Vaughn-Martel Law Welcomes Law Clerk Annette G. Macaluso

AnnetteMacalusoHeadshotAnnette Macaluso joins Vaughn-Martel Law as a law clerk, where she will assist the Firm’s attorneys and clients.

Annette is a dual degree candidate seeking her Juris Doctor and Master of Business Administration from Suffolk University Law School in Boston, Massachusetts, where she is also a research assistant and on the executive boards of the Queer Law Alliance and the Child and Family Law Student Association.

She received her B.A. from Smith College, where she double majored in Government and Russian Literature.  She has interned for the Honorable Judge David G. Sacks of Hampden Probate and Family Court, as well as Senior Partners for Justice in the Suffolk Probate and Family Court.  She is deeply dedicated to giving back to the community and has worked as a legal intern at a number of non-profits, including Jane Doe Inc. and the Bill of Rights Defense Committee. Annette is interested in pursuing a career in domestic relations, estate and business planning.

In her free time, she volunteers at Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, runs with her dog, and bakes.

Vaughn-Martel Law Attorneys Walsh and McNeil Recognized as “Top Women Attorneys in Massachusetts”

Boston Magazine April 2014Vaughn-Martel Law is pleased to announce that both of its female attorneys have been recognized with the distinction of Top Women Attorneys in Massachusetts by Boston Magazine.  Both Attorney Jessica M. Walsh and Attorney Emily Towne McNeil appear in the April, 2014, edition of Boston Magazine, which has a readership of one-half million per month.

Attorney Walsh is a resident of Brookline, Massachusetts, whose practice focuses on family law, abuse prevention, and general civil litigation. Walsh is a magna cum laude graduate of the University of Connecticut and a cum laude graduate of New England Law | Boston. Read more about Attorney Jessica M. Walsh.

Attorney McNeil is a resident of Natick, Massachusetts, whose practice focuses on estate planning, estate administration, and real estate. In addition, McNeil is an adjunct professor in the Department of Economics and Business Administration at Framingham State University, where she teaches The Legal Environment of Business. She is a graduate of Framingham State University and New England Law | Boston.  Read more about Attorney Emily Towne McNeil.

Vaughn-Martel Law represents clients in divorce and family law matters, estate planning, LGBTQ law, adoption and reproductive technology, and general civil litigation. In addition to providing exceptional legal representation, our attorneys are committed to pro bono advocacy and community involvement.

 

Vaughn-Martel Law’s Jessica M. Walsh Participates in Suffolk County Family Law Workshop

998_Boston-City-Hall425570Attorney Jessica M. Walsh recently participated in a pilot program aimed at providing free legal advice to parents dealing with family law matters of any kind, regardless of whether they have actually filed a court case.  The Family Court Workshop is a joint initiative between the Honorable Judge Ordonez, Chief Justice of the Probate and Family Court, the Office of the Probate and Family Court, community leaders, and volunteer lawyers.  The purpose of the workshop is to provide parents with general information on family law matters; to supply and assist in the completion of necessary court forms; to refer participants to legal referral services; and to make available written information on community programs and services that are available.

According to the Court’s Press Release,

“Mothers and fathers will learn the basics of family law, including:

  • How to prepare for court and present a case before a judge
  • Legal options for filing for and responding to a divorce action and a motion for temporary orders
  • Issues for unmarried parents: establishing paternity and filing a paternity action
  • Custody agreements and parenting arrangements
  • Identifying domestic violence and how to get help

The 90-minute workshops are divided by gender, with mothers attending separate workshops from fathers. One workshop for mothers and one for fathers is available every month from January to June, with the first workshop for mothers on January 16, and the first workshop for fathers on January 30.

The workshops will be held in Boston City Hall from 5:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. and are free to residents of Suffolk County, which include residents in the cities and towns of Boston, Revere, Chelsea and Winthrop.  No sign-up or pre-registration is required.  Child care will not be provided.  Questions may be directed to Evelyn Patsos, Esq., at evelyn.patsos@jud.state.ma.us.”

