New Case Law: Marital Estate and Business Value, Pension Plans, and Inheritances

Marital property is often at the center of contention in a divorce case. Among the many types of property that may be considered part of the marital estate are retirement accounts and pension plans, business assets, and inheritance assets—and these assets are often litigated in a seriously contentious manner.

A recent Massachusetts appellate case, Dilanian v. Dilanian, addressed the issues of business assets, inheritances, and pension plans as part of the marital estate. In that case, the parties were married for thirty-one years, living a comfortably upper-middle-class lifestyle. The wife stayed home, while the husband ran a successful business, which he originally started with his father, but of which he was the sole owner by the time of the divorce proceedings. The parties filed for divorce, and while they amicably resolved issues regarding some of the marital property, including the marital home, much of the trial centered around the value of the husband’s business and the husband’s share in various assets, including pension plans.

The trial judge reviewed the husband’s income from his business, noting that in order to avoid double taxation, the husband paid himself a salary and a year-end bonus each year, leaving little funds in the company’s account as retained earnings. The husband’s financial statement reported significant income increases between 2008 and 2010, but his income was drastically reduced in 2011 and 2012, after the divorce proceedings started—yet at the same time, the amount of cash left in the business accounts increased by over $294,000, contrary to the husband’s prior practice.

The judge found that the husband had artificially lowered his income, and that the husband’s real annual income was approximately $325,000, ordering alimony to be paid to the wife in the amount of $2,000 per week. In valuing the marital estate, the judge did accept the husband’s valuation of the business, only adding in the amount of a promissory note payable to the husband for a personal loan made to the company. The husband was allowed to keep the business.

At issue were also two pension plans that the husband had contributed to during the marriage, along with an inheritance from his father, which occurred very late in the course of the marriage. The judge found that the inheritance was received so late as not to be “woven into the fabric of the marriage” and belonged to the husband. However, the judge also ordered the husband to transfer 60% of both pension plans to the wife.

The husband appealed, claiming that the trial judge abused discretion in both the judge’s valuation of the business and in giving the wife 60% of the pension plan benefits. He argued that the company’s defined contribution plan belonged partially to his now-deceased father, and thus to his sister, who received part of the father’s estate after the father died.

The Appeals Court disagreed. The Court explained: “contrary to the husband’s argument, the judge’s order will not adversely affect the interests of third persons. The plan documents establish that the beneficiaries of any portion of the defined contribution plan that belonged to the husband’s father are the husband and his sister, in equal shares. The sister, as coexecutor of the estate, signed an estate tax return taking the position that $663,961 of the plan belonged to the father. Accordingly, half of that amount ($331,981) could be claimed by the sister. Once sixty per cent of the plan is transferred to the wife, the remaining amount will be well in excess of the amount the sister claimed in the estate tax return and appears able to claim.”

The Appeals Court also found no issue with the trial judge’s valuation of the business as part of the marital estate, holding that there was nothing unreasonable in considering the $150,000 note payable to the husband part of the value of the company. The Court also disagreed with the husband on his assertions that the income imputed by the judge to the husband at trial was incorrect. “[C]ontrary to the husband’s assertion, the evidence supported the finding that the husband’s reported income was increasing until he filed for divorce in 2011, and that the husband intentionally reduced his own salary while amassing corporate earnings usually directed toward his personal income,” the Court held. “Given this evidence and the husband’s furtive financial disclosures, including his failure to prepare a 2012 financial statement for [the company], the trial judge could reasonably conclude the husband artificially reduced his income to alter his financial condition in light of the impending divorce.”

It is important to hire a competent family law lawyer to handle your unique case or answer your personal questions. If you have any questions about property distribution, alimony, divorce, or family law issues, please call our offices at 978-225-9030 during business hours or complete a contact form on our website. We will respond to your phone call or submission with prompt attention.

Financial Errors During a Divorce Proceeding

Divorce can inevitably become a very stressful period in a person’s life. As emotions run high and become all-consuming, many parties do not realize that financial mistakes can be made during a divorce. This article will discuss some of the financial errors your divorce attorney can help you avoid during this high-stress time.

