Pet Prenups

Pet Prenups
By Amanda Castro, Esq.
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Prenuptial agreements regarding domestic pets are on the rise as more and more attorneys across the country are recommending them to their clients. This is due to the high rates of divorce, and more and more people realizing that their beloved pets must go to one spouse or the other in the event of separation. The problem of who gets the pets following a divorce has been a recent topic in celebrity news, with ex-couples like Melanie Griffith and Antonio Benderas, as well as Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon contesting the rights to their multiple canines.

In many instances, who gets the pets is one of the most heated issues to resolve, much like custody of children. However, unlike child custody, the court looks at pets as property and will divide it as such. Usually this means the person who paid for the pet will get to keep it. Using a pet prenup will resolve this problem by indicating exactly where the pet will go if a divorce occurs, as is the case with all property included in a prenuptial agreement. While prenuptial agreements cannot be used with regard to children and where they will reside in the case of a divorce, these types of agreements can be used with regard to our cherished pets, and should be utilized to avoid the future heated argument over who gets to keep that pet.

This problem isn’t just one that comes up in a divorce. Many people in different relationships, such as roommates, non-married couples, and siblings, share the responsibilities and love for their pets while living together. Some attorneys are now recommending that all people who jointly buy a pet or care for a pet set out an agreement in writing regarding what will occur in the case that the two, or more, people go their separate ways.

These agreements, or pet prenups, have many times included one of the caretakers receiving “custody” of the pet one weekend per month, or alternating weeks, much like child custody. This type of agreement is highly recommended when the couples expect partial custody of a pet after a breakup or divorce, as a court is unlikely to ever grant such a custody-like situation when it comes to pets. However, the most likely scenario is where the couple agrees to one person keeping and caring for the pet in the event that the two individuals are no longer living under the same roof.

If you are in a situation where someone may seek ownership of your beloved pet in the future, consider having an attorney set out a pet prenuptial agreement or a contract between you and that person indicating where your pet will end up in the event of a separation and any visitation rights that person is entitled to receive, in order to protect your own interest in your pets.

The Role of Parenting Coordinators post-Bower Decision

The Role of Parenting Coordinators post-Bower
By Amanda Castro, Esq.

The role of a parenting coordinator can be puzzling for parents going through separation or divorce. Many parents will ask themselves: “Why would I want someone else besides myself and my former spouse making important decisions regarding my children’s lives?” Right off the bat, the situation can sound rather undesirable; however, parents should seriously consider the true role of a parenting coordinator and the benefits he or she can provide their family.

Having a parenting coordinator is a form of alternative dispute resolution that is centered on making decisions that involve the children of divorce or separation. The parenting coordinator is a neutral third-party professional who is used as a mediator between high-conflict parents to assist them in implementing their parenting plan.

The main purpose for having a parenting coordinator is to avoid parents making numerous court appearances to file claims of contempt, or for minor temporary adjustments to the existing parenting plan. Going into court and having a judge make these decisions is much more costly and time consuming than having a parenting coordinator on hand to mediate such conflicts as they arise.

Prior to September 2014, judges in the Commonwealth would use their authority to involve a parenting coordinator to mediate these high conflict cases. However, in the case of Bower v. Bournay-Bower, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that Probate and Family Court judges can no longer grant parenting coordinators binding decision-making power over the objection of one of the parties. What this means is that only the parents themselves can agree to have a parenting coordinator make binding decisions regarding their parenting plan.

Practically speaking, a parenting coordinator enters the picture through the separation agreement. The parents can agree in their divorce agreement that in the event that the two cannot agree on issues regarding the children, the parenting coordinator will make a recommendation that will be binding on the parties. Of course, because it is an agreement, the parents can request that their attorney’s adjust the language and provisions as they see fit. However, because either parent is always allowed to then take that recommendation to court if they do not feel it was in the child’s best interest, many attorneys recommend that there also be a provision awarding attorney’s fees to the other parent if the parent who appeals the parenting coordinator’s decision to the judge loses their appeal. In this way, there is less opportunity for bad faith claims against the parenting coordinator to be brought into court, which would defeat the whole purpose of having a parenting coordinator involved.

If you are going through a separation or divorce and you and your former spouse are experiencing many conflicts with regard to parenting decisions, attorneys suggest you strongly consider agreeing to have a parenting coordinator involved in the decision making process. In this way, if you and your former spouse cannot agree on issues involving the children, a neutral third party can mediate and make recommendations in order to avoid numerous court actions. As such, the benefits of parenting coordinators far outweigh the costs in these high-conflict situations.

Common Questions Regarding Prenuptial Agreements Answered

“Prenuptial agreement” is probably the last phrase you want to hear your future spouse utter However, pre-nuptial agreements can be in the interest of both parties entering into marriage. A pre-nuptial agreement is one way of having the division of assets addressed in advance of death or divorce. But before you get angry at your future spouse for uttering those words, read through the following post and think about the possibility that perhaps a prenuptial agreement is an appropriate legal mechanism for protecting yourself in event of divorce or death.

Q: What is a prenuptial agreement?
A: By definition, a prenuptial (“prenup”) agreement is simply a written agreement between two people who are about to marry. In the event that the marriage is dissolved, it focuses on the possession of assets, treatment of future earnings, control of the property of each, and potential division.

