Briones & Morte Merge Law Firms

It is with great pleasure we announce that The Law Office of Stephen G. Morte has merged with the Briones Law Group, also of Marlborough, Massachusetts. The new firm will be a true combination of equals – a joining of two extraordinary firms very similar in size and culture, with practice strengths that are highly complementary and will enable us to provide a new and broader set of services to our clients. Stephen Morte will serve of counsel at the new firm which will be named Briones & Morte.

Both firms are extremely proud of their deep roots in Marlborough, Massachusetts, the quality of their work product, the quality of their advice and counseling, and the quality of their service. Our clients can expect from the new firm the same focus, the same high quality service and the same team that you have come to know.

How Are Child Custody and Visitation Established?

If you are going through a divorce and have children, child custody is arguably the most important matter you will have to deal with during the divorce proceedings. Although custody arrangements can be reviewed and modified until the child turns 18, it is very rare for custody to be changed from one parent to the other after the initial order has been established. This is why it is important to understand how custody and visitation (more often referred to as parenting time) will be determined.

There are two types of custody, legal custody and physical custody. The parents may share both legal and physical custody, share legal custody but give one parent sole physical custody, or have one parent have sole primary and physical custody. As you will see below, even when one parent is granted sole custody, the other parent will still retain rights to the child.

Legal Custody
Legal custody relates solely to the decision-making rights regarding the child. A parent can have legal custody of a child without having physical custody. The parent with legal custody will have the authority to make decisions about the child’s medical, religious, and educational needs. If one parent is awarded sole legal custody, that parent has the right to make major decisions about the child without consulting with the other parent. If the parents share legal custody, they must discuss the matter with the each other before making any major decision.

Physical Custody
Physical custody refers to which parent the child will live with. Typically, one parent is awarded physical custody, while the other receives parenting time. Although joint physical custody is an option, it is more typical to see sole physical custody awarded to one parent. Usually, joint custody will only be awarded if the parents agree to this arrangement. It is very rare to see a judge award joint physical custody if the parents have not agreed to it. [Read more…]

Obtaining An Annulment in Massachusetts

If you are unhappy with your marriage, you can obtain a divorce in Massachusetts for just about any reason. Regardless, there are those times when a marriage should not even be legally recognized. A divorce will end a marriage, but an annulment determines there never was a legal marriage from the start. Moreover, an annulment may have significance for religious or social purposes. If the marriage was not valid from the beginning, it is possible to receive an annulment.

Do you qualify for an annulment?

In Massachusetts, the marriage needs to be void or voidable. There is a popular belief that you can receive an annulment if the marriage was short. Unfortunately, this is not true. There are specific guidelines for granting an annulment, and the duration of the union is not a factor in Massachusetts. In fact, the requirements are so strict that many eventually choose a no-fault divorce, because it is just easier. [Read more…]

Pets and Divorce. Custody or Property?

Do you think worrying about what happens to a dog or cat, when there is a divorce, is silly? Probably not if you are a pet lover.

When a couple decides to divorce, the question of who gets the pets is very common. Pet lovers do not buy an animal, they adopt a family member. However, while the law focuses on the best interests of human children, it sees pets as personal property. Therefore, courts tend to work under this strict interpretation.

Under the law, asking for custody or visitation rights for pets is along the lines of asking for those rights for a television or microwave. Courts will typically start by deciding if the pet belongs to the couple or an individual. If the pet was acquired or shared during a marriage, then it is ordinarily considered marital property. The court then goes through the same steps as it would other property, such as assigning a value.  [Read more…]

Divorce Modification in Massachusetts

Once a divorce is finalized, the documents are filed with the courts. However, life is unpredictable and circumstances can change over time. In Massachusetts, if an earlier court order or judgment no longer suits the parties because circumstances have changed in a significant way since the order or judgment was issued, the court can “modify” the prior order or judgment.

Cases where a modification might be appropriate include those where the children are significantly older than at the time when the last child support order was issued, or where a person ordered to pay alimony has retired and now has a substantially smaller income than at the time he or she was ordered to pay alimony.

