What is a Guardian Ad Litem and what does a Guardian Ad Litem look for?

A Guardian Ad Litem, or GAL, is a court-appointed attorney who represents the best interests of minor children in custody disputes.  In some states, the GAL is almost always an attorney, but in Massachusetts the GAL might be a mental health worker, social worker, or lawyer.  The GAL is responsible for gathering information on the child’s well-being and the custody dispute, and then providing a report back to the court. Often, the GAL will meet with the minor child, both parties, and the child’s therapists/teachers to get a full picture of the custody issues.

Sometimes a particular issue is at the fore, such as a child’s mental illness, and the court will direct the GAL to focus his or her attention there.  Other times, the GAL is generally investigating which party is best suited to meet the best needs of the minor child.  While this is in no way an exhaustive list, the GAL might consider: the home environment of each party; the child’s relationship and level of comfort with each party; the stability of each party and its impact on the child; the child’s physical, mental, moral, and emotional health; and the child’s education. 

Divorce Stress Relief

It is sometimes said that there are three types of divorce:  a legal divorce, a financial divorce, and an emotional divorce.  Your lawyer can deliver your legal divorce and financial divorce, and a seasoned CPA or financial planner can assist with the financial divorce.  But who can you turn to for the emotional divorce? 

In collaborative divorce, a “divorce coach,” generally a psychologist or social worker, assists with stress and emotional management.   For those people who have not chosen a collaborative divorce, or for those who did and still would like more emotional assistance, stress reduction yoga is a tool for managing the stress of divorce.  The Boston area is host to several excellent yoga studios.  Recently, I learned about a local therapist, Susan Davis, who doubles as a yoga instructor; she provides both talk and yoga therapy to assist you through the emotional upheaval of your divorce or separation.  Releasing stress through yoga therapy, or with a divorce coach, will likely make you stronger, more reasonable, and more effective at the negotiation table.   

What does the new Massachusetts alimony law say about cohabitation?

The new alimony law bases the calculation of alimony, in large part, on the duration of the marriage.  The alimony law defines duration of marriage as the number of months from the date of marriage to the filing of a divorce complaint.  However, the law adds that “the court shall have discretion to increase the duration of marriage where there is evidence that the parties’ economic marital partnership began during their cohabitation period prior to the marriage.”  In other words, the court may find that a couple married for six years actually had a duration of marriage of nine years, since that is the point at which they began the intermingling of finances during cohabitation.  As a result, the payor spouse may end up paying more money in alimony where there was financial intermingling during premarital cohabitation.

The new alimony law mentions cohabitation again when discussing the termination of general term alimony: “General term alimony shall be suspended, reduced, or terminated upon the cohabitation of the recipient spouse when the payor shows that the recipient has maintained a common household, as defined below, with another person for a continuous period of at least three months.”  This means that the recipient spouse may lose alimony when he or she cohabits with a new partner for at least three months in a primary residence, has economic interdependence with the new partner, and the recipient spouse and new partner have a community reputation as a couple.  If alimony is terminated for this reason, the new law provides that alimony may be reinstated when the new relationship with the new partner ends.  If reinstated, the alimony payments will not extend beyond the original termination date.