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.
We spend a lot of time helping people plan for their future. The ‘future’ can mean so many things to people. Buying a new home? We’re here for you. Adopting a child, getting married or divorced? We can help you with those transitions too. Thinking about what happens if you were to become cognitively impaired or pass away? We are happy to discuss if we can help with those life events.
One of the things that we don’t typically address during estate planning consultations is what happens with your social media accounts after you die. We often will suggest to people that they update a list accounts and passwords regularly so that their Personal Representative, Health Care Proxy or Power of Attorney will have access to important records; however, we don’t know if people think to give passwords to their social media accounts or just the more traditional accounts, like savings, checking and investments.
With so many people documenting their lives on social media, these platforms have become personal documentaries. What happens when you are no longer alive? Unfortunately, your account can be locked and memories are instantly gone.
We of know a lovely widow who way spent too much time after tragically losing her husband fighting to have access to and preserve his social media page. Without it, she would lose so many memories, stories and photos. This should be the last thing that anyone should have to worry about after losing someone, but those memories become all that more important when the person is gone.
By contrast, we have a friend who passed away approximately 10 years ago. Her account is seemingly being maintained by her husband.
Every year, on her anniversary, her friends and family can post photos of their ice cream tribute to her. It’s a nice way for everyone to connect, also letting her husband and children know that she is remembered (and they are thought of also). It may seem silly to see so many ice creams,
but for anyone who has lost a loved one it’s actually quite meaningful to know that they are all thought of on an otherwise typical day on the calendar.
Did you know that you can protect your accounts in less than five (5) minutes? Most social media platforms offer a legacy or memorialization option. It takes moments of playing around with the settings area on the site or app but creates an opportunity for someone to manage your account.
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.
Long ago, in a law school not far away, Mark Lawton taught Juvenile Law at New England School of Law. He was giving a lecture and, as usual, was sharing stories from his time as a judge. Usually quite animated anyways, his face lit up when he started talking about adoptions and described the typical scene in the courtroom: photos being taken, laughter, bow ties and cute little socks with ruffles.*
Judge Lawton (ret.) was 100% correct. Adoption Day *is* very different than others that occur in the courts. The court room is closed to anyone not directly involved and sometimes the judges will let the kids play with their gavel or spin in their chair during proceedings. We have even seen judges play hide and seek in the court room with the kids! Honestly, the hearing is usually a lot of fun because people are in a good mood and the biggest concern is who is taking photographs.
Getting to Adoption Day is a bit of a journey. Massachusetts has specific laws and procedures that must be followed; our laws might overlap with the laws of the biological parents if they are not Massachusetts residents but the laws and procedures of both states must then be followed.
What to expect if you are considering adopting in Massachusetts:
- Massachusetts does not require a minimal age or marital status. ** of the prospective parents;
- Any person who is younger than the prospective parent can be adopted, with some exceptions, like current spouse, sibling, aunt or uncle. Some people have tried to use this broad language to manipulate financing for higher education but many lenders have become aware of this activity and handle accordingly, including allegations of fraud;
- Adults and children over the age of 12 must offer consent to the adoption;
- Massachusetts allows for prospective parents to pay reasonable birth expenses of the biological mother. All expenses will be reviewed by the court prior to the adoption to make sure that they are reasonable (ie. pregnancy messages may be considered reasonable but granite counters would not). Adoption Disruption Insurance or Risk Sharing Programs may be available and provide some financial stability for the adoptive parents should the adoption plan be disrupted or ended for any reason;
- Prospective parents must be approved by a professional licensed to do a home study. The family will have background checks done, as well as family interviews and home inspections;
- Biological parents must wait at least four (4) days to give consent for the adoption;
- The parties may agree to an “open adoption.” If the parties want to, they may agree that there is an opportunity for the biological parents to get occasional photos, updates and sometimes even an annual visit. These agreements may also allow for adoptive parents to reach out with questions about genetic conditions or if the child ever asks to meet or communicate with the biological parent. Adopted children do not automatically have a right to access identifying information about his or her biological parent(s) and need to show good cause to access that information. *** and
- When a biological parent consents to an adoption, it does not terminate the duty to financially support that child. Yes, you read that correctly. Although the law as written is actually silent on the matter, it was determined by the courts that the public policy reasons behind the law allow for enforcement; child support is most often enforced when a biological parent surrenders custody to the other biological parent (ie. Biological Mom surrenders to biological Dad and his wife).
* You may not be surprised to know that this is not the typical scene in courtrooms. Often there are crowded benches, frowning faces, tension and harsh words.
** In 1993, the SJC determined that the statute did not preclude same sex cohabitants from jointly adopting a child (Adoption of Tammy,416 Mass. 205 (1993).
*** This was determined by Fineberg v. Suffolk Div. of Probate and Family Court Dept., 38 Mass. App. Ct. 907 (1995).
**** As determined by Adoption of Marlene, 443 Mass. 494 (2005).