It is likely you and your spouse share many financial commitments—credit cards, a mortgage, health insurance, and variety of monthly bills are just a few examples. Separating these commitments is incredibly difficult, and our divorce attorneys are aware of the emotional toll this reality can take on your life.

The biggest asset you will likely have trouble separating is the marital home. As a first practical point, it is imperative that if you or your spouse stay in possession of the home, you are able to afford to do so. Our attorneys are aware that there are many memories and emotional attachments that are rooted in this home. In the moment, you may just want to keep this home since it means a lot to you, but you must ensure that you can afford to upkeep the property, as well as pay the mortgage and taxes on the property independently. If you think you would be unable to meet these obligations, we advise you not to make the financial errors of relying upon your former spouse to pay for your marital home.

While you may want to avoid dealing with separating your assets from your spouses, this is essential in a divorce proceeding. Leaving financial accounts and obligations as joint ones can create a number of devastating situations—for instance, your former spouse running up debt on credit cards or refusing to separate joint bank accounts. These situations can lead to long-term financial hardships, so our divorce attorneys strongly recommend moving forward with this difficult, but necessary step.

Another oversight that can lead to financial errors in a divorce is failing to remove your former spouse from a will or trust. During a marriage, many people will name a spouse the beneficiary of a will or trust. As it is likely that you do not want any money or property going to your former spouse after the divorce settles, it is encouraged to change your will or trust as soon as possible. Doing this simultaneously along with separating assets will avoid any mishap in the future which would give your former spouse the inheritance you wanted him or her to have while your marriage was thriving.

Taxes are another financial area that you may forget about during a divorce proceeding. In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, it is important to know the difference between spousal support and child support payments. While you may be aware that child support may only be used for your children, and alimony may be used as spousal support, you may not be aware that alimony payments are taxable, while child support payments are not.

Also, do not forget that these payments often eventually end, and it is important that you are financially self-sufficient. For instance, child support payments may stop when a child turns 18 years old, or when a child completes their college education. Additionally, based on the type of alimony you receive, payments may end if you remarry or cohabitate with a new partner, or when you become financially stable. In the moment, you may forget that these support payments have an inevitable end date, so please be sure you are not fully reliant on these support payments.

Lastly, do not rely on your ex-spouse to help you with any of these payments. Even if your ex says he or she is going to be helpful with credit card payments, car loans, or other bills, remember that your name is on them and put yourself first. If your former spouse does not hold up his or her commitment, these costly financial errors can negatively affect your future.

If you have questions or concerns about issues involving finances, family law, or other legal issues, you should contact a competent attorney. Our divorce, family, and domestic relations attorneys may be able to work on your behalf to handle your case. Contact our offices by phone at 978-225-9030 during business hours to schedule a free consultation. We will respond to you as soon as possible.

Marital Contract and Comity: New Massachusetts Case Law

Increasingly in our global society, legal issues of an international scope arise in family law cases. A recent appellate case dealt with one. In Ravasizadeh v. Niakosari, the Massachusetts Appeals Court decided for the first time an issue regarding enforceability of a mahr, which is an Islamic marriage contract, in the Commonwealth’s courts.

The parties were married in 2000 in New York and separated in 2012, by which time they lived in Massachusetts. Before they married, they signed a marriage contract which provided that the wife would receive 700 gold coins from the husband in the event of a divorce. Under Iranian law, the wife was to receive only those gold coins and three months of alimony from the husband. The husband owned property in Iran, which he had inherited from his father. During the marriage, the parties enjoyed an upper-middle class lifestyle and owned property together.

At trial, the judge entered orders regarding custody and child support, and also ordered that the parties’ property be sold and the proceeds be split equally. The judge included in his calculations the property of the husband in Iran. In light of the equitable division, and finding that the wife could continue enjoying the lifestyle to which the parties were accustomed, the judge declined to award any alimony.

During the pendency of the litigation, the wife also filed a case in the appropriate Iranian court to enforce the mahr. The court found in the wife’s favor. The husband appealed to the Iranian court of appeals, which also found for the wife. The husband appealed to the Supreme Court of Iran, and that action was still pending during the Massachusetts litigation.

