What kind of divorce support is available in Massachusetts
November 10, 2013 12:32 AM   Subscribe

Asking for a friend. She has decided to divorce her husband after 21 years of marriage. Her lawyer has said that, although he makes six figures annually, because he is retirement age and has many debts, she is not entitled to very much. Apparently she can't get any alimony nor money from the retirement account, and she doesn't have rights to the house. They are in Massachusetts.

Friend's lawyer came recommended by another friend who recently went through a divorce, and I think her specialty is low-income families. My friend has had small jobs for the latter part of her marriage, but has primarily worked managing the household and sometimes business ventures of her husband's, in addition to raising their son. It may well be that there is very little in the way of actual assets left to claim, as her husband is notoriously bad at managing finances. I am surprised that there isn't even a possibility of alimony for her, since she's been married to him for her entire adult life. She moved to the US from Brazil to be married to him when she was about 20, and has worked very hard be able to go to school and find independent work. Her income from her current work is very low, and she says most lawyers that she talks to want a lot of money up front, which she doesn't have. Her husband has always kept his income in an account that was inaccessible to her, and required strict accounting of what she spent on groceries, etc. from a separate account that he set up for this purpose. I'm hoping that there may be some way for her to access lawyers who can help her find a better settlement, and that there is some way for her to be able to consult with someone who might provide better representation. Finally, if there's no way she can access such representation on her own, how much might I have to lend her to help her do so, and how can she find the best representation? Is it possible that her lawyer is correct that she is entitled to so little?
posted by stinker to Law & Government (7 answers total)
I suggest calling Atwood and Cherny for this. If they can't help you, they know someone who can.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:08 AM on November 10, 2013

Alimony laws were recently changed in MA- it used to be the case that judges could grant "alimony for life", but that is no longer the case- it is assumed that after x amount of years or at retirement of the person paying alimony that alimony will stop.

Having said that, she should have rights to their house and the retirement money and she should get some alimony for some period of time unless they had a prenup or their is someother issue going on that you don't know about. The biggest issue in cases like this is that to get an agreement that is favorable to her, she either needs to be able to negotiate with her husband (and they can put in an agreement what they can agree) or by paying a lawyer to fight. The best lawyers would be able to tell your friend exactly what she can expect (my lawyer was amazing at this because he had been practicing for 30+ years, unfortunately he died or I would recomend him).

My divorce in MA cost about $4000- I had to pay a retainer of $3000 and then pay more when the retainer was paid down. My divorce was for the most part straight forward and we did come to an agreement between my ex and I, so that kept the cost lower- but it was still a lot of money.

Link to resources about divorce in ma:
posted by momochan at 4:32 AM on November 10, 2013

One thing that she should be aware of: as his wife or as his ex-wife, at age 62 or after, she will be entitled to spousal social security benefits, which would be one-half of the benefit that he is entitled to. And there is nothing he can do to defeat that right.

I am highly doubtful about advice that she cannot get any of his retirement money. That is governed by Federal law (assuming he is not self-employed) and that would be independent of any of his debts or other poorly-managed finances.
posted by megatherium at 6:44 AM on November 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

No matter what, she needs a different lawyer --- the one she has now sounds like they're working for him not her! (If her current lawyer is a friend of the couple or the husband, that's a gigantic red flag.)

Even if, somehow, she weren't entitled to alimony or spousal support, she is entitled to share his retirement benefits, the house, and anything else he might have hidden from her --- among other things, she or her (new!) lawyer will want to get copies of his payroll statements and income tax filings: people may lie to their spouses, but few will risk lying to the IRS.
posted by easily confused at 6:55 AM on November 10, 2013 [5 favorites]

I know many people who have divorced in Massachusetts, some recently. I am not a lawyer. Her lawyer sounds wrong. Specifically

- if they were married for over ten years she should be entitled to part of his social security (well not part of his but her own payment based on his earnings, it's complicated but true)
- unless there's a prenup (and possibly even if there is) alimony is a possibility
- paying up front is actually not that unusual
- it would be unusual if she were not entitled to part of his retirement account

No matter what her husband says, she should basically ignore it and seek independent counsel.
posted by jessamyn at 8:02 AM on November 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh, he's bad at finances is what he may have told her, but since he has accounts that she has no access to, and has had multiple businesses, maybe he really is great at business, just that she has no way right now of knowing.
Is there a nice car, mercedes/bmw etc? That may be an asset you can sell for a lawyer retainer.
If he doesn't know that she wants to leave, she need to consult with a different lawyer, AND a forensic accountant.
posted by Sophont at 12:57 PM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would seek a 2nd legal opinion. IANAL. It's my impression that in some divorces, the wealthier spouse may be required to pay reasonable legal fees. I suspect there are well-qualified lawyers who could assist her.
posted by theora55 at 1:25 PM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

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