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The Column That I Didn’t Expect to Write

People who know me know well are going to think it is hilarious that I am writing this newsletter. I’m generally not a big fan of reality television, with the only exception being Shark Tank, which I loved even before a friend was on it last year, but even moreso since. However, sometimes reality personalities become part of mainstream news and discussion.

Lamar Odom, former NBA player and reality personality, has been all over the news lately. I know very little about him or his family, but I have been asked several times, within the last week, to explain how divorce papers can be signed, yet they are not divorced and his Wife can still make health care decisions on his behalf. To the best of my knowledge, California has jurisdiction over their marriage. I am not a California attorney.

Massachusetts requires several events to occur prior to granting a divorce. A Complaint for Divorce initiates the process; it is a document that is filed with the Court, either by one party or jointly.

Parties must exchange financial information. Both spouses present a financial statement, which summarizes expenses, assets, income, and liability. They also provide three (3) years of taxes, investments, and bank statements. Often the information is the same for both spouses, but not always. Sometimes, more information is requested, especially if one spouse is self employed.

Once financial disclosures have been made, the bulk of negotiations begin. Parties can often come to an agreement about how to divide marital assets and liabilities, whether alimony is necessary, as well as the care and custody of minor children. If the parties cannot agree on one or all issues, court intervention is available. If the parties can agree on the issues, a Separation Agreement is created and signed by both spouses.

My limited understanding is that the Kardashian-Odom process is or was at this point in the process. For that reason, they are still married and marital privileges, such as decision making power, are still in effect.

Parties need to actually present their Separation Agreement to the Court prior to obtaining a divorce. A judge will review the document for fairness and may ask the parties some questions. If the judge determines the document to be fair and entered into without coercion or pressure, a Judgment of Divorce is ordered. Most people feel as though they are divorced at this point, but they are not until a Judgment of Divorce Nisi is entered.

Massachusetts has a Nisi period which lasts for 90 days. The intent of the statute is to allow the parties to cool off and reconsider reconciliation. In most cases, this period is unremarkable and the parties become divorced.

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Safety in an Unsafe Relationship

Domestic abuse has been a topic amongst my family law clients long before Ray Rice renewed it as a nationals conversation. I often have consultations with potential clients who come to me for a “simple” divorce and proceed to tell me horrific stories of abuse. For some clients, it’s physical abuse, but for others, it is emotional, verbal, or financial abuse. The individuals are from all races, religions, social economic status, and genders.

My first inquiry in these situations is always related to imminent fear of bodily injury. If such afar exists, a Restraining Order (“209a”) may be appropriate. A 209a is a Court Order that states what parties may or may not do. Typical terms include, but are not limited to, an abuser not contacting a victim, or the friends and family of the victim, by phone, in person, by email, or text; abuser must remain a specific distance from the home and workplace of the victim, and the abuser may not possess any weapons.

Laws regarding 209a vary from state to state. In Massachusetts, the District and Probate & Family Courts allow for walk in requests and have jurisdiction to order a 209a where appropriate. Temporary Orders are usually given for a short period, often ten (10) days, but all Orders have the potential to be extended or made permanent.

What happens to my potential clients? Some never call again and I always hope that they have retained alternative counsel, not become a statistic. Some return months or years later, saying, “I can’t be a victim anymore” or “I have to do this for my child.” It takes courage to leave, because the scariest time for a victim is often the six (6) months following. They are often still terrified of their abusers. They are often isolated and broke. They often have a long history of police visits to their home. They are almost always afraid of what will happen next.

If you or someone that you know is in abusive relationship, please encourage them to seek legal assistance or to call RESPOND @ 617 623-5900 or click here