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Lynch & Owens, P.C.

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South Shore family law lawyers and personal injury attorneys serving all of Massachusetts.

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The Challenge of Parental Alienation
James M Lynch
Few areas of family law present more troubling concerns than parental alienation. Even the term itself is an area of controversy. In its most basic form, parental alienation occurs when a parent bad-mouths or undermines another parent by making inappropriate statements directly to a child.  However, with the advent of the father’s rights movement, and the more controversial claims connected to Parental Alienation Syndrome – which places the focus on the child’s behavior, as much or more than the offending parent – a reliable definition of what constitutes parental alienation has become difficult to grasp in recent years.
A recent unpublished opinion of the Appeals Court, Fiore v. Deruosi (2015), illustrates the troublesome nature of parental alienation case. Fiore arose from the aftermath of a same-sex relationship in which each party served as mother to a single child, a son. The recitation of facts provided by the Appeals Court is frustratingly thin.  The Court’s indirect reference to the statute affecting unmarried parents – Chapter 209C – suggests the parties were never married. The case was before the probate and family court on a Complaint for Modification, suggesting that the parties were returning to court after previously entering a parenting plan for the child.
The Court does not identify the son’s age, but references a series of incidents occurring between the boy and the non-custodial mother, Derousi, that occurred between 2010 and 2013, which resulted in the boy adamantly refusing to spend time with Derousi. The timeline suggests the boy was at least eight years old by the time the decision was rendered, and perhaps quite older, given the boy’s apparent objection to Derousi’s presence in the bathroom while he was bathing.
The Appeals Court described the alienating behavior of the custodial mother, Fiore, as follows:
The judge found that there had been a substantial change in circumstances due to the fact that, between July, 2013, and February, 2014, DeRuosi was deprived of parenting time with the child, aside from “a handful of reunification therapy sessions.” The judge concluded that this estrangement occurred because Fiore had engaged in a pattern of alienation. Fiore “consistently and repeatedly excluded DeRuosi from [the child’s] life,” including failing to discuss medical and educational issues with DeRuosi, and refusing to list DeRuosi as the child’s second parent when dealing with medical, educational, and child care providers. Such behavior amounts to Fiore having used “her final decision making authority as a tool to marginalize DeRuosi as a parent.” The judge paid particular attention to the fact that Fiore and her partner had exposed the child to inappropriate conversations critical of DeRuosi. The judge found that these conversations had the effect of causing the child stress due to the conflict between the negative portrayal of DeRuosi by Fiore, and “the positive relationship [the child] enjoys with DeRuosi.”
Fiore contends that incidents that occurred in 2010 and 2013 between the child and DeRuosi were what caused the relationship to become strained. The judge found that, in 2010, DeRuosi became angry with the child and grabbed his shirt. The judge also found that a 51A report filed in June, 2013, was unsupported for allegations of sexual abuse, but was supported for emotional maltreatment, due to DeRuosi remaining in the bathroom while the child took a bath. However, the period in which the judge found that the relationship between the child and DeRuosi deteriorated was after the second incident occurred. Both parties agree that the relationship was positive from 2010 to July, 2013. Ultimately, the judge acted well within her discretion when she decided that parental alienation by Fiore, not the incidents with DeRuosi, were the primary cause of the strain in the relationship, and her decision rested on ample factual support. Absent demonstrated abuse of discretion, we will not disturb the judge’s decision.
Further, the Court found that Fiore violated a court order by “failing to ensure that the child answer his phone to speak with DeRuosi on numerous occasions, and for refusing to allow DeRuosi to exercise her parenting time on three dates.” The Appeals Court held that the probate court judge “permissibly found Fiore in contempt when, in defiance of the court’s orders, she failed to insist that the child answer DeRuosi’s telephone calls and failed to facilitate the required visitation.”
Based on the facts described above, it seems clear that Fiore engaged in troubling behavior, particularly inasmuch as she “and her partner had exposed the child to inappropriate conversations critical of DeRuosi.”  However, like many cases involving allegations of alienation, there are ambiguities.  For instance, in a footnote the Appeals Court added:
We note that, despite the judge’s findings of a concerted effort by Fiore to alienate the child from DeRuosi, the child by all accounts appears to be developing well. In that context, the judge’s order appears designed to further the child’s best interests by removing that negative strain from the child’s environment and allowing him to enjoy a healthy relationship with both parents.
The Court spends little time characterizing the “incidents” that occurred between DeRuosi and the son that led to the child refusing to see DeRuosi.  However, the fact that the Department of Children and Families entered a supporting finding of neglect against DeRousi for the 2013 incident suggests that perhaps Fiore’s conduct alone was not responsible for the fracturing of DeRuosi’s relationship with the son. The Appeals Court seems to acknowledge this ambiguity in holding, “the judge acted well within her discretion when she decided that parental alienation by Fiore, not the incidents with DeRuosi, were the primary cause of the strain in the relationship …”