Back in the Massachusetts court, in addition to the division of property above, the trial judge also held that the 700 gold coins were the property of the wife. He ordered the husband to pay into the court in Iran the value of the gold coins in order to satisfy the judgment. Finally, the judge also ordered that even if the Supreme Court of Iran were to reverse and find for the husband, the husband must pay an amount equal to one-half of the money to the wife in order to satisfy liability.

The husband appealed, claiming that the judge had no authority over the marital contract, especially as the marriage contract was already being litigated in the Iranian courts. The husband also argued that the judge’s calculation created a disproportionate division of marital assets in favor of the wife.

The Court affirmed the lower court’s decision in part and reversed in part, holding that the portion of the decision enforcing the marital contract should be reversed, while the judge’s order dividing the rest of the property should stand. The Court noted that the trial judge properly used all of the factors involved in dividing property equitably, that the judge had broad discretion to make property decisions, and that the judge’s rationale and findings provided a detailed explanation for the conclusions he reached.

However, the Court held that jurisdiction over the marital contract laid with the Iranian courts. It explained and enforced the doctrine of comity, which allows the Massachusetts courts to recognize and enforce valid judgments rendered by a foreign court.

“It was error, therefore, to order the husband to pay the mahr to the wife in the event that the Supreme Court of Iran finds in his favor; in the alternative, it was error to order the wife to split with the husband any judgment that she receives, if the Supreme Court of Iran affirms the earlier judgment in her favor. That is to say, if the Supreme Court of Iran does not enforce the mahr, the Probate and Family Court is without jurisdiction to do so; if the Supreme Court of Iran does enforce it, the Probate and Family Court is without jurisdiction to dispose of it differently,” the Court stated.

If you have questions or concerns about issues involving family law, alimony, custody, child support, and more, you should contact a competent attorney. Our divorce, family, and domestic relations attorneys may be able to work on your behalf to handle your case. Contact our offices by phone at 978-225-9030 during business hours to schedule a free consultation. We will respond to you as soon as possible.

Special Considerations When Entrepreneurs Divorce

As many studies have shown, couples in which one spouse is an entrepreneur have a high rate of divorce. Whether it’s because the business encompasses much of entrepreneurs’ time, or because the non-entrepreneur spouse feels neglected, divorce is common.

While divorce is already a complicated process, generally, entrepreneurs have a special set of considerations when divorcing. As such, it is important to consult your family law attorney regarding the special financial concerns you may assume as an entrepreneur or the spouse of an entrepreneur.

For starters, as Massachusetts looks at property division in divorce under an equitable distribution standard, marital property and separate property are equally considered. Regardless of whether a business was started before a marriage, during a marriage, or even with an ex-spouse, it is important to know what rights you have in your company, and what your company is worth.

When divorcing, family law attorneys will ask their client to bring forth all assets, so that property can be distributed equitably. For entrepreneurs, your business may be your biggest asset. If this is the case, there is a good chance your former spouse would like a portion of your business during settlement. When the divorce proceedings begin, it is important to know exactly what your business is worth. While estimating this number is helpful, disclosing the actual figure can help divorce proceedings run more smoothly.

Before having your business appraised, it is in your best interest to have a third party, who is not connected with you or the business to perform this type of unbiased work. If you are being represented by a lawyer, ask your family law attorney if they know of any accountants or business appraisers who could assist in these efforts. An appraiser will be able to effectively run through all of your invoices, books, company property, and other assets in order to arrive at the correct figure for the worth of your business.

If you are the ex-spouse of an entrepreneur, it is important that you make certain your business owner ex-spouse is not concealing assets, hiding contracts, or bringing forth a fraudulent appraisal. Is it possible that your ex could be swindling you out of hundreds, thousands, or even millions of dollars? Consult with an attorney to confirm that any appraisal and valuation of the business is valid.