The Family Court Workshop, which is divided into separate sessions for mother and fathers, are held at Boston City Hall at 5:30pm on Thursdays on the following schedule:

Workshop dates for mothers: Workshop dates for fathers:
January 16 January 30
February 13 February 27
March 13 March 27
April 10 April 17
May 8 May 22
June 12 June 26

Jessica M. Walsh is an attorney at Vaughn-Martel Law, where she practices in the areas of domestic relations and civil litigation.

Digital Life After Death: What Happens To One’s Social Media and Online Storage Accounts After Death?

updatestatussadfacejpgWith an estimated 1.23 billion active monthly Facebook users at the end of 2013, nearly 1 out of every 6 people on planet earth have at least some identity or presence on line.  In the United States, nearly 1 out of 3 people review or update their Facebook account each day!  We share photos, vacation highlights, accomplishments, bad news, political commentary, cat videos, and we give and receive congratulations and support.  In some ways, at least some part of us ‘exists’ on line.

Have you ever wondered what happens to your online presence when you pass away?   For example, what happens to your Facebook Timeline, your LinkedIn account, and all of the photos you have stored and shared on Shutterfly?  Like your personal effects and bank accounts, you have the power to choose who should have access to your online accounts after your death using carefully drafted estate planning documents, subject, of course, to the terms and conditions of any particular website.  When I draft a Will or a Trust for a client, I include provisions naming a person or persons my client would like to have access to his or her digital assets after death.

Most websites have terms and conditions that you have agreed to in order to participate in the forum, and you should read them.  Many websites will honor your wishes if you have included wording in your Will or Trust regarding digital account but, as mentioned previously, some websites will have their own procedures that will trump the instructions you leave in your estate planning documents.  It is important to acquaint yourself with the terms and conditions of all websites you are utilizing and take appropriate measures to ensure that the digital assets stored on that website would not be lost in the event of your unexpected demise.  Consider leaving a list of websites and corresponding user names and passwords for your personal representative with your Will.

Just as one example, Facebook has a clear policy for how it handles the accounts of deceased users.  Facebook will memorialize the user’s Timeline upon notification of the death of the user.  The request to memorialize the account can be made by anyone who knew the deceased user.  You can submit a Facebook Memorialization Request by clicking here.  Once the death is confirmed by Facebook, the account will become memorialized, meaning that the deceased user cannot obtain new friends, users will not be able to post to the deceased user’s Timeline, and other personal information will be removed.

This is an ever-evolving area of the law, as are most internet-related issues.  As users of the fast-paced technology, it is our responsibility to review the policies of the sites we use and make appropriate provisions to protect ourselves both during life and even after death.  Be sure to review the terms and conditions as well as the personal settings of every social media website and digital storage website you utilize.  A well written estate plan along with a list of sites and login information will go a long way in the event your personal representative ever has to start picking up the pieces of your digital estate.  If you have an estate plan, review it to see whether there are provisions regarding your digital estate or websites that you use regularly.  If there are no provisions or if it has been more than a three years since your estate plan was drafted, make an appointment with an estate planning attorney to discuss your options and to update your plan.

Emily Towne McNeil is an estate planning and probate attorney at the Boston law firm of Vaughn-Martel Law.

Worth a Listen: Three-Part Audio Series About a Transgender Teen and His Family

ImageNational Public Radio’s Martha Bebinger presents her intimate interview with a transgender teen and his family.  The three-part audio series explores the challenges facing transgender teenagers through the story of Nate, a 16-year-old transgender male in Massachusetts.

Nate’s parents have an endless stream of questions: Is Nate rejecting life as girl after being bullied by a clique in middle school? Is Nate really a tough lesbian, as he seemed to be at age 14? Or, Jackie asks, “Is this something — I feel terrible saying it — is it a phase? Are you going to change your mind in a few years?”