Adding to the thinness of the record is that the Appeals Court did not indicate how and to what extent the probate and family court judge, Hon. Theresa A. Bisenius of the Essex County Probate and Family Court, modified the prior custody order in light of Fiore’s alienating behavior. However, Court’s footnote indicates that the judge’s order sought to “remov[e the] negative strain from the child’s environment [by] allowing him to enjoy a healthy relationship with both parents.” This suggests that Judge Bisenius may have modified the parenting plan to provide additional parenting time for DeRousi.
 Parental Rights vs. Best Interest of the Child
Parental alienation cases, like this one, in which a “child by all accounts appears to be developing well”, despite the alleged alienation, are particularly thorny.  The legal standard for custody cases in Massachusetts is the best interests of the child. Separately, there are the rights of each parent.  In cases involving two legal parents, the rights of the child are supposed to trump those of either parent. However, we know in the context of guardianship cases – in which non-parents are seeking legal rights to children – that a parent’s fundamental rights are given great weight.  For example, in Blixt v. Blixt (2002), a leading case on grandparent visitation, the Supreme Judicial Court interpreted the best interest of the child standard as follows:
To accord with due process, an evaluation of the best interests of the child under the statute requires that a parental decision concerning grandparent visitation be given presumptive validity. …. To obtain visitation, the grandparents must rebut the presumption. The burden of proof will lie with them to establish, by a preponderance of the credible evidence, that a decision by the judge to deny visitation is not in the best interests of the child. More specifically, to succeed, the grandparents must allege and prove that the failure to grant visitation will cause the child significant harm by adversely affecting the child’s health, safety, or welfare.
Massachusetts courts have struggled to balance the rights of children versus parents over the years, and a case like Fiore illustrates the dilemma. In Fiore, we see a child who is “developing well” under the care of a custodial parent who is alleged to bad mouth the non-custodial parent. Moreover, there is evidence that the child does not desire to see or speak to the non-custodial parent, against whom DCF supported a finding of emotional maltreatment following an incident involving the child and non-custodial parent.  One might easily imagine that a major disruption in the child’s parenting time – due to the Court’s order – could interrupt the child’s positive development. Most parents might also recognize that a probate and family court judge’s orders alone may not remove the “negative strain” that a child feels in his mind towards an estranged parent.
In Fiore, we don’t know what orders the judge entered to address Fiore’s alienating behavior. We can speculate, however, that a hypothetical order that forces the son away from the perceived safety and stability he felt with Fiore, and into the perceived insecurity he might feel with DeRuosi, could negatively affect the child. On the contrary, such an order could also improve the child’s mental state and self-esteem, over the long run, if DeRuosi plays a positive role in the son’s life.
The Science of Alienation: the Positive Value of “Two Parents” vs. the Negative Impact of Parental Conflict
The Courts (along with common sense) have long recognized a list of negative behaviors that can be described as alienating, such as:
  • Allowing the child to talk negatively or disrespectfully about the other parent.
  • Setting up tempting alternatives that would interfere with the other parent’s time with the child.
  • Giving the child decision-making power about spending time with the other parent when no choice exists.
  • Acting hurt and betrayed if the child shows any positive feelings towards the other parent.
  • Using the child as a courier, messenger or spy.
  • Asking the child to lie to the other parent or betray the parent’s trust in the child.
  • Sharing the details of the divorce settlement with the child.
  • Going without dinner and then tell the child the other parent didn’t give you enough money for everyone to eat dinner.
  • Letting the other parent worry needlessly about the child.
  • Infringing on the other parent’s time with excessive phone calls or scheduled activities.
 There is little question that such behaviors undermine the strength of a child’s relationship with the other parent, and have a general negative impact on the child as a result. Moreover, in cases in which one parent is engaging in severe alienation, while the other parent strives to play a positive role, often result in swift condemnation by a judge. On the other side of the spectrum, parents who engage in very subtle or effective forms of alienation – for example, cases in which children actively conceal alienation on behalf of a parent – are exceedingly difficult for courts to resolve.  The vast majority of cases involving alleged alienation, however, involve high-conflict parents, who are unable to effectively communicate and co-parent for reasons that are entirely separate from the alienation.
High conflict cases that involve allegations of parental alienation are especially difficult for courts to resolve because they pit two competing bodies of science – each persuasive in their own right – against each other. On the one hand, there is persuasive science demonstrating that children who have positive and active relationships – including substantial parenting time – with both of their parents develop into healthier adolescents, teenagers and adults. This science is often referenced by victims of parental alienation, particularly in cases in which a child refuses to spend time with the parent and reacts badly to the parent’s presence. The argument, in such cases, is that the long-term impact of a child having a positive relationship with both parents outweighs the short-term trauma the child may experience from being forced to see the unwanted parent.
