The Law Offices of Paul J. Sweeney is a boutique law firm representing clients whose families are in transition. Attorney Paul J. Sweeney has been a divorce, probate and family law attorney for 34 years in Eastern Massachusetts. Prior to practicing, he was an Assistant Register of Probate at Norfolk County Probate and Family Court. Paul strives to help clients through the most difficult parts of their lives with trust, compassion, and experience.
Family law is an area of law which covers all family and relationship related cases. At the Law Offices of Paul J. Sweeney, we assist our clients with a variety of family law matters. These matters include prenuptial agreements, divorce, separation, paternity, and child custody. We also help with securing child support and alimony. In addition, we help seek and defend protection from abuse orders. Division of marital property and debts is another of our areas of expertise. We can also do your postnuptial agreements.
With our head lawyer, Paul John Sweeney, we help clients resolve:
- Whether a prenuptial agreement is advisable
- Whether an agreement you have signed is legal and binding
- Issues involving the relocation of children, regardless of if a custody order is in place.
- Estate planning cases. We do the evaluation of existing assets and the distribution of joint assets.
- Child custody arrangements. We help clients plan an active visitation schedule. We also help you settle on the child(ren) ’s permanent living arrangements.
- The financial aspects of child support
- Probate law and helping in ownership transfer
Our company represents clients located in and around Boston, including Jamaica Plain, Roxbury, Forest Hills, and Greater Boston areas. We have over 35 years of experience in several areas of family law, focusing on the unique needs of each client.
The court can ask one party to pay a reasonable amount for the other party’s attorney’s fees. This law applies to divorce actions. These fees may even include a party’s costs to maintain or defend the proceedings. In Boston, how does the court decide whether to award attorney’s fees? In what situations is it appropriate?
Awarding attorney’s fees is at the sole discretion of the judge. In awarding costs, the judge considers the earning ability of the parties. He or she also reviews what each party gained and lost through the divorce proceedings. Another consideration is the liquidity of assets acquired. In Boston, if you apply for an award of attorney’s fees, you don’t need corroborating expert testimony. The courts want to ensure that both parties have access to competent counsel.
The judge looks at several other factors when considering a motion for attorney’s fees. The main issue is the financial resources of each party. The primary element is the requesting party’s inability to afford an attorney. The other party must have the ability to pay for competent legal counsel. Courts will not order one party to pay the other party’s attorney’s fees when both are on equal footing. This calculation does not include financial aid from family members or friends. The spouse in need does not have to be completely unable to pay for legal expenses. The judge has the option to use other considerations in deciding that the wealthier spouse pay. Furthermore, he or she may order one party to pay for the other’s expenses after the proceeding. By then, the court would have considered the relative financial status of each party. Thus, a “spouse in need” may not receive legal fees if he or she gets alimony and marital assets. The court will consider that his or her financial position is now equal to that of the other spouse. Massachusetts law allows for the award of attorney’s fees. It also requires the judge to consider:
(1) the scope and history of litigation;
(2) the duration of the proceedings;
(3) each party’s merit in presenting their arguments; and
(4) whether the litigant is using the lawsuit as a means to harass the other party.
Child Support Lawyer
These are uncertain financial times. As a result, the specific terms of a child support agreement have become even more critical. One issue that parties to a divorce may forget is payment for their child’s college education. They may not even think to mention it. We live in an education-driven society. where a college degree is almost a necessity for entering Boston’s workforce. Many people in Boston recognize this phenomenon. As a result, they decide to help pay for their child’s college education upon graduation from high school. In divorce proceedings, parents need to discuss who will pay for a college education. This question is as important as child support obligations between both parties.
According to Boston statutes, a parent does not have to support an emancipated child beyond the age of 18. “Emancipated” means that the child is self-sufficient. It also means that he or she is not in college, and is living apart from parents. Otherwise, parental support runs up to age 23, or until graduation from college—whichever comes first. A statutory exception may apply if a child has a disability or is dependent for another reason. With the statutory exceptions, a parent may have to support a dependent child where:
(1) The cause of dependency is mental or physical incapacity. This incapacity must have occurred before the child reached 18; or
(2) the child is “dependent in fact.” The obligation to pay, including college fees, ends when the child reaches the age of 18. Exceptions include a court order, binding contract, or these two statutory exceptions.