Q: What can I include in my prenup?
A: Prenups include provisions for all types of financial, property, and personal assets. As long as it is fair and consistent with the laws of Massachusetts, you can include any and all items or assets that already exist or that may exist in the future (anticipated inheritances etc…). Additionally, a prenup can include a provision for future alimony or even a waiver of future alimony.

Q: Do I really need a prenuptial agreement?
A: The risk of not having a prenuptial agreement is that in the event of a divorce or death, you run the risk of the State deciding how your estate should be distributed. Should you have children from a prior marriage, there are some scenarios where the State can grant most if not all assets to the surviving spouse, leaving little to nothing for children from that prior marriage.

Q: Aren’t prenups just for rich people? Do I really need one?
A: Anyone looking to protect any premarital assets should consider a prenuptial agreement.

Q: What if I want to change the terms in the prenuptial agreement later on in my marriage?
A: Prenups can be changed or even cancelled later into the marriage. However, both people in the contract need to agree to the new terms.

Q: I found a sample prenuptial agreement online. Can’t I just write my own based on that one?
A: This is where things can get tricky. While there are plenty of sample prenuptial agreements online, it is questionable whether or not they will be validated in a court of law or if they really protect your individual interests. Additionally, it is hard to tell if the agreement will withstand it being challenged. This is why it is strongly recommended to seek attorneys to help draft your prenuptial agreement. Having a Massachusetts attorney represent you will help ensure that your prenuptial agreement would be consistent with the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and increase the changes that it withstand being challenged. The terms of the prenuptial agreement must be deemed fair when it was written and when it is being enforced. Only an attorney can help you draft such a contract. Additionally, we always recommend that both parties should have their own counsel review the agreement.

Q: I heard that Affordable Law Group is really good. Can’t I just go to them?
A: While we are more than happy to help you draft your prenuptial agreement or review an agreement that has been drafted by another attorney, it is advised for each spouse to seek out separate attorneys (don’t worry, we can point you in the right direction). The reason for this is to increase the likelihood that the prenuptial agreement will be validated. It would be a conflict of interest for our firm to represent both parties.

Q: Will I spend all of my saved assets on attorney’s fees for this prenuptial agreement?
A: The cost to draft and/or review a prenup will vary depending on how much time is required and the time required is based on the length and complication of the agreement.

While no one wants to think of the possibility of divorce or death, either of those possibilities brings forth an onslaught of difficulties. With the use of prenuptial agreements, people can have one less thing to worry about during the stressful times of death and divorce.

Keeping Legal Costs Reasonable During a Divorce

Couple Fighting Over Money

If you’re contemplating divorce, going through a divorce, or have been through a divorce, the first question you will likely ask, or did ask, your attorney, or prospective attorney, is, “How much is this going to cost me?” While it’s a very reasonable question to ask, the answer is always “It depends.” And what does it depend on? It depends on you and your spouse. The legal fees in a divorce depend on how much time the attorneys need to spend on your case. If the parties are willing to work amicably and be reasonable then the legal fees will be astronomically lower then those of the couple who refuse to ever compromise on anything and are always battling out issues in court.
Here are a few suggestions to help keep your legal fees lower during the divorce process:

1) Find an attorney whose fees are reasonable and that is a good match for you. The best attorneys are not necessarily the most expensive;
2) Follow through on all tasks your attorney asks you to complete and do so in a reasonable amount of time;
3) When giving documents, financial or otherwise, to your attorney try to make them as organized as possible;
4) Be reasonable. Understand going into the divorce process that you and your spouse will each need to compromise on certain issues.
5) Pick your battles. This goes hand and hand with being reasonable. If you are constantly going into court to battle over small issues then your legal costs are going to be a lot higher then if you were able to resolve those issues on your own. Some issues may require you to go in front of the Judge, however, other issues can easily be resolved without the trip to court.
6) Speak to your spouse. Going through a divorce is hard and emotionally tolling, but keeping the lines of communication open may allow you to resolve some issues between your spouse and yourself thus keeping the court and attorneys out of it.
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Affordable Law Group offers compassionate and cost effective services for clients going through divorce and other family law issues. Call 617-971-8295, or email office@affordablelawma.com, to set up a free consultation.

Telling Your Children About Divorce Through Sesame Street

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Telling your children about divorce is one of the most challenging parts of the divorce process. At consultations with clients we provide them with reading material and recommendations on books regarding how to breach this subject with their small children. However, after they leave the office and head home, they are the ones who will have to tell their children and it is not an easy thing to do, especially if they have young children. Young children understand that there is something going on, but often do not grasp the big picture or even understand what a divorce is. One really useful resource is the Sesame Street online tool kit. The amazing people over at Sesame Street have created a series of videos that explain everything from “What is Divorce?” to “It’s Not Your Fault” to “Changes.”

Check out the full Sesame Street Divorce Tool Kit, which is free online:

http://www.sesamestreet.org/parents/topicsandactivities/toolkits/divorce

If you are going through a divorce, it is always advisable to speak with an attorney. Affordable Law Group offers free 30 minute consultations so call us today at 617-971-8295 or email office@affordablelawma.com

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