On the other hand, there is an equally deep and persuasive body of science demonstrating that children who are exposed to parental conflict – in the form of bickering, disputes over parenting time, and verbal and physical confrontations between parents – suffer greatly from the feelings of instability, guilt and fear they experience. It is this body of law, for example, that caused Massachusetts to require divorcing parents to take the state’s Parent Education Class. Similarly, it is this science that underpins the many rulings in which Massachusetts courts have held that shared custody is inappropriate for parents who lack the ability to cooperate or co-parent. These rulings are embodied in Ch. 209C, s. 10, which provides the following for unmarried parents:
In awarding the parents joint custody, the court shall do so only if the parents have entered into an agreement pursuant to section eleven or the court finds that the parents have successfully exercised joint responsibility for the child prior to the commencement of proceedings pursuant to this chapter and have the ability to communicate and plan with each other concerning the child’s best interests.
The same body of science that argues against exposing children to parental conflict also argues against creating unwarranted disruption and instability in a child’s living arrangements when parents separate. This is likewise addressed in Ch. 209C, s. 10, where it provides:
In awarding custody to one of the parents, the court shall, to the extent possible, preserve the relationship between the child and the primary caretaker parent. The court shall also consider where and with whom the child has resided within the six months immediately preceding proceedings pursuant to this chapter and whether one or both of the parents has established a personal and parental relationship with the child or has exercised parental responsibility in the best interests of the child.
The two bodies of law – i.e. the value of positive relationships with two parents vs. the negative impact of parental conflict – are often at odds in parental alienation cases. On the one hand, one or both parents may be engaging in conduct that could rightly be labeled as alienation, therefore undermining the child’s ability to enjoy positive relationships with both parents. At the same time, the history of parental conflict is often so pervasive that a shared custody arrangement – ordinarily the remedy for parental alienation – would simply result in more opportunities for the parents to engage in conflict that harms the child.
Indeed, looking at the known facts in Fiore, we see all the hallmarks of a high-conflict relationship between parents. And while an order for shared physical custody may improve the child’s relationship with the alienated parent, the child’s exposure to greater interactions between the parents – and greater conflict – could fundamentally undermine the child’s sense of wellness and stability.
Parental Alienation Syndrome: a Controversial Theory
As noted above, the concept of Parental Alienation Syndrome is steeped in controversy.  To its critics, Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) shifts the focus away from the parent’s alienating behaviors, however, and places the focus on the child’s reactions to the alienation. To its proponents, PAS illustrates the harm suffered by child victims of alienation, by formalizing the reactions of such children as symptoms of a kind of mental disorder.
The controversy surrounding PAS in custody cases is less about the psychiatric validity of PAS than it is about evidence. In short, proving that a parent has engaged in alienation generally requires some proof of specific conduct (or in this case, misconduct) by the accused parent. With PAS, however, critics complain that a psychiatrist determines that alienation is present based on symptoms such as depression, anxiety, fear of a parent, or allegations of sexual or physical abuse by the child against the parent. All of these symptoms, critics say, can also be attributed to non-alienating factors, such as a child’s depression or anxiety over a divorce, actual sexual or physical abuse by a parent, or simple parenting deficiencies.  (Indeed, where 4% of the American population are apparently sociopaths, roughly 15% of children are victims of sexual abuse, and 10% of the adult population suffer from substance abuse, statistics suggest that millions of American children have good cause to fear or dislike one or both of their parents.)
In short, attorneys complain that symptoms of PAS can be attributed to many causes – including poor parenting by non-custodial parent. Perhaps more importantly, attorneys complain that PAS – which focuses on a child is acting, rather than the specific conduct of a parent – circumvents evidentiary rules by attributing a child’s depression, anger, anxiety or other behavior to a parent, without independent evidence of the parent’s actions. That said, in cases where the parent’s alienating conduct can be clearly and independently proven, PAS can be a useful tool for demonstrating the negative impact of the behavior on the child’s psyche.
Parental Alienation Cases: a Thorny Challenge for Probate and Family Court Judges
Unlike criminal child abuse cases, in which children are frequently called upon to testify, Massachusetts probate and family court judges resolutely refuse to allow direct testimony from children in the vast majority of custody cases.  The taboo against child testimony is understandable in many cases, but is often puzzling in cases in which the child is documented making out-of-court statements in which express fear or refuse to see another parents. Such children are already living in a kind of private hell – how else can one describe a small child who seriously fears or dislikes one or both parents? Instead of bringing such children to Court, taking their testimony, and getting down to the bottom of whether the child’s fear is genuine or the product of alienation, judges rely on surrogate investigators, such as Guardian ad Litems (GAL), to interview children at home.  Most judges are quite good at assessing the credibility of witnesses.  The abilities of GAL vary widely, however.
Whatever the method, there is little question that cases involving parental alienation pose extraordinary challenges for judges and attorneys. Proving alienation is often quite challenging. Disproving allegations of alienation – like disproving any negative fact – is often equally challenging.  And even when alienation is detected, the most obvious remedy – a dramatic change in physical custody – would often pose serious risks to the mental health and well-being of the very child the court purports to protect.