Sometimes a party may want to change an order or judgment because there is a legitimate need to do so, and it would be unfair not to allow a change. For example, when there is a typographical mistake in the written judgment, or when the opposing party lied about the value of a significant asset on his or her financial statement, and the lie influenced the judgment of the court.  [Read more…]

What To Do When Your Child is Injured

In Massachusetts, if a child suffers an injury due to faulty playground equipment, a bike accident, a slip and fall accident, or any type of negligence, that child’s parents or legal guardians have the right to pursue a claim on the child’s behalf.

It is often a challenge determining whether your child was injured due to the negligence of another party. Ask yourself:

  • Did your child simply fall, or did he slip on ice or snow that property owners neglected to clear? Property owners must make every effort to ensure that snow and ice are cleared for pedestrian traffic and may be liable for not doing so.
  • Did your child get injured at the pool due to unsafe conditions? Was there a lifeguard on duty who could have prevented the accident? Was the injury due to poor maintenance in the pool area as in uneven cement, missing drain covers or broken ladders?
  • Did your child get injured by a product or toy that could have been defective? Did parts come off easily which your child swallowed or punctured their skin?

Many parents are hesitant about looking into a claim for their child but many times your child’s injuries are at least, in part, due to the negligence of another party. A parent should consider your child’s pain, what he has suffered, and possible repercussions that could result. Also, there are the immediate medical expenses and those incurred in the weeks or months that follow, especially if looking at surgery or therapy as well as the time from work you’ve missed as the parent taking care of your child.

If you suspect that the accident was due to negligence, it is a good idea to contact an experienced personal injury attorney who will evaluate your case and provide you with options. When you meet with your attorney, bring any information you have. If your child saw a doctor or was hospitalized, bring the medical documentation. Bring photos of the injury or accident site and the names and addresses of any witnesses. Bring an accident report, if applicable, or if the injury is due to a defective product or toy, bring that product if possible. Any and all information will help decide if you have a case and how to move forward.

A child, like an adult, has the same reasonable expectation of not getting hurt or seriously injured due to someone else negligence. If your child has been injured, seek the advice of a seasoned attorney in the field of personal injury to assure that your child’s best interests and rights are properly protected.

Court Cases Provides Guidance for Child Custody Issues in Same-Sex Divorces in Massachusetts

Massachusetts was a leader in its early recognition of same-sex marriages. Logic dictates that the Commonwealth will also have more experience with same-sex divorce and family law matters, including child custody and support issues in cases involving the dissolution of a same-sex marriage. Three Massachusetts cases do, in fact, reflect that experience.

In a 2006 same-sex divorce case (A.H. v M.P., 447 Mass. 828), one partner never adopted the child of her partner, although she was well aware of the importance of pursuing a formal adoption. Her former partner was the child’s primary caregiver. The court determined that she had no legal right to parenting time and had no support obligations as a “de facto” parent. The result in this case indicates how critical it is for one partner in a same-sex marriage to adopt the other partner’s biological child if the first partner desires to continue to have a parental relationship with that child in the event of a dissolution of a marriage.

A Massachusetts court had previously considered the rights and responsibilities of a “de facto” parent. In a 1999 case (E.N.O. v. L.L.M., 429 Mass. 824), the court determined that an adult who has no biological relation to a child, but who has participated in the child’s life as a member of his family, may be entitled to parenting time and visitation rights following dissolution of the relationship. The “de facto” parenting standard is thus a function of the facts of each specific case. A same-sex parent who does not actively participate in a child’s upbringing while a marriage is intact will have little opportunity to continue any relationship with that child after the marriage dissolves.  [Read more…]

Is Collaborative Law Right For Your Divorce

The emotional repercussions of the breakdown of a marriage make divorce one of the most complicated of all legal processes. However, complicated court appearances and stressful litigation is not always necessary. For those that are comfortable with settling out of court, collaborative law is an option. There are many experienced attorneys throughout the state of Massachusetts that at  are well-practiced to serve individuals in this regard.

What is Collaborative Law and is it right for you?