The article, Nate’s Transgender Story, is broken down into 3 parts, each with intimate videos of family discussions, warm family photos, text of the interview, and transgender resources.

 

Is “Divorce Monday” Real?

Divorce_CoupleWell, the holidays are over and the champagne has gone flat.

The Monday of the first full week in January is known as “Blue Monday” – officially, the most depressing day of the year.  Blue Monday was originally identified in 2005 by academic Cliff Arnall and has continued to be analyzed and studied in recent years, specifically by analyzing “tweets” posted on Twitter in the month of January.  “Blue Monday” may be considered the most depressing day of the year for reasons such as the end of the holiday season, the return to work after many days and/or weeks off, failed New Year’s resolutions, holiday debt, and the long stretch of gloomy and cold weather ahead.

But legal experts have also coined Blue Monday as “Divorce Monday”.  Statistically, this is the busiest day of the year for divorce lawyers.  Many factors are said to contribute to this increase in divorce filings in January, including the dissipating of feelings of “holiday cheer”, quarrels over holiday debt couples find themselves in, too much family time over the holidays, and general depression and sadness due to lack of sunlight and cold temperatures.

Divorce lawyers in both the US and UK report that January, generally, is their busiest month, seeing the highest rate of divorce inquiries during this month.

While not everyone gets behind the hype of new year’s resolutions, it can’t be denied that the beginning of a new year is indeed the perfect time for a fresh start and some self reflection.

Whatever your resolution or hope for 2014, we wish you a happy, prosperous and fulfilling new year!

Vaughn-Martel Law Attorneys Walsh and McNeil Make Boston Magazine’s 2013 List of ‘Rising Stars’

Super Lawyer 2013 ImageCongratulations to Attorneys Jessica M. Walsh and Emily Towne McNeil, who were both recognized as ‘Rising Stars’ by Boston Magazine in its 2013 list of Super Lawyers.

Super Lawyers is a rating service of outstanding lawyers who have attained a high-degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. The selection process is multi-phased and includes independent research, peer nominations and peer evaluations. Among the Super Lawyers list, ‘Rising Stars’ are attorneys with demonstrated achievement under the age of 40 or in practice less than 10 years. No more than 2.5% of all Massachusetts lawyers are named to Boston Magazine’s annual list of Rising Stars.

Attorney Walsh is a native of Needham, Massachusetts, whose practice focuses on family law, divorce, and abuse prevention. Walsh is a magna cum laude graduate of the University of Connecticut and a cum laude graduate of New England Law | Boston. Read more about Attorney Jessica M. Walsh.

Attorney McNeil is a resident of Natick, Massachusetts, whose practice focuses on estate planning, estate administration, and real estate. In addition, McNeil is an adjunct professor in the Department of Economics and Business Administration at Framingham State University, where she teaches The Legal Environment of Business. She is a graduate of Framingham State University and New England Law | Boston.  Read more about Attorney Emily Towne McNeil.

The Firm’s owner and founding partner, Chris Vaughn-Martel, was recognized as a Rising Star in 2009. As a Firm, we are honored and deeply gratified to have all three of our attorneys recognized as outstanding young practitioners in the profession. Vaughn-Martel Law represents clients in divorce and family law matters, estate planning, LGBT law, adoption and reproductive technology, and general civil litigation. In addition to providing exceptional legal representation, our attorneys are committed to pro bono advocacy and community involvement.

The annual Super Lawyers supplement can be found in the November, 2013 issue of Boston Magazine and is widely distributed in regional publications and across the country.

The Financial Effects of the Downfall of DOMA on Married Same-Sex Couples

same-sex married couples taxes estate planning financial impact of windsor decisionThere are sure to be many financial ramifications for married same-sex couples across the United States after the Supreme Court’s decision this summer in the case of United States v. Windsor striking down Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which had defined marriage federally as being between one man and one woman.  In the wake of the Windsor decision, the federal government and all its agencies and departments must recognize valid same-sex marriages.