New Post has been published on https://lynchowens.com/preparing-financial-statement-massachusetts-probate-family-case/

Preparing Financial Statements in Massachusetts Probate and Family Court Cases
Massachusetts divorce lawyer Nicole K. Levy reviews the preparation of Financial Statements in Massachusetts Probate and Family Court cases.
Attorney Nicole K. Levy
Under Supplemental Probate and Family Court Rule 401, financial statements are a necessary component of every divorce or probate and family court case involving child support or alimony in Massachusetts. Indeed, producing a draft financial statement is one of the first tasks I assign to my clients in every case with a financial component. Preparing a financial statement is a detailed and daunting process, and not always easy to navigate. An individual’s financial statement is signed under the pains and penalties of perjury, and must be notarized for individuals earning more than $75,000 per year. Elements of an individuals financial statement may change during a case, but major changes that cannot be explained rationally can be highly problematic. This makes it critically important for a party’s first financial statement filed to be clean, accurate, and explicitly clear.
Financial statements are required for hearings including temporary orders for child support or alimony, complaints for contempt for alleged violations of financial orders, pre-trial conferences, uncontested hearings to approve separation agreements and trials involving financial issues.
In this blog, I will provide an overview of Massachusetts financial statements by commenting on each section of the 9-page official Long Form Financial Statement, which is required for any individual who earns gross income of more than $75,000 per year. The Short Form Financial Statement, which is required for all individuals earning less than $75,000 per year, is a 4-page document, which includes abbreviated versions of most of the sections I discuss in this blog. In other words, everything called for by the short form financial statement is covered in my discussion of the long form financial statement. (For a review that focuses exclusively on the short form, take a look at this helpful guide. Readers should also note that Massachusetts Juvenile Courts use a slightly different long form financial statement, that is similar but not identical to the Probate and Family Court form.)
Child support cases are the most frequent reason for individuals to file financial statements in Massachusetts.
Preparation for Filling Out a Financial Statement: Gathering Relevant Documents
Before filling out a financial statement, it often makes sense for client’s to gather documents such as paystubs, tax returns and account statements, so they can make a full inventory of their income, expenses, assets and debts. Other helpful documents can include utility bills, car payment bills, and checking account and credit card statements for the accounts used by an individual for his or her routine living expenses. In addition, readers might want to check out the state’s official instructions for financial statements, as well as surfing the web for any additional how-to guides about Massachusetts financial statements.)
Long Form vs. Short Form Financial Statements
As mentioned above, in Massachusetts there are two types of financial statements – the long form and the short form.  Parties who earn more than $75,000 per year must fill out the long form. Parties who earn less than $75,000 per year fill out the short form. This blog focuses on the long form, since it is more comprehensive and encompasses all the areas in the short form.
Section I – Personal Information
Page 1 of the long form examines personal information, such as name, address, birth date, and employment information. This data may seem benign, but I have seen judges refuse to consider a financial statement accurate and complete because a litigant has left off a piece of personal information. Part of the reason for requiring employer information in the financial statement is to enable the opposing party to verify income and employment through financial discovery. If a party’s address is impounded due to an abuse protection order, the party should not include his or her address in Section 1.
Section II – Gross Weekly Income/Receipts from All Sources
Page 1 of the financial statement also requires parties to disclose and report all sources of income, including base pay, part-time employment, commissions, pensions, trusts, social security and SSDI, rental income, as well as a catchall category for any other source of income, such as stock options and RSUs. While this may seem simple, it is not just a matter of calculating one’s annual income. You may receive overtime, but not always. A part-time job may have commenced after child support was ordered, changing the treatment under the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines. Bonuses may be contingent on your performance, but also company performance. Your stock options may not be vested.  There are generally ways to explain any inconsistency in your sources of income without being deceptive or dishonest, but disclosure of all sources of income is always a must.
Section II is a popular area of the financial statement for the use of explanatory notes (i.e. footnotes). For example, contributions from householder members, in line II(p) is a frequent area of complexity, where a footnote often makes sense. If a party is unsure how a certain form of income should be reported, he or she may use a footnote to disclose and explain the income source without including disadvantageous or uncertain income on the financial statement.
Self-Employment Income and Rental Income
If you are self-employed or have rental income, there are separate schedules that are used to disclose this income. Schedule A is provided for reporting self-employment income while Schedule B is used for disclosing rental income. Calculating self-employment income for child support or alimony purposes is a complex subject; I recommend reviewing Attorney Owens’ detailed article on the subject if you have questions.
