Practice Areas

Family Law

Val understands that there is nothing more important to you than keeping your family safe and keeping your self-esteem intact during a stressful time in your life. Whether your marriage is unraveling, you are a single parent doing it all, someone is challenging your parenting abilities, you have a child with legal and school problems, or you have a “deadbeat” ex, Val has your back.

Val has significant experience advocating for individuals, children, and families. She has appeared in most courts throughout the Commonwealth and before police and district attorneys’ offices, Department of Children and Family Services, and schools on behalf of her clients. She will use her business, criminal and trial experience to get results that work for you and your family. Val will advocate and protect you and your family as if you were her own.

  • Following trial, the court awarded sole legal and physical custody of minor children to the father
  • Following trial, the court awarded the wife alimony after counting significant expenses of a family-owned business as part of the husband’s income
  • Negotiated agreement whereby one party kept their mother’s inheritance received before the filing of the divorce
  • Obtained sole temporary custody and child support for the parent despite the fact that their divorce agreement provided for joint legal and physical custody
  • Relying on DNA testing and the unfitness of one parent, received sole legal and physical custody for the unmarried party
  • Negotiated numerous divorce agreements for fathers and mothers involving legal and physical custody, child support, alimony, and complex closely held businesses
  • Successfully represented numerous parents in juvenile court where DCF was challenging parents’ ability to parent their children

To end a marriage in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, at least one party must file a divorce complaint in a Family and Probate Court, typically in the county where one or both parties reside. The divorce action addresses the division of the parties’ assets, custody of minor children, child support, and alimony if appropriate. Although most spouses file their divorces as contested actions, some spouses file uncontested actions when they agree. In the end, most parties settle their divorces without a trial. Only a tiny minority of divorces, probably less than 8%, are tried before a judge.

While a divorce often is years in the making, a contested divorce does not commence until one spouse files a divorce complaint and a constable or process server serves the complaint on the other spouse. That spouse then has 20 days to answer the complaint. 

The decision to file for divorce has consequences.

First, upon the filing and service of the complaint, the law imposes an automatic restraining order prohibiting either spouse from selling, transferring, liquating, or otherwise disposing of assets belonging to or acquired by either party, except: (a) as required for reasonable living; (b) in the ordinary and usual course of business; (c) in the ordinary and usual course of investing; (d) for payment reasonable attorney’s fees and costs in connection with the divorce; (e) with a written agreement of both parties; or (f) by order of the court. Violation of this order could result in a contempt action.

Second, in alimony cases, the filing or service date of the complaint is critical. The law ties the duration of alimony payments to the length of a marriage, typically calculated by marriage date to the filing or service date of the divorce complaint. 

Third, the parties have 45 days from the date of service of the complaint to exchange financial statements and comply with automatic discovery, which requires the production of certain documents. Not until a party satisfies these obligations is that party able to conduct additional discovery.

Which spouse files first has very little import except if there is a trial that spouse presents their case first. The service of the divorce complaint must be in person. 

Generally, the court is not interested in bad conduct such as infidelity or addiction unless that conduct has resulted in the running down of the parties’ assets or interferes with taking care of the children.

Division of assets 

The law divides marital assets equitably. Equitably does not always mean equally, and it depends on the following factors for the parties: length of the marriage, conduct of the parties during the marriage, age, health, station, occupation, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, estate, liabilities and needs of each of the parties, opportunity of each for future acquisition of capital assets and income, and the amount and duration of alimony if any.

Custody 

The presumption for married persons is that they have shared legal and physical custody of their children. Legal and physical custody are two different things, and there are several combinations. For example, a party could have shared legal custody and sole physical custody of a child.

Shared legal custody means both parents have rights concerning significant decisions for their children, such as those involving medical care, religion, education, or discipline. Sole custody means only one parent has that right.

Shared physical custody means both parents are providing a home to the children. The child has two homes, and there is a schedule between the two houses. Sole physical custody means one parent has the child most of the time, but the other parent may also have the child in their home subject to a schedule.

Child Support 

Parties are responsible for supporting their child. The amount of money a parent pays depends on a formula and the type of custody arrangement involved. The court may issue a child support order for the Department of Revenue (DOR), so the parent makes payment automatically. A parent may not agree to waive child support for any child. There are ways to structure an agreement to maximize the parties’ available funds.

Whether you are going through a divorce or paternity action or have already gone through such an action, you need help from the court. 

Temporary Orders

Before obtaining a divorce or establishing paternity, the court may award temporary orders for support, custody, and other matters during the pendency of the case. Often the temporary orders become the basis for the divorce or paternity action. Therefore, a party should seek temporary orders with purpose, challenge temporary orders accordingly, and negotiate strategically. 

Contempt 

The Probate and Family Court enters orders including judgments concerning support, custody, visitation, and division of assets. When a party fails to comply with an order or law, the other party may seek relief from the court by filing a contempt action.  

Complaint for Modification

After you obtain a judgment of divorce or paternity, if there is a material change of circumstances, you may be able to go back to court to modify the judgment on issues concerning support and custody. As to the division of assets, absent fraud, you may not change any division of assets.

Abuse 

No party needs to tolerate physical and emotional abuse. If necessary and appropriate, a party may obtain a 209A restraining order from the court.

Until an unmarried biological party establishes paternity, they may be at a disadvantage under the law. Unmarried biological parents of a child have two ways to establish the legal father of a child. First, the parents may voluntarily sign a paternity acknowledgment form. Second, either parent may file an action in court asking the court to establish paternity. Paternity may require DNA testing of a parent and child. Once a party establishes paternity, they may ask the court to address the issue of custody and child support

A prenuptial agreement, also referred to as premarital agreement or prenup, is an agreement between a couple before marriage which addresses a division of assets and alimony upon the event of divorce or death. For example, the prenup may address future alimony, future inheritances, division of some assets, or how expenses will be shared during a marriage. For the Probate and Family Court to enforce a prenuptial agreement, it must conform with the law, which means it must be in writing, signed, and there must be full and fair financial disclosure by the parties. Notably, the prenup must be fair and reasonable at the time of signing and also at the time of divorce or the death of one party.

A postnuptial agreement, also referred to as a marital agreement or a postnup, is an agreement between a married couple that typically is entered into when the couple is considering a divorce but decides to continue with the marriage and enters the agreement. Unlike a prenup, the court views a postnuptial agreement differently, and the court scrutinizes the postnup. At a minimum, for the court to enforce a postnup, it requires as showing that: 1) each party obtained separate legal counsel of their choosing before agreeing, 2) the agreement is not subject to fraud or coercion, 3) parties disclosed all assets fully before agreeing, 4) each spouse knowingly and explicitly agreed in writing to waive the right to a judicial equitable division of assets and all marital rights in the event of a divorce, and 5) the agreement is fair and reasonable at the time of execution and at the time of divorce. The party seeking to enforce the marital agreement has the burden of proof, i.e., must satisfy these requirements.

This area of the law involves minor children facing delinquency problems, trouble with the law or at home, and parents confronting challenges to their abilities to parent. Juveniles can face criminal and civil matters. Although juvenile records are sealed and impounded, the rights of parents and children nonetheless should be appropriately protected and considered.

DCF is responsible for keeping children and families safe from abuse and providing services and support to families. When appropriate, DCF provides foster care and new permanent families for children through kinship placement, guardianship, or adoption. Once DCF is involved with your family, it is very important that you fully understand your rights.

PRACTICE AREAS

“To live, to err, to triumph, to re-create life out of life.”
– James Joyce