With regard to estate planning, federal recognition of same-sex marriages means that couples can now plan to leave their estates to the survivor of the marriage with no estate tax being due upon the death of the first to die. Previously, only opposite-sex couples could leave an unlimited amount of money and property to the survivor of the couple with no possible estate tax implications. Similarly, same-sex married couples can now give gifts of any amount to one another during their lifetimes with no need for the filing of a gift tax return. Another estate tax related benefit of the federal recognition of same-sex marriage is the ability of a surviving spouse to use his or her deceased spouse’s unused estate tax exclusion, known as portability. Previously, this strategy was available only to heterosexual married couples.

There are also new retirement strategies available to married same-sex couples thanks to the Supreme Court’s decisions. Same-sex couples can now take advantage of the transfer benefits once only available to married heterosexuals such as the ability for a surviving spouse to roll the deceased spouse’s retirement accounts into their own IRA account, assuming ownership of the account. Married same-sex couples can also optimize their Social Security benefits both during life and again upon the death of the first-to-die.

While this new ability to give freely is a money saver when it comes to estate tax, it does mean that more planning will have to be done if a couple wants to keep their finances separate. As same-sex marriage will now be recognized when it comes to qualified plans, such as 401k and IRA accounts, contributor-owner spouses are only allowed, by law, to name their spouse as a beneficiary of a qualified plan. In order to name someone other than their spouse, the contributor-owner spouse will have to obtain consent of his or her spouse, usually in the form of a notarized signature on the beneficiary designation form. A review of one’s beneficiary designation forms once per year is always good practice. It is especially important for members of same-sex marriages at this time. The plan administrator should be able to answer any questions you may have.

Married same-sex couples will now have the ability to file joint tax returns. For most couples, the higher married tax brackets will be a welcome benefit. Some couples will, however, suffer what is known as the “marriage penalty”. The marriage penalty is felt by some couples who earn relatively the same amount.

All in all, the federal equal recognition of all marriages will result in myriad financial benefits flowing to same-sex couples. That said, changes in the law can create unanticipated complications. Same-sex couples (and couples thinking of getting married) should discuss the changes in the law with their lawyers and trusted advisors to make sure they are taking advantage of all of the benefits available to them and avoiding some of the new snags that could potentially derail even the most well-thought-out estate and financial plans.

A Brief Overview of Recent Changes to the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines

Calculating Child SupportOn August 1, 2013, updated Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines went into effect, and will remain in effect for the next four years.  The child support guidelines provide instruction and guidance to both recipients and payors of child support.  The new guidelines clarify the laws regarding support orders and modifications, and provide guidance to the courts when creating, modifying, and enforcing child support orders and obligations.

Additionally, there exists a Child Support Guidelines Worksheet, available online, which parents and courts use to determine the appropriate amount of child support on a case by case basis.  The following is a brief overview of the important changes to the guidelines.

DETERMINING INCOME

  • Income derived from a means-tested public assistance program (for example, TAFDC, SNAP and SSI benefits) shall not be counted as income for either party.
  • Guidelines now give judges discretion to consider income from second jobs and overtime income even if it was earned prior to the entry of the order.
  • When a judge is attributing income to a parent, the availability of employment at the attributed income level must now be considered. This revision accounts for the realities of the job market.

CHANGES TO THE CHILD SUPPORT FORMULA

  • There is a new formula that applies when parenting time is less than equal (each parent has the child 50% of the time) but more than the common split of two thirds to one third. There is now a formula for calculating child support when the non-custodial parent has the child between 1/3 and ½ of the time. This allows for the payor parent to pay less if he or she has the child more than 1/3 of the time, and to pay more if he or she has the child less than 1/3 of the time. This change accounts for the fact that a non-custodial parent may still have the child for a large portion of the week and accounts for the fact that, in some instances, the non-custodial parent has very limited parenting time with the child and may only see the child a few hours per week.
  • Clarification is given as to how child support should be allocated between the parents when their combined income exceeds $250,000.00, including a statement that the guidelines should be applied on the first $250,000.00, and the support obligation for the portion of combined income that exceeds $250,000.00 shall be in the discretion of the court.