Rental income also includes unique complexities, where state and federal tax law is extremely generous towards landlords by offering deductions such as depreciation, which involves no out of pocket costs. In addition, big-ticket maintenance and repairs expenses to rental property must be scrutinized carefully, where capital improvements that increase the value of the rental property are not always deductible from income for child support purposes.
Contributions from Household Members
One notable category is “contributions from household member(s)” in line II(p). While each potential source of income presents its own unique challenges, this one often confuses clients. Do they need to include their new spouses’ income? What if they temporarily moved in with family? What if family temporarily moved in with you? The last second in my blog, Cohabitation not Grounds for Terminating Alimony in Pre-2012 Divorces in Massachusetts, reviews some of these questions.
Section III – Weekly Deductions from Gross Income
Page 2, Section III is reserved for expenses that appear on an individual’s paystub, such as  state and federal taxes, employer-based medical insurance, and 401k contributions. Parties who are paid biweekly can simply divide all of the expenses deducted from their gross wages by two.  Note that “FICA” taxes generally represents a party’s social security taxes. Even minor deductions from pay, like vision insurance, should be included if the deductions appear on a party’s paystub. Ideally, the gross income and deductions match the individual’s weekly paystub to the penny.
Section IV – Net Weekly Pay
Page 2, Section IV, simply calculates net weekly pay. Net weekly pay simply represents an individual’s “take home pay” – that is, gross weekly income less all of the deductions that appear on his or her pay stub. A party calculates his or her adjusted net weekly income by subtracting line III(s) from line II(r).
Section V – Gross Income from Prior Year
Page 2, Section V seeks a party’s gross taxable income from the prior year. In general, parties satisfy this section by reporting their gross taxable income from the previous year. Note that this section also requires parties to attach a copy of their previous year’s W2 and 1099 statements from the prior year to the financial statement. (Opinions differ on whether a party should use their gross Medicare wages from the previous year’s W2, or taxable W2 income.)
Section VI – Weekly Expenses Not Deducted from Pay
Page 3, Section VI focuses on weekly expenses not deducted from pay. Weekly expenses that are not deducted from pay, including rent or mortgage payments, utilities, motor vehicle expenses, and other living expenses. For seasonal expenses, such as heat, it often makes sense for parties to calculate an average weekly expense based on a 52-week year. Similarly, expenses like “clothing” and “uninsured medical expenses” are often best expressed as an average, where these costs may not arise every week. It is important to note that medical insurance costs should only be reported in this section if a party does not report medical insurance in Section II, under expenses deducted from pay. Child care expenses are particularly important to report, where such expenses can have a direct impact on child support under the Child Support Guidelines.
The importance of weekly expenses varies from case to case. For example, for a spouse seeking alimony, weekly expenses are an important component for establishing the alimony recipient economic need for alimony. Conversely, for a party paying child support, his or her weekly expenses may be less of a focus in the case. Either way, parties should strive to be as accurate as possible throughout the financial statement as a rule.
It should be noted that the expense categories listed on the financial statement are not always a perfect fit for an individual’s actual expenses. How to report cable, internet and cell phone expenses are sometimes confusing for individuals. Parties should be aware that there is nothing wrong with crossing out an unused expense category and writing in a replacement category when needed.
Other categories that can be confusing could be described as “groceries”, and might include food, toiletries, laundry and cleaning supplies. On the financial statement, “house supplies” might include light bulbs, batteries and toilet paper, while “laundry and cleaning” might include laundromat costs, detergent and cleaning supplies, while “incidentals and toiletries” can include makeup, toothpaste and hair products. Where many of these expense vary week to week, individuals should generally seek to use a good average estimate to cover these expenses.
Section VII – Counsel Fees
Page 4, Section VII seeks disclosures about legal fees and costs to date. This section is typically filled in by a party’s attorney. Retainer fees typically represents the total monies paid to the attorney to date. Total fees and costs incurred represents the total amount the client has been billed to date. The anticipated range of legal fees is highly subjective, and most attorney are inclined to include a wide range of potential fees in most cases.
Section VIII – Assets
Page 4, Section VIII begins the asset disclosure section of the financial statement. A financial statement requires parties to disclose every asset and debt in his or her name, with an amount attributed to equity of the total amount owed.  For some assets, such as real estate and motor vehicles, the party must include both the fair market value and any loans or mortgages owed for each asset.  Most assets are reported in Section VIII(D). The range of assets includes real estate, vehicles, boats, machinery, pensions, annuities, retirements, deferred compensation, bank accounts, bonds, stocks, money market accounts, home furnishings, art and other collections.