The next step for entrepreneurs is to consider what comes next for their business. As this is likely a valuable divorce asset, a business owner spouse is forced with the decision on whether to sell, retain or split the assets with their soon-to-be ex-spouse. If a business was established prior to marriage, there is more uncertainty about how much money your ex will receive. However, it is very likely that if the business began during the marriage, both spouses will have rights to it. In an equitable distribution state, a court considers many factors such as length of marriage, educational background, profession, and financial responsibility among other things.

Additionally, if this entrepreneurial venture is a partnership or a closed corporation, it may be necessary to consult the partnership agreement and/or by-laws. It is possible that these contractual agreements may disclose information pertinent to what occurs if one partner gets divorced. There could be further cases where a person may want to buy their former spouse out of a business. If you find yourself in this situation, it may be possible to give your former spouse a promissory note, so that he or she is financially satisfied after being bought out of the business.

Also, if you and your ex-spouse were in business together, it is possible that a prenuptial agreement or partnership agreement could disclose what business assets are disclosed to what spouse. If this arose in a prenuptial agreement, either spouse can challenge, potentially, the validity of the agreement. A prenuptial agreement may be invalid if a spouse did not have proper time to consult with their own individual attorney when the agreement was signed, or if the agreement was signed under duress, among other possible reasons.

Overall, if you and your former spouse are amicable, working through a divorce for entrepreneurs can be as simple as coming together and negotiating this specific property division. As this would be a simpler, less expensive to get what you want out of a divorce agreement, attempt negotiation before going to court.

If you need more information about entrepreneurship and divorce or about family law generally, you may schedule a free consultation with our office. Call 978-225-9030 during regular business hours or complete a contact form and we will respond to your phone call or submission promptly.

Full Disclosure of Assets is Needed for Prenuptial Agreements

Peter and Petra are getting married. Peter has considerable assets, including several homes, vacation homes, and checking and savings accounts. He also owns a string of rental properties from which he receives income. He deposits the rental income into an account which is not under his name, but rather the name of a trust he created. Petra, conversely, does not have much by way of assets, save for a modest savings account.

Peter and Petra have agreed to draft and sign a prenuptial agreement. Their respective attorneys have informed them that they would need to fully disclose their assets to the other party—in other words, they would need to inform each other about anything and everything of value they own. Peter has asked his attorney whether he needs to tell Petra about the rental income. After all, it is held in trust; what if Peter chose not to disclose it?

Prenuptial Agreements, Generally

An antenuptial agreement, also called a prenuptial agreement, is a written contract between two people who are about to be married. It serves to set out the terms regarding the division of property in the event of a divorce, along with any provisions for alimony.

Generally, in order for a prenuptial agreement to be considered valid and enforceable in Massachusetts, the agreement must meet the following elements:

  • it must be in writing;
  • signed by the parties;
  • signed voluntarily and under no signs of duress or fraud;
  • made after full disclosure of the parties’ assets;
  • the agreement must be fair and reasonable, and enforcement must not be against countervailing equities;
  • the parties must have adequate opportunity to consult with independent counsel;
  • the parties must understand and clearly indicate the rights which they are contracting away; and
  • the parties must not relieve themselves of their legal obligations during the marriage through the agreement.

 

Full Disclosure of Assets

In the above scenario between Peter and Petra, the element of full disclosure is at issue. To ensure that the process of signing the antenuptial agreement is fair and equitable to both parties, the court requires a full financial disclosure of the parties’ assets. In essence, the parties will be viewed to have a confidential relationship which brings with it the duty to disclose, mutually attributed to each party.

Lack of full disclosure may result in the parties’ agreement being invalidated. In some cases, lack of disclosure amounts to a form of fraud, particularly where there is a demonstrable inequity between the parties’ assets. Looking at the above example, this is the case, as Peter clearly possesses more assets than Petra.

In one case, the Massachusetts appeals court invalidated a prenuptial agreement after finding a lack of full disclosure on the husband’s part. Schechter v. Schechter, 88 Mass. App. Ct. 239 (2015). In that case, the husband kept the wife in the dark regarding his financial assets. He also claimed during the divorce proceedings that his primary asset, his real estate company, was a partnership. He claimed that his parents owned a one-half interest in the company. Moreover, the husband then attempted to make a fifty-percent, retroactive distribution of the real estate company’s assets to his parents during the divorce proceedings.

