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COVID-19: Divorce And Custody Issues In Massachusetts
The coronavirus pandemic continues to have a ripple effect on various aspects of life, placing added strain on marriages and worsening relationships between co-parents.
People have lost jobs, shut down their businesses, and watch their loved one’s struggle, all due to a standstill economy. In April 2020, the rate of unemployment was 15.1% in Massachusetts, which is expected to increase to a staggering 25% in 2021. These dynamics have impeded family finances and caused high-conflict circumstances leading to legal issues. There has been a surge in divorce inquiries during the quarantine.
Here is what you need to know about the impact of coronavirus on divorce and other family law issues in Massachusetts:
On May 4, 2020, the courts in Massachusetts were closed in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Although the courts accepted and dealt with emergency matters, its operations were halted for the general public.
As of June 1, 2020, a new mandate came into effect that led to resumed court operations for non-emergency and emergency case filings. However, the court buildings are still closed for the citizens until further notice.This means that all judicial matters are being handled over videoconference, phone, email, and similar means.
There is an exemption in the virtual-only requirement when it comes to emergency matters that can be difficult to address virtually. Both the appeal and the trial courts have determined the specific types of scenarios considered “emergency” matters, and they have been highlighted in the same statute. Even for in-person hearings, no other person is permitted to be there in the room without the magistrate or clerk’s permission. Only the attorneys, witnesses, parties, and some other necessary entities specified by the magistrate have the permission to be physically there at the in-person legal proceedings during COVID-19.
With many people requesting amendments in their orders from court due to issues caused by the COVID-19 crisis, these factors have created a backlog of matters and cases that may make your family or divorce law case take longer than expected.
Child Support Guidelines in Massachusetts
Massachusetts implements child support guidelines to decide on children custody rules in a particular case. It considers the following factors in determining it:
- Parenting time,
- Number of children,
- Childcare and Healthcare expenses,
- Parents’ gross weekly income,
- Other paid support obligations.
In Massachusetts, parents can put forward a request to revise the order for child support if any of the following scenarios occur:
- There is a discrepancy between the existing child support order amount and that which would result by implementing the guidelines
- Previous health care coverage is no longer obtainable or is not offered at a reasonable cost
- You have access to health care coverage now that was not formerly available
- A substantial and material change in situations occurred
Various aspects are always considered, including education, job skills, training, age, criminal record, past employment, and health.
Massachusetts statute mandates an equitable distribution principle to distribute a married couple’s debts and property during a divorce. The courts make an effort to reach a non-discriminatory resolution, but this doesn’t necessarily mean an equal share of the property. It considers various factors to determine how to split the possessions, according to Massachusetts Law c. 208, which includes:
- The duration of the marriage
- The health, age, sources of income, occupation, station, vocational skills, and employability of each spouse
- The requirements of each spouse
- The possibility for each spouse to obtain future income and assets
- Debts of the involved parties
- Fulfillment of marital responsibilities by each spouse
In addition to this, the court may consider each spouse’s family contribution, such as a homemaker.
All in all, the coronavirus pandemic has had a substantial impact on the marital lives because of job loss, evictions, foreclosures, and other adverse reasons that caused financial stress in this situation.
When it comes to awarding alimony, Massachusetts courts consider the same aspects as those for property division. However, the court can alter the duration or amount of alimony payments if:
- there has been a considerable change in the financial situation of the involved parties,
- one of the partners dies, or
- in case the spouse moves in with someone else or remarries
If your spouse is being laid off, they can file a petition to amend the terms of alimony.
In Massachusetts, alimony supports a spouse economically who was dependent on financial aid during the marriage. Before making an award for alimony, the court needs to consider the dependent spouse’s need for it and the payer spouse’s ability to pay it.
Since the law doesn’t guarantee alimony, there are some factors to consider to determine if it is imperative to order an award for alimony and how much.
The COVID-19 crisis continues to be a source of havoc and significant disruptions that can impact your divorce case or family law. Some couples are more vulnerable to pandemic-induced stress. It is imperative to take support at the appropriate time to avoid future troubles. If you are concerned about divorce, have an unresolved conflict with your partner, or you are preparing to file litigation, it may be time to seek legal help.
You can count on attorney Richard Mucci to help you navigate the intricacies of family law and provide you with competent legal support in these trying times. Contact The Law Offices Of Richard Mucci for a free consultation.