It is clear under Massachusetts law that all property owned by either party is subject to division. However, parties typically only report those assets owned individually, in their name alone, or jointly, on a financial statement. Thus, a party would generally exclude his or her spouse’s 401K account from their financial statement, even if the spouse’s 401K is subject to division. However, it is not unusual for parties to report certain “big ticket” items, like the marital home, as an asset on their financial statement, even if the property is held in the other party’s name, individually. Joint bank accounts are generally identified as “joint” on the financial statement and reported on each party’s financial statement.
It is important for parties to disclose assets, even if they are not in “pay status” or illiquid. For example, a defined benefit pension is an asset, even if the employee has not retired or reached vesting age. Family trusts also should not be overlooked. Massachusetts courts have even found a party’s entitlement to future book royalties constitutes a marital asset. Similarly, a future entitlement to a personal injury settlement is a marital asset. Generally, a future inheritance is not an asset subject to division, but in most instances, disclosure (perhaps with a footnote) is preferred over non-disclosure.
Section IX – Debts and Liabilities
Page 8, Section IX addresses debts and liabilities. In general, marital debts are part of the marital estate that is subject to division in a divorce. Section IX calls for parties to report all debts, including credit cards, personal loans, school loan, IRS debts, and other outstanding debts. Where Page 8 of the Long Form asks parties to disclose both the amount owed and weekly payments due on debts, parties must be mindful to avoid double-counting certain debts that are reported elsewhere in the financial statement. For example, where outstanding mortgages principal is reported in Section VIII(A), and weekly mortgage expenses are reported in Section VI, parties should not separately report mortgages on Page 8. The same is true of motor vehicle loans, which are reported in Section VIII(B), and weekly mortgage expenses are reported in Section VI.
For some liabilities, the weekly payment may be reported in one section of the financial statement, while the total liability owed is reported in Section IX on Page 8. For example, a 401K is typically deducted directly from an employee’s pay, and is therefore reported in Section III. Thus, a party should report the total outstanding balance for the 401K loan under “amount due” on Page 8; under weekly payment, the party should list “see Section III” on Page 8.
Like assets, parties generally only list debts held in their own name, individually, or held jointly in both names, on their financial statement. (In other words, the other party’s individual debts are generally not listed.) Thus, a credit card held solely in the other spouse’s name would not be reported as a debt on a one’s financial statement. Joint credit card debt is generally identified as “joint” on the financial statement and reported on each party’s financial statement.
Signature Page
Page 9 is the signature page. Somewhat puzzlingly, parties who execute a long form financial statement must have their signatures notarized, while those signing short forms do not require notarization. The notary requirement is peculiar, since both long and short form applicants are under the same obligation to present true, accurate and complete information on their respective financial statements. Moreover, the purpose of a notary is to ensure that a signature is not forged; the notary adds nothing to the truthfulness or accuracy of a document’s contents.
Extra Pages and Footnotes
Extra pages and schedules can be created for assets, expense and liabilities that do not fit within the standard 9-page financial statement. Explanatory notes (i.e. footnotes) are often helpful for addressing ambiguous areas on the financial statement, and for making any detailed disclosure of income, expenses, asset or liabilities. For complex financial statement, it is not uncommon for attorneys to include ten or more explanatory notes that provide background and details surrounding multiple parts of the financial statement.
Mistakes and Pitfalls 
In his blog on Divorce.Net, Attorney Howard Goldstein offers several potential mistakes individuals should watch out for when preparing a financial statement:
Estimates: If you are estimating any item, you should note that it is an estimate somewhere on the form. Otherwise, a judge will assume your expenses and income are based on actual figures obtained from careful review of past history.
Valuation: You are asked to provide values of your personal and real property. If you are not certain of the value, make sure you obtain an appraisal or otherwise indicate on the financial statement how you arrived at the value. If you are not sure, then you should indicate that on the form or in a footnote. If you are valuing a stock account or mutual fund, make sure you indicate the date that you’re using for the valuation.
Leaving things out: Every account, no matter how small, must be disclosed. If you leave something out, your spouse may claim you were intentionally trying to hide an asset, which could be quite embarrassing, or even legally problematic in front of a judge.
Pension plans: Often people will leave out pensions they have earned, or not properly calculate the value of the pension. If you need help valuing a pension, you may have to speak with an actuary.
Collectibles and tangible property: Used furniture has little value, but collectibles like coins, stamps, and memorabilia should be appraised by an appropriate professional.
Attorney Goldstein’s common sense tips are worth observing by any individual preparing a Massachusetts financial statement for a Probate and Family Court case.
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About the Author: Nicole K. Levy is a Massachusetts divorce lawyer and Massachusetts family law attorney for Lynch & Owens, located in Hingham, Massachusetts.
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Do Rapists Have Parental Rights in Massachusetts?

