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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.

Murphy v. Murphy, Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Unpublished Disposition No. 12-P-167, January 28, 2013

In Murphy v. Murphy, the Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled that the plaintiff/wife was automatically entitled to 6% interest on $160,000 that the husband was ordered to pay to accomplish an equitable division of assets. The Appeals Court otherwise refused to disturb two judgments of contempt with regard to interest and attorney’s fees. The parties’ April 13, 2010 judgment of divorce ordered the husband to pay the wife $160,000, as a division of assets, as well as transfer his interest in the marital home. The wife was to pay the mortgage so long as the husband complied with the judgment.  On July 14, 2010, the wife filed a complaint for contempt for the husband’s failure to pay the $160,000 or transfer his interest in the home. The judge ordered the husband to sign a deed and fined him a $100 for each day he failed to do so. The judge later issued a judgment ordering the husband to pay the $160,000, arrears on the mortgage, and $5,000 in attorney’s fees. The judge denied the wife’s request for interest on the $160,000 and did not enforce the $100 per day fine. The wife filed a second contempt alleging that the husband had still failed to pay the $160,000 or the back due mortgage on the marital home. The judge expressly found the husband in contempt, but would not award the wife attorney’s fees, costs or interest. The wife appealed.

Read more: Murphy v. Murphy

Merrill v. Johnson, Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Unpublished Disposition No. 11-P-1830, September 19, 2012

In Merrill v. Johnson, the Massachusetts Appeals Court, pursuant to Rule 1:28, affirmed a trial court’s judgment of divorce which did not grant the husband a portion of the wife’s $12 million interest in family trusts.

The wife held an interest in family trusts, namely the "Merrill Trusts" and the "Hancock Trust." The Probate and Family Court found that the parties lived a modest lifestyle during the marriage, maintained separate assets, filed separate tax returns and planned for the future separately. The judge further found with regard to the Merrill Trusts, that there was no use of any income or principal from the trusts during the marriage, and the wife had no right to receive any distributions from the trusts until the death of her father, so that the wife’s interest was contingent. The judge left the parties with the assets they each brought into the marriage, gave each half of the equity earned during the marriage in the martial home, and awarded the husband most of the non-trust marital assets to offset the likelihood that the wife will acquire more assets in the future. The husband appealed the amended supplemental judgment of divorce and order denying his motion to vacate.

Read more: Merrill v. Johnson

Moreno v. Naranjo, 465 Mass. 1001, 987 N.E. 550 (2013)

Although the appeal was dismissed as moot, in Moreno v. Naranjo, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that it is the duty of a judge, under M.G.L. ch. 209A, to extend an abuse prevention order for a time reasonably necessary to protect the plaintiff, and not to rely on considerations irrelevant to the plaintiff’s need for protection, such as the defendant’s visitation.

The plaintiff and the defendant, Juan Naranjo, were involved in an intimate relationship and had a child together. In the past, plaintiff obtained abuse prevention orders against the defendant. After the expiration of a previous order and an incident of abuse, the defendant moved out of state but sent the plaintiff a text message indicating he would "see [her] soon." The plaintiff sought and obtained an ex parte 209A abuse prevention order in a district court. The order granted the plaintiff custody of the child. At a hearing on the merits, the court extended the order for six months rather than one year.

Read more: Moreno v. Naranjo

McLaughlin v. McLaughlin, Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Unpublished Disposition, No. 12-P-602, April 22, 2013

In McLaughlin v. McLaughlin, the Probate and Family Court found the defendant in contempt for violating two provisions in a judgment of divorce. The Massachusetts Appeals Court, pursuant to Rule 1:28, upheld the judgment finding that the defendant was in contempt of one provision such that there was one sound basis to support the judgment even though the trial court erred in its other finding of contempt.

The wife filed a complaint for contempt asserting the husband's failure to abide by two provisions of their divorce judgment. The first provided that the marital home be listed for sale and the "parties shall be guided by the listing broker as to the appropriate listing price." The second provision provided that the husband maintain life insurance for "as long as he has an obligation to pay child support," and mail the wife evidence of the same annually. Child support payments would commence following the sale of the home. The husband refused to reduce the listing price as recommended by the broker, and failed to provide evidence of his life insurance. The Probate and Family Court found the husband in contempt of both provisions and awarded the wife attorneys’ fees.

Read more: McLaughlin v. McLaughlin

New Child Support Guidelines

In Massachusetts it is public policy that dependent children be maintained and supported, as completely as possible, from the resources of their parents. In divorce, paternity and modification actions, there is a presumption that child support will be paid according to the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines, subject to certain income limits.

The Child Support Guidelines calculate support on the basis of the number of children, both parents’ incomes and the cost of medical, dental and vision insurance, as well as the child care costs for both parents, and existing support orders. New Child Support Guidelines go into effect August 1, 2013. 

Read more: New Child Support Guidelines