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The Law offices of Miriam G. Altman, P.C. regularly reviews developments in Massachusetts family law reported cases. Below are summaries of noteworthy recently reported cases.

Pfannenstiehl v. Pfannenstiehl, 37 N.E.3d 15 (2015)

In Pfannenstiehl, the Massachusetts Appeals Court held that the husband’s beneficial interest in an irrevocable spendthrift trust, set up by the husband’s father and funded with stock in a private family business, was properly included in the marital estate and divided in the divorce.

The parties were married in 2000 and lived together until August, 2010. The parties had an eleven year old son, who had dyslexia and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), and an eight year old daughter with Down syndrome, who required "around the clock supervision." The wife, age forty, was a stay-at-home mother to the parties’ children. The wife had been an officer in the U.S. Army Reserves but, after pressure from the husband following the birth of their daughter, left two years shy of twenty years of service that would have entitled her to a pension. At the time of trial, the wife was employed as an ultrasound technician earning $22,672 a year.

The husband, age forty-two, who had dyslexia and ADD, came from a family of substantial means. The husband had a beneficial interest in a 2004 irrevocable trust established by his father. The trust was funded with stock from a private family business, namely for-profit colleges. The husband’s twin brother and an attorney, who has represented the husband’s father and his business for decades, were the trustees. The trust contained a spendthrift provision which provided: "[n]either the principal nor income of any trust created hereunder shall be subject to alienation, pledge, assignment or other anticipation by the person for whom the same is intended, nor to attachment, execution, garnishment or other seizure under any legal, equitable or other process."

Read more: Pfannenstiehl v. Pfannenstiehl

Kelcourse v. Kelcourse, 87 Mass.App.Ct. 33, 23 N.E. 3d 124 (2015)

In Kelcourse, the Massachusetts Appeals Court upheld the trial court’s finding that the parties’ antenuptial agreement was unconscionable.

The parties married on July 6, 1991. At the time of the marriage, the husband, who was in his forties, owned and operated a marina. The wife, in her mid-twenties, was pregnant with the parties’ second child and acted as the family homemaker. The parties lived together for five years prior to their marriage in a three bedroom, water front home located in the marina. A few months prior to the marriage, the parties moved into a rental home in Amesbury. The move was supposed to be temporary. The parties executed an antenuptial agreement on July 2, 1991, four days before their wedding. By 2005, the parties were still residing in the Amesbury home and purchased the house at a discounted price of $320,000 after estimating that it needed between $80,000 and $100,000 in repairs. The wife agreed to the purchase, expecting repairs to be made. The repairs were never made and in 2010 the parties separated. The husband moved back into the marina.

Read more: Kelcourse v. Kelcourse

Lalchandani v. Roddy, 86 Mass. App. Ct. 819, 22 N.E. 3d 166 (2015)

In Lalchandani v. Roddy, the Massachusetts Appeals Court held that a husband was not entitled to modification of his alimony obligation even though he had reached retirement age, where his alimony obligation stemmed from a separation agreement which did not merge into the divorce judgment and survived as an independent contract.

The parties divorced in September, 1992 after entering into a Separation Agreement which was incorporated into the judgment of divorce but did not merge and, accordingly, retained independent legal significance. The agreement provided that the husband would pay $4,333 per month in alimony until the earlier of either parties’ death or the wife’s remarriage. The agreement allowed the parties to alter or modify the agreement by signed instrument only. In 1996, the wife filed a contempt against the husband for, in part, unpaid alimony. The parties entered into a stipulation, which was incorporated into a January, 1997 judgment, which provided, in part, that the husband would pay a compromised amount of arrearage to the wife. The parties further agreed not to seek a modification of the alimony obligation until at least January 1, 1999. The agreement further provided that the "moratorium" on a modification was "absolute," except in the event of a total disability.

Read more: Lalchandani v. Roddy

Chin v. Merriot, 470 Mass. 527, 23 N.E. 3d 929 (2015)

In Chin v. Merriot, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts held that retirement and cohabitation provisions of the Alimony Reform Act of 2011 only apply prospectively. Specifically, the Court held that: "alimony judgments entered prior to the alimony reform act may be modified only under the existing material change in circumstances standard, with the single exception that the new durational limits of the act will be considered a material change of circumstances...."

The parties were divorced in 2011 after twelve years of marriage. The husband was 67 years old and the wife was 69 years old. The parties entered into a separation agreement, which was incorporated into the judgment of divorce, which provided that the husband pay the wife $650 per month in alimony until "death of either party or the wife’s remarriage." The husband sought to terminate alimony in 2013, asserting that he had reached age 65, "full retirement age" as defined by M.G.L. c. 208, §48. The trial court concluded the Alimony Reform Act of 2011, St. 2011 c. 124, made effective on March 1, 2012, seven months before entry of the parties’ judgment of divorce, did not apply retroactively, to divorce judgments of general term alimony. The trial court further concluded that the husband failed to show a material change in circumstances warranting a modification. The husband appealed.

Read more: Chin v. Merriot

Pisano v. Pisano, 87 Mass.App.Ct. 403, 31 N.E. 3d 1132 (2015)

In Pisano v. Pisano, the Massachusetts Appeals Court upheld the validity of a prenuptial agreement and a trial court’s determination that a husband was not entitled to alimony even though the premarital agreement did not contain a waiver of alimony per se. The Court vacated the portion of the judgment that ordered the husband to reimburse the wife for $32,000 in alimony paid under a temporary order but upheld all other aspects of the judgment.

The parties entered into a prenuptial agreement in October,1990. Each party had consulted with counsel. The premarital agreement provided, in pertinent part, in paragraph 7:

7.1 Generally, under existing Massachusetts law, in the absence of this Agreement, a court would provide for the division or other disposition of the property of either or both of us in a manner which was just and proper under all of the circumstances. In addition, a court could provide for the payment of alimony by either of us to the other in amounts considered just and proper.

7.2 We recognize that, under existing Massachusetts court decisions and provisions of the Massachusetts General Laws, we may enter into an agreement prior to our marriage concerning the disposition of our property in the event of a separation or the dissolution of our marriage and that the agreement will be enforced unless, with respect to alimony, enforcement would cause one of us to become eligible for support under a program of public assistance at the time of the separation or dissolution.

7.3 If … our marriage is dissolved and a decree of separation or dissolution is entered … we agree that each of us will have the following rights: (a) Except for the Marital Estate Property…neither of us shall have any rights in or to the real or personal property owned by the other prior to our marriage or subsequently acquired by the other at any time during our marriage.(b) [The wife] shall be entitled to her Separate Property….(c) [The husband] shall be entitled to his Separate Property as defined in paragraph 2.1 above…(d) The Marital Estate Property shall be divided equally between us….

Read more: Pisano v. Pisano