Massachusetts family law lawyer Jason V. Owens responds to a CNN investigation of parental rights for convicted rapists in the United States. Attorney Jason V. Owens Over the last week, CNN has launched a major investigative series on the parental rights of rapists across the United States. The multi-part investigation includes summaries of each state’s laws regarding visitation and parental…

What is “Income” in Child Support Calculation?

Attorney James M. Lynch
In a case decided on October 18, 2016, the Massachusetts Appeals Court overturned a modification and judgment issued by Norfolk Probate & Family Court judge, Hon. George F. Phelan, in a 15-page decision dealing with child support calculation and the law of contempt. This blog will examine the child support calculation aspect of that case, while the contempt aspect will be…

Complaints for Contempt for Violations of Child Support, Alimony and Financial Orders in Massachusetts

Massachusetts divorce lawyer Jason V. Owens reviews Complaints for Contempt for the violation of financial orders, including child support, alimony and asset division.
Attorney Jason V. Owens
Today is Part 3 of our blog series on Complaints for Contempt in Massachusetts Probate and Family Courts. Today’s blog (Part 3) focuses on Complaints for Contempt arising out of alleged violations of…

Appeals Court MedPay Decision: A Victory for Consumers

Attorney James M. Lynch
A recent unpublished opinion by the Massachusetts Appeals Court shed significant light on the grey areas which have existed between personal injury protection (PIP) coverage and medical payments (MedPay) coverage under the standard Massachusetts Automobile Insurance Policy and private health insurance coverage. A cautionary note: unpublished opinions Appeals Court Rule…

Income Attribution in Massachusetts Child Support and Alimony Cases

Massachusetts divorce lawyer Nicole K. Levy reviews the attribution of income in child support and alimony cases in Massachusetts.
Attorney Nicole K. Levy
In cases involving child support and alimony, a Massachusetts probate and family court may “attribute” income to a party the judge feels in underemployed. Judges review each parties’ income, as well as other factors, to determine the…

State Senate Declines Vote on Alimony Reform and Child Custody Bills in 2016

Massachusetts Divorce lawyer Jason V. Owens recaps the defeat of “an act reforming alimony in Massachusetts” and the “Massachusetts Child-Centered Family Law” in the state senate.
Attorney Jason V. Owens
For much of 2016, this blog has filed the progress of “an act reforming alimony in Massachusetts” (also known as the Alimony Re-Reform Bill) and the “Massachusetts Child-Centered Family Law” –…

Child Custody Bill Passes House, May not Receive Senate Vote in 2016

Massachusetts divorce lawyer Jason V. Owens reviews the latest amendments to the “child-centered family law”, which awaits a vote in the Massachusetts state senate.
Attorney Jason V. Owens
For months, we have followed the progress of the “Massachusetts Child-Centered Family Law“, a version of which was approved by the Massachusetts House on July 23, 2016. Originally, the bill was a vehicle for…