DEVIATIONS FROM CHILD SUPPORT GUIDELINES

  • Circumstances justifying a deviation are expanded to include extraordinary health insurance expenses, child care costs that are disproportionate to income, or when a parent is providing less than one-third parenting time

MODIFICATIONS

  • Regarding modifications, orders may no longer be modified solely because the existing order is at least three years old. Additionally, if the support is going through DOR and the entry of the last order was within the last three years, in order to modify, the requesting party must demonstrate a substantial change in circumstances IN ADDITION TO an inconsistency.

Please contact an experienced family law attorney in your area if you believe, based on the modifications to the child support guidelines, your child support order needs to be reexamined for accuracy and appropriateness.

About the Firm.  Vaughn-Martel Law represents parents and children throughout Massachusetts in divorce, child custody, modifications, co-parenting, and all aspects of family creation and family law.  If you have a question about your specific child support orders, or wish to speak to an attorney about a family law matter, we invite you to contact us.

Boston Landlords: Only Days Remain to Comply With New “Rental Inspection and Registration” Ordinance

Rental Inspection ProgramBeginning August 31, 2013, landlords all over the City of Boston must register their rental units with the Inspectional Services Department, and comply with a mandated inspection and registration schedule.

Previously, most rental units in Boston were inspected only in the event of a housing complaint or in the midst of a tenant-landlord dispute over housing or safety conditions.  Under the recently-approved ordinance, every private rental unit in Boston must be registered by August 31, 2013.  The program was to begin August 1, but landlords will now have until Aug. 31, 2013, in order to come into compliance with the ordinance, after city officials decided to extend the deadline, according to the Boston Inspectional Services Department.

City of Boston Code Ordinance CBC 9-1.3 will require all private rental units to be registered on an annual basis and inspections will be conducted for non-exempt units on a 5-year cycle starting January 2014.  Relatively few rental units will qualify as “exempt” under the new law, but publicly-owned properties and owner-occupied residences with fewer than six units will be exempt.

Boston landlords should assume that they are non-exempt from the new law and act accordingly.  Non-compliant landlords will be subject to a fine of $300.00 per month, and will be assessed 1 point in a new “chronic offender” point system.

The full text of the new Rental Inspection Program is available for download and viewing.  The City has issued an outline of Homeowner Landlord Responsibilities as well as a page on Rental Inspection Program Frequently Asked Questions.  Homeowner landlords can register online, by mail, or in person at Inspectional Services Department, 1010 Massachusetts Avenue, 5th Floor, Boston, Massachusetts, 20118.

According to a recent article on Boston.com, only about 20% of the total estimated rental units in Boston have registered for the program.

Since the registration period began on May 1, only about 26,150 units have been registered with the city, said department spokeswoman Lisa Timberlake. That represents less than 20 percent of the estimated 140,000 total units that are required to register.

Landlords who fail to register will be subject to fines and other action from the city, officials said.

But, the city will likely use discretion in deciding whether to discipline landlords, according to Brian Swett, Boston’s Chief of Environment and Energy.

“We’ll have to make an assessment as we get closer to Aug. 31,” he said. “If there are folks who are willfully not registering their properties that’s different from someone who hasn’t been informed about this yet by our outreach.”

“We did anticipate that this would take some time,” added Swett. “To start from zero and get to as close to 140,000 as we can – that’s going to take some time. We never thought we’d be at 100 percent right away.”

He said that registrations have picked up significantly in recent weeks as word about the new program and its deadlines continues to spread.

About the Firm.  Vaughn-Martel Law represents both landlords and tenants throughout Massachusetts in landlord compliance, tenancy creation, eviction, and housing dispute resolution and litigation. If you have a question about the new ordinance, compliance, and the rights and obligations landlords or tenants in Massachusetts, we invite you to contact us.