Where exactly does that leave an 18-year-old a child of parents going through a divorce? That child may be a recent high school graduate in need of financial support to attend college. As stated before, if a child is no longer a “dependent,” a parent has no absolute duty to provide financial support. This includes helping to pay for an adult child’s college education. Are you a parent going through a divorce, and worried about paying for your child’s college education? The best thing to do is to mention the topic in preliminary discussions between the parties. It is vital to note that the support agreement may call for a parent to pay support beyond the age of 18. It can also oblige parents to pay reasonable costs related to a child’s college education. You will need to stipulate exact terms in the contract. The support contract should give explicit attention to this matter. If it does not, one parent will have to file a Complaint for Modification with the court. This complaint will get around this failure,
and will amend the divorce settlement. The support obligations will have to include a provision for college education support. However, the decision to approve the agreement is within the court’s discretion. Thus, it must be fair and reasonable. Such an arrangement will bind both parties to its contractual terms.
Are you going through a divorce? Do you have concerns about your child’s financial support for his or her college education? Please consult the Law Offices of Paul Sweeney for more information.
The court will look at several different factors when awarding attorney’s fees. For example, it does not matter if one party prevails in the proceeding. It also doesn’t matter if the other party is to blame for the failure of the marriage (i.e., through adultery). The court will not consider these subjective factors in awarding attorney’s fees.
What if one party wants to settle before the proceeding increase in cost? Does the other party, the “spouse in need,” wish that the proceeding continue? If he or she does, there is no Massachusetts case law or statute to suggest that a court will deny attorney’s fees. The judge will consider requests even if the spouse in need fails to accept an offer of settlement. This consideration also applies to situations where a refusal to accept was unreasonable.
Prenuptial agreements often have provisions that waive the right to attorney’s fees. The court considers these agreements. However, it is not conclusive how the court will decide the matter. Thus, the court considers contractual provisions. It also considers whether it was fair and reasonable when the parties signed. It weighs all other pertinent conditions affecting the party’s need and ability to pay. For example, one spouse may have the other sign a prenuptial contract before they got married. It may contain a provision stating that neither party would pay the other’s legal costs in the event of divorce. The court must consider this provision in making its determination. Enforcing this provision may, in some instances, lead to fundamental unfairness. In this case, the court may determine that the agreement is not binding. It may then exercise its discretion to award attorneys’ fees.
The economy is terrible, the employment rate is plunging, and life doesn’t seem to be getting any easier. Many recently unemployed white-collar workers face a critical issue. Should their current alimony payments remain at the same rate? Imagine a Husband and Wife getting a divorce pre-financial crisis several years ago. Husband was a manager at a Finance Corporation and was getting a large salary. Wife was a stay-at-home mother living at the couple’s home in Jamaica Plain. When Husband and Wife got divorced, Husband had to make alimony payments to Wife. The court set the terms according to Husband’s high-paying job at the time. Fast forward three years to 2009. Husband has lost his job, and because of the downturn in the economy, he has no employment prospects. Husband’s savings are declining at a rapid pace. He can no longer pay the required alimony dictated by a three-year-old agreement.
At the time of divorce, the court looks at the parties’ needs and abilities to pay. It can change or even suspend a final judgment requiring one party to pay the other alimony. In the situation described above, Husband has lost his job and cannot find a new one. This situation reduces his income – no doubt a significant change. The court could not have foreseen this change three years ago when Husband was still working. The real issue is whether the shift in Husband’s circumstances is permanent. Is it enough to warrant a reduction or suspension in his alimony payments to his Wife?
According to MA law, a change is “permanent” when the conditions exist for one year or more. An essential caveat is that not all circumstances must adhere to this standard. There may be situations where the parties can prove permanence of a state of affairs right away. Could this be one of those situations that warrant such treatment? A recent article made a compelling argument about the financial sector. It stated that it should be easier for unemployed professionals to minimize alimony. These professionals can argue that “their plunge in fortunes isn’t short-lived.” They can say that it is most likely permanent in nature. That argument aside, in Boston, a temporary modification in alimony is appropriate. When such a situation arises, the court usually reduces Husband’s alimony obligation. They try to make it more commensurate with his current ability to pay. Also, a court may even suspend payments if such inability to pay arises. It’s essential in these uncertain times to take advantage of what Boston courts allow.
Are you currently paying alimony to your ex-spouse? Have you lost your job? Don’t see any hopeful employment prospects in the future? The best advice would be to consult a lawyer to reduce your alimony payments. We’ll be there when you need us.
When faced with divorce, it’s essential that you get a lawyer versed in family law issues. At the Law Offices of Paul Sweeney, we are experts in divorce, paternity, and other aspects of family law. We also handle estate law cases. Call or email us today for a free consultation. We serve all courts in Boston and surrounding areas.
We have more than 35 years’ experience defending the rights of spouses and their families. At the Law Offices of Paul Sweeney, we have excellent listeners and strong advocates. Our skills will help you resolve your case to your satisfaction. Contact us now to set up a consultation for your pending case.