Financial Disclosure Schedules

In order to avoid any potential questions down the line, full disclosure should take place in writing. Each party should, for best practices, draft a financial disclosure schedule, which will be attached to the prenuptial agreement as an addendum. This schedule should clearly delineate and disclose all of the party’s assets to the other party. It should include:

  • a listing of the party’s assets, along with the value of each asset;
  • any outstanding liabilities of the party;
  • the sources and amounts of the party’s income;
  • any interests in businesses, partnerships, etc.; and
  • any expectations of inheritances or other potential assets.

Moreover, the agreement should include a section which makes it clear that both parties have read each other’s financial disclosure schedules, understand it, have acknowledged reading it, and have had the opportunity to consult with an attorney regarding it.

If you need assistance with a prenuptial agreement or have any questions about divorce or family law issues, you may schedule a free consultation with our firm. Call 978-225-9030 during regular business hours or complete our online contact form, and our experienced family law attorneys will respond to your phone call or submission promptly.

 

Valuing Partnerships and Professional Practices in a Divorce

How is a share in a partnership valued in a divorce? How are professional practices valued in a divorce?

People facing a divorce are often concerned about their financial futures. One such financial concern regards how shares in a partnership are valued in a divorce. Parties may also wonder how professional practices are valued in a divorce.

Say, for example, that Taylor and Alex have shares in a financial management business. Also, Taylor owns a medical practice. Now that they are divorcing, Taylor and Alex want to know how their assets will be divided, and specifically, how the shares in the financial management business and the medical practice will be divided.

In Massachusetts, assets are divided on an equitable basis.[1] A judge’s decision as to what is equitable will not be reversed unless “plainly wrong and excessive.”[2] A court may assign all or any part of the estate of the other, including, but not limited to, retirement benefits, military retirement benefits, pension, profit-sharing, annuity, deferred compensation, and insurance.[3] The definition of estate is broadly defined, however.[4] In fact, Massachusetts courts allow the division of premarital property and post-marital property on a case-by-case basis.[5] With regard to the division of shares in a partnership, courts will generally interpret G.L. c. 208 § 34 to include partnership assets within the scope of the possible assets that may be divided in a divorce.

Shares of a partnership and business practice interests are part of the marital estate and may be valued by a valuation expert to assess the market value of the asset. A professional practice, like a medical practice, is considered in Massachusetts to be subject to division during the divorce process.[6] Massachusetts courts may order one of the parties in a divorce to relinquish their share of ownership in the business and receive payment either as a lump sum or in a series of installment payments. A court may order that the business be sold and the spouse receives the profits. One spouse could buy-out the business from the other spouse or offset the business with other assets.

During the valuation process, there are generally three valuation methods: the market approach (estimates business value by comparing the business to a similar business that is recently sold); the income approach (estimates business value by converting economic benefits into a value); and the asset approach (estimates business value based on the assets and liabilities of the business).

In the above example, Taylor and Alex have several possible options afforded to them. A Massachusetts Probate and Family Court will divide the estate equitability based upon the parties’ needs and what is most equitable based on their individual case.

Want to speak with a divorce lawyer about your case? Schedule a free consultation with our office and you’ll learn how the law applies to your facts and circumstances. Call 978-225-9030 during regular business hours or complete our contact form online, and we will get back to you at our earliest opportunity.

[1] Adams v. Adams, 459 Mass. 361, 371 (2011) (citing to Bowring v. Reid, 399 Mass. 265, 267 (1987))

[2] Adams, 459 Mass. at 371 (citing to Redding v. Redding, 398 Mass. 102, 108 (1986))

[3] M.G.L. c. 208 § 34

[4] Rice v. Rice, 372 Mass. 398, 400 (1977) (holding that an estate is all property to which the party holds title, however acquired.)

[5] Moriarty v. Stone, 41 Mass. App. Ct. 151, 156 (1996) ; Brower v. Brower, 61 Mass. App. Ct. 216, 218 (2004)

[6] Goldman v. Goldman, 28 Mass. App. Ct. 603, 613 (1990).