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The Law offices of Miriam G. Altman, P.C. regularly reviews developments in Massachusetts family law reported cases. Below are summaries of noteworthy recently reported cases.

Strayton v. Willwerth, 92 Mass.App. 118 (2017) (Unpublished Disposition)

In Strayton, the Appeals Court reversed a judgment which required a party to pay forty-five percent of their child’s college expenses.

The parties divorced in 2001. Their separation agreement provided that the mother have primary custody of the child and the father pay alimony and child support totaling $90,000 per year. The separation agreement provided that support would continue until emancipation, as defined in the agreement. Said definition included a change in custody, such that child support would terminate if the child began living with the father. The separation agreement further provided that the father would be responsible for all of the child’s college education costs. The provision merged into the judgment of divorce. In 2002, the parties entered into a modification agreement which, in part, terminated alimony as a result of the mother’s remarriage and reduced child support. In 2012, the child moved in with the father and another modification judgment entered whereby the child would reside with the father and neither party would pay child support to the other. The provisions regarding college education remained unchanged and the modification judgment specifically provided that "in all respects not modified herein, the prior Judgments…remain in full force and effect." In November, 2014, the father sought a modification requesting that the mother pay for half of the child’s college education expenses. The child’s annual tuition was approximately $60,000. The trial court found a material change in circumstances based upon the change in custody and the change in child support and ordered both parties to pay forty-five percent of college education costs.

Read more: Strayton v. Willwerth

S.P. v. B.D., 92 Mass.App.Ct. 1115 (2017) (Unpublished Disposition)

In S.P. v. B.D., the Appeals Court vacated a judgment between never-married parents, which granted the mother sole legal and physical custody of the parties’ two children and provided the father with six hours of supervised visitation per week, and remanded the case to the Probate and Family Court to make explicit findings of fact sufficient to satisfy the requirements of M.G.L. c. 209C, §10(e). M.G.L. c. 209C, §10(e) provides that the Court must, in issuing any temporary or permanent custody order over children born out of wedlock, "consider evidence of past or present abuse toward a parent or child" and, if the Court finds that a "pattern or serious incident of abuse has occurred," to "enter written findings of fact as to the effects of the abuse on the child." If the Court finds, by a preponderance of the evidence, that a pattern or serious incident of abuse has occurred, there is a rebuttable presumption that it is not in the best interests of the child to be placed in sole custody, shared legal custody, or shared physical custody with the abusive parent. M.G.L. c. 209C, §10(e).

The trial judge in this matter credited the mother’s testimony regarding an incident in which the father "pinned" one of the children on the floor, making it difficult for the child to breathe, smacked the child under the chin causing her head to snap backward, and threw the child on the bed. The judge also noted that the father did "not believe that his behavior was abusive" and "has not acknowledged the effect of domestic violence on [the] children."

Although the judge considered evidence of "past abuse," it was unclear whether she found the father’s conduct to constitute a "serious incident of abuse" within the meaning of M.G.L. c. 209C, §10(e). Moreover, the judge never made a finding regarding the effect of the abuse on the children. The Appeals Court noted that "this is not a case in which we may conclude that the judge made implicit findings sufficient to satisfy the statute," because "domestic violence is an issue too fundamental and frequently recurring to be dealt with only by implication." Custody of Vaughn, 422 Mass. 590, 599 (1996).

Flor v. Flor, 92 Mass.App.Ct. 360 (2017)

In Flor, the Massachusetts Appeals Court upheld the trial court’s findings that a material change in circumstances existed to warrant an award of general term alimony. The Appeals Court also found that the trial court did not err in declining to apply M.G.L. c. 208, §49(f) of the Alimony Reform Act, which creates a presumption that any order for support be terminated upon the payor’s reaching retirement age.

The parties were married in 1984 and had one child born of the marriage. At the time of the marriage, the husband was the primary wage earner and the wife acted as the family homemaker, responsible for household and child care between 1984 and 1998. In 2000, the wife worked as a sales associate for approximately six months. Between 2000 and 2008, however, the wife did not work outside of the home due to emotional problems. After the marriage irretrievably broke down in 2008, the parties entered into a separation agreement that merged into the judgment of divorce nisi prior to March 1, 2012, the date that the Alimony Reform Act of 2011 went into effect. The divorce judgment required the husband to pay child support until, at the latest, emancipation upon the child's 23rd birthday. While the Wife expressly waived the right to seek past or present alimony, the divorce judgment included an express reservation of the wife's right to seek future alimony.

Read more: Flor v. Flor

George v. George, 476 Mass. 65 (2016)

In George, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ("SJC") upheld the trial judge’s denial of relief on a complaint to terminate an alimony obligation on the grounds that the complaint was prematurely filed in light of uncodified §5 of the Alimony Reform Act, which provides a phase-in period for when complaints for modification may be filed by payor spouses "solely because the alimony judgment exceeds the durational limits." St. 2011, c. 124, §§ 4, 5. The SJC also provided guidance for how judges of the Probate and Family Court should apply the M.G.L. c. 208, §49(b) "interests of justice" standard when determining whether alimony payments can continue beyond the durational limits of the Act.

The parties were married in June, 1989 and were divorced in November, 2002. The alimony provision of the parties’ separation agreement, which merged into the divorce judgment, provided that the husband was to pay the wife $1,800 per month in alimony. The husband filed a complaint for modification on August 26, 2013, requesting that alimony be terminated as the durational limits of the Act called for termination of the obligation based on the length of the parties’ 12-year marriage.

Read more: George v. George 

Massachusetts Child Support Task Force Issues New Child Support Guidelines, Effective September 15, 2017

After a four year review conducted by the Child Support Guidelines Task Force, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Trial Court has promulgated new Child Support Guidelines that went into effect September 15, 2017.

In a statement issued by Trial Court Chief Justice Paula M. Carey, the new guidelines are “responsive to the feedback the Task Force received regarding the cost of health care and child care, as well as child support orders for children between the ages of 18 and 23, and post-secondary educational expenses.”

Further information and significant changes are outlined in a press release published on the Massachusetts Court System Website.