Simply put, collaborative law is a non-adversarial a means of settling all aspects relative to dissolving a marriage without any court appearance or intervention. Rather, the parties will take part in several meetings with professionals of varying specialties to come to a mutually agreeable settlement arrangement. Again, it is important to understand that this option is for spouses who are non-adversarial, meaning that the parties are not fighting to “win” an advantage, as further outlined here. If you believe that you and your current spouse are willing to proceed through the negotiation process with respect for one another, and with the understanding that any solution needs to suit all involved as best as possible, including any children of the marriage, then collaborative law could be the answer for you. Each of the individuals involved must also be willing to disclose any financial and personal information to determine the most lawful and proper settlement outcome.

In addition to reducing stress by avoiding court involvement, collaborative law is also more cost-effective. When spouses are not in agreement, excessive time and resources will almost inevitably be used.

If you are ready to take an active role in your divorce settlement and feel that Collaborative Law may be right for you, you may contact our office directly or review information from the Massachusetts Collaborative Law Council to find a qualified attorney.

What You Need to Know About Child Custody in Massachusetts

Divorce is described as one of the most stressful events in a person’s life. Add children to the mix, coupled with questions of custody, support, and visitation, and emotions and stress can reach a breaking point. Wading through this difficult time calls for the help of a professional such as a divorce & family law attorney who also understands laws specific to Massachusetts.

Before you meet with an attorney, here are few pieces of information about child custody in Massachusetts that you’ll need to know in order to develop questions pertaining to your situation.

Two primary forms of child custody in Massachusetts

Physical custody determines where a child will live during certain periods of time.

Legal custody determines which parent has authority to make major decisions as in the doctor the child sees, the school the child attends, and even in which faith to raise the child.

Sole vs. shared custody
Sole physical custody means a child lives with one parent who is ultimately responsible for the child’s day-to-day supervision. The other parent is allowed reasonable visitation unless the court rules that this would not be in the child’s best interest.

Shared physical custody allows both parents a shared responsibility in raising the child while the child resides equally with both.

Sole legal custody gives one parent all rights and responsibilities to make major decisions in the child’s life. [Read more…]

Ways to Discover Hidden Assets During a Divorce

Despite complications to the marriage, most people enter the divorce process believing their soon to be ex-spouse is an honest person. However, this is not always the situation. The fact is, dishonesty is a common reason for seeking a divorce. Regardless, even if you have no reason to suspect your former partner is a liar, there is still good cause to be curious and concerned about their finances heading into a divorce.

Once a divorce begins, many people will do whatever it takes to conceal and hold on to what they believe is their money. Moreover, some will even create secret accounts, or perform other financial actions, during the course of the whole marriage. Discovering these hidden assets, during a divorce, is the only way to ensure you receive a fair settlement.

You should never rely entirely on your spouse’s financial affidavit. The good news is an experienced divorce attorney has many tools at their disposal often including a forensic accountant or other investigators and can uncover most everything during the discovery process.

In today’s world, many couples have very complicated and difficult to understand financial portfolios that may include retirement plans, stocks, vacation properties, and more. Regardless, deception is often easily discoverable. The hiding places are predictable. These are some of the more common:

1. Family and Friends – Your ex-spouse may conspire with family or good friends. This is often done by making payments for imaginary items or services, then getting reimbursed after the divorce. An experienced attorney will scrutinize payments made by both personal and business accounts.

2. Fake Employees – Having a fake employee on the payroll is a common technique for concealing the money generated by a business. While your ex-spouse may think they are being slick, an audit of their payroll will uncover the truth.

3. Unreported Income – Does your ex-spouse work in a cash business? Some people believe they can keep their true income hidden by excluding revenue from their financial statements. However, lifestyle costs often reveal the truth.

4. Collectibles – One way to hide money is investing in antiques and artwork, or even comic books and baseball cards. These items are often bought over the course of the marriage, and then the value is under-reported during the divorce.

5. Delayed Compensation – Your ex-spouse’s stock options, raises, and bonuses are all included in a divorce. However, if your ex-spouse has a friendly boss, they can conspire to delay promotions or payments of bonuses.

6. Custodial Accounts – One of the most devious methods of hiding money is setting up a custodial account in the name of one of their children. While this is hiding assets from the court, they are basically gifting the assets to their child. This can mean, if they eventually take the money back, they are stealing.

[Read more…]