on the Alimony Reform Act from our coverage here on Issue Spot.

Human Trafficking Bill Moves to the Senate

One bill that the BBA is watching but has not yet taken an official position on is the Human Trafficking bill.  This bill would establish state crimes of human trafficking and has already passed the House.  Attorney General Martha Coakley and Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley have been champions of this legislation.  Our Criminal Law Section began discussing this issue after the AG outlined her legislative priorities at a BBA program held in early April.

-Kathleen Joyce

Government Relations Director

Boston Bar Association

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Hearing the Call for Alimony Reform

“Fair,” “Predictable,” “Balanced,” and “Much Anticipated” were the words used to describe An Act to Reform and Improve Alimony, at yesterday’s Judiciary Committee hearing in standing room only Gardner Auditorium. For the BBA, which has worked long and hard on this issue, it was a day that underscored the difference practicing attorneys can make when they volunteer their time to help draft fair and impartial legislation.

Senator Candaras and Representative Fernandes could not have been more gracious in their praise of those lawyers who endured fourteen months of marathon sessions in an effort to craft an impartial and fair law.  The BBA’s Family Law Section Co-Chair, Kelly Leighton, was the BBA’s liaison to the 14-person Legislative Alimony Task Force that worked for months behind closed doors on this legislation.

Through their public testimony, members of the Task Force described the process and what it would mean to divorcing parties inMassachusetts.  And we learned what happened in those private meetings yesterday.  Kelly Leighton testified that “the only thing we could agree on at the start of the process was that the law needed to be changed.”  It was emphasized that nobody got everything they sought and everyone gave up something they wanted.

The Task Force fittingly gave credit to the leadership of both Senator Candaras and Representative Fernandes.  They assembled representatives from groups often at odds on this issue and managed to get them to work towards a simple goal – making the Massachusettsalimony law better.  Also at the table at those meetings was Chief Justice Paula Carey of the Probate and Family Court.  Her guidance was critical to the process.  She was generous with her time and the Task Force was careful to not recommend anything that would adversely impact the Probate & Family Court.

The Task Force didn’t just spin their wheels…they did real work.  They incorporated divergent views and different perspectives to produce what has been heralded as a landmark statute that will modernize the laws guiding alimony payments and grant judges more discretion in their decisions.

Senator Candaras interpreted the participation of the individuals on the Task Force as an opportunity to serve.  She described it as a great experience and recognized the participants for generously donating hundreds of hour of professional time.  Now the Legislature must pass this bill.   With its broad support there’s buzz that it could happen this spring.

Yesterday’s hearing also focused on other issues near and dear to the BBA – including  the repeal of the adopted children statute (H 2262), the Massachusetts Uniform Trust Code (H 2261 and S 688) and technical corrections to the Massachusetts Probate Code (S 733).  I was impressed with the attention the members of the Judiciary Committee gave to each person who was called to testify and I was especially impressed with our own members who sat for hours listening to others testify on the various issues on yesterday’s agenda.  Our last bill to be heard, the technical corrections to the probate code, was called at 6:30 p.m. – five and a half hours after the hearing started.

Advocacy is a long process involving many talented volunteers, thoughtful legislators and lengthy hearings.  This is what defines life in a constitutional democracy.

-Kathleen Joyce

Government Relations Director

BostonBar Association

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