We can’t tell you how often we’ve been at a party or event and someone is talking about a pending legal matter. At some point during the conversation, someone will often say that the person should work with us; more often than not, we are either already their attorney or we have connected them with their attorney. We cannot confirm or deny whether we work with someone unless they volunteer the information. That said, we will disclose with some reasonable comfort that we are not working with Bill & Melinda Gates on their divorce but we do potentially know something about their situation.
Rumor has it that the Gates’ do not have a Prenuptial Agreement. Knowing nothing about the validity of that statement or the law in the State of Washington, we wonder if they didn’t sign a Prenuptial figuring that it would be deemed unreasonable at the time of divorce anyways. In Massachusetts, Prenuptial Agreements are scrutinized in two steps:
1. Was the Agreement reasonable at the time that it was signed by the parties?
The court will determine if the terms were reasonable at the time that the Agreement was made. If the terms of the Agreement are objectively unfair and without reason, any specific term could be overturned.
2. Are the terms of the Agreement still reasonable and fair at the time of the divorce?
Even if the terms of the Agreement were fair at the time of signing, they may still be objectively unfair at the time of divorce. For instance, if one party had agreed to provide health insurance to the family but the other has been providing it for most of the marriage OR alimony was agreed to by the parties but is no longer needed, it may not be reasonable or fair to uphold a term of the Agreement . To the contrary, one party may have become ill during the marriage and has a greater financial need than expected, making alimony necessary where it was waived prior.
If the State of Washington applies same two step analysis, the Gates’ may have figured that any terms that they signed 20+ years ago may not be reasonable now given the expectation that Microsoft would continue to skyrocket in value.* At the time of the marriage, Bill Gates had approximately ten billion dollars. Imagine that the parties had agreed that Belinda Gates would get four billion dollars at the time of a potential divorce. Was that fair then? Sure. Would that be fair now? Probably not (keeping in mind that four billion dollars is still a LOT of money) because his current estimated net worth is 130 billion dollars. While these numbers are insane to think about for the average person, it is their reality and the same rule would apply to the more typical family also.
As always, please let us know if we can help you in any way.
John & Faye
* They could have also agreed to terms that accounted for massive growth, whether in dollar value or percentage.
For everyone who knows us, you know that one of us has a shoe obsession*. There is a massive love of high heels but also a strong affection for sandals, wedges, loafers, flip flops, ballet shoes and even cozy slippers. Given this obsession, you may be surprised that this is the first newsletter that we have ever written about shoes.
The great thing about about shoes is that there is a pair of shoes to fit your personality, mood and lifestyle. The same can be said about child custody agreements; there is an agreement to fit every “pair” of parents..
Although the specifics terms of the plans can be as different as stilettos and flip flops, custody can generally be defined several ways under M.G.L. c. 208:
1. Sole legal custody: One parent has the exclusive right and responsibility to make decisions about matters that have a significant impact on the life of their child(ren), such as education, medical care and religious upbringing. Sole legal custody is more rare than you might expect. We see sole custody most
often if one parent has a history of drug use, physical abuse, untreated mental health issues or if there is a restraining order currently in place;
2. Shared legal custody: Both parents have the right and responsibility to make decisions about matters that have a significant impact on the life of their child(ren), such as education, medical care and religious upbringing. This is the default unless there is something significant happening within the family as suggested above;
3. Sole physical custody: The child(ren) resides only with and supervised by only parent but may have visitation with the other parent unless visitation would not be in the best interest of the child(ren). We occasionally see parents who live in different states who will have shared legal custody but only one parent has physical custody;
4. Joint physical custody: The child(ren) reside in the homes of and supervised by both parents on a regular basis. What this model looks like can vary greatly from family to family. While some parents have the child(ren) rotate homes every couple of days, others stick to the classic one dinner during the week and parenting time every other weekend. Sometimes, parents with joint physical custody will choose a “primary” parent for the child(ren) in order to determine school choice. There is no “correct” schedule for co-parenting.
As always, please let us know if you have questions regarding a family law or other matters.
Faye and John
* We will let you decide which one of us loves shoes!
Pretty much every time that we talk about child custody or parenting, the phrase “Best Interest of the Child” is either uttered or written. IF you have been divorced within the last decade or so, you have attended a parent education class which focuses on co-parenting.
We can actually tell a lot about our clients depending on how they react to the parenting class. Great parents seem to take the class hoping to gain some ideas and bad parents often think that they information doesn’t apply to them.
The principles should be basic but we want to share them nonetheless. If you are a co-parent, there are things that you should never ever do:
1. Never talk negatively about your co-parent. Your child loves both parents and, if you talk trash about their other parent, they will potentially internalize it as disapproval of who they are as an individual;
2. If the co-parent starts dating someone or gets married, do not criticize that new person to your child. Children need to form their own opinions and build their own relationships;
3. Do not cancel out on parenting time if you can avoid it. Things happen: people get sick, work runs late and emergencies happen. Cancellations should be the exceptions, not the standard;
4. Do not set rules in your home that are drastically different from the home they have with your co-parent. Will there be some minor differences? Of course. The best things for a child are stability, structure and predictability. It doesn’t make a huge difference if one home eats at 5pm versus 6pm, but bed times that are hours apart will create a grumpy and confused child;
5. Do not spoil your children too much during your parenting time. It’s really tempting to be the “fun parent,” especially if you are not with your child on a daily basis. Kids do not love you because you sneak them extra cookies (though many grandparents would disagree);
6. Do not leave your homework to the other parent. Almost nobody enjoys Common Core math but chances are good that one parent doesn’t mind it as much as the other. Work together to use your talents, skills and knowledge whenever possible. Your children will benefit academically and they will know that both parents make them a top priority;
7. Do not ignore your children when you have time with them. Consider playing XBox WITH your child instead of just letting them sit in the basement alone. Quality time is almost more important than quanity;
8. Do not forget to have fun together while also teaching life lessons. Chores are not really fun, but they are important and can be done together. Teach your child to mow the lawn, do laundry and other life skills, then celebrate a job well done together; and
9. Do not introduce your child to ever person that you date. If you are serious with someone, it might be appropriate that your child gets to know this new person. Before you introduce that person to your child, talk with the other parent and the child to let them know that this is going to happen so that everyone can support the child emotionally. If your child is not comfortable meeting someone, take that cue and wait. When you do make an introduction, keep it light and short. Allow your child and your person to develop a relationship on their own and at their own pace.