Time Nearly Out for Massachusetts Senate to Pass Alimony Re-Reform Bill in 2016

Massachusetts divorce lawyer Jason V. Owens checks the pulse of the Massachusetts Re-Reform Bill, which is mired in the state senate as the 2016 legislative session nears its close.
Attorney Jason V. Owens
With the 2016 Massachusetts legislative session winding down, advocates fear an alimony “re-reform” bill that unanimously passed the House last monthwill die in the state senate after…

Proving Cohabitation Under the Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act

Massachusetts divorce lawyer Josey Lyne Payne discusses the challenges of proving the cohabitation of an alimony recipient under the Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act.
Attorney Josey Lyne Payne
Under the Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act, one statutory factor for suspending, reducing or terminating a general term alimonyaward is cohabitation. Under the Act, alimony is defined as “the payment of…

Moving (with Children) After Divorce in Massachusetts

Massachusetts divorce lawyer Nicole K. Levy uses a recent Appeals Court decision to illustrate the complications faced by former spouses who seek to move with their children following a divorce.
Attorney Nicole K. Levy
Like many states, Massachusetts has seen a significant push towards greater shared physical custody arrangements for divorced parents in recent years as a result of the father’s…

Massachusetts Divorce Law Round-Up: New Case Law in June 2016

Massachusetts divorce lawyer Jason V. Owens reviews three divorce-related decisions entered by Massachusetts appellate courts in June 2016.
Attorney Jason V. Owens
Heading into the July 4th holiday, we thought w’d celebrate with a quick “case law round-up” blog featuring three major divorce-related decisions entered by the Massachusetts Appeals Court and Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Courtin…

Shared Physical Custody Bill Faces Voting Bottleneck in MA House Committee

Massachusetts divorce lawyer Jason V. Owens checks in on the “child-centered family law”, which is awaiting a full vote before the Massachusetts House.
Attorney Jason V. Owens
Last month, we provided an update on H.4107 – also known as the “Massachusetts Child-Centered Family Law”, which, at the time, was progressing through the Massachusetts house as the legislature’s July session approached.…

Alimony Re-Reform Passes Massachusetts House in Unanimous (157-0) Vote

Massachusetts divorce lawyer Jason V. Owens reviews the House’s unanimous approval of the Massachusetts Re-Reform Bill.
Attorney Jason V. Owens
  JUNE 22, 2016 – BOSTON – That didn’t take long. After writing this morning about a potential bottleneck preventing a vote on the Massachusetts Alimony Re-Reform Act, also known as the Massachusetts House Bill 4110“An Act reforming alimony in the…

Alimony Re-Reform Bill Awaits a Vote as MA Legislative Session Nears End

Massachusetts divorce lawyer Jason V. Owens updates readers on the Alimony Re-Reform Act, which is awaiting a vote in the Massachusetts legislature.
Attorney Jason V. Owens
Proponents of Massachusetts House Bill 4110, the Alimony Re-Reform Act (ARRA), are urging supporters to contact the legislators to encourage a vote on the bill as Massachusetts inches closer towards the end of the summer…

Complaints for Contempt for Violation of Visitation and Custody Orders in Massachusetts

Massachusetts divorce lawyer Jason V. Owens reviews Complaints for Contempt pertaining to custody, visitation and parenting time in Massachusetts.
Attorney Jason V. Owens
As part of our blog series on Complaints for Contempt in Massachusetts Probate and Family Courts, today’s blog will focus on Complaints for Contempt that are filed for the alleged violation of orders for custody, visitation…

Comments Now Open on 2017 Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines

Massachusetts divorce lawyer Jason V. Owens discusses the open comment period for the 2017 changes to the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines.
Attorney Jason V. Owens
Every four years, Massachusetts updates its Child Support Guidelines based on changes recommended by the individuals appointed by Chief Justice Paula Carey to the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines Task Force. The most recent…

Complaints for Contempt in Massachusetts: A Comprehensive Review of the Law of Contempt Actions in the Probate & Family Court

Massachusetts divorce lawyer Nicole K. Levy provides a comprehensive review of the legal standards used to determine a Complaint for Contempt in Massachusetts Probate and Family Courts.
Attorney Nicole K. Levy
Every Massachusetts resident involved with a Probate and Family Court case eventually hears the dreaded word: contempt. The court’s contempt powers are the means by which the judge enforces…