The Probate & Family Court is an intimidating place. One day recently, I stood in line at the security check and saw a young woman put her infant, complete with carrier, up on the conveyor belt to be X-Rayed. The security guard luckily intervened, “um, ma’am, your baby?”
I imagine she was nervous, so as I watched, hoping that baby wouldn’t take a trip through the conveyor belt, I also related to this young mother. Her anxiousness and fear were palpable, and adding the stress of court I addition to new parenthood, or a divorce, or death of a loved one while you’re left to navigate the legal process alone is overwhelming to most.
In criminal court, when you cannot afford an attorney, you are appointed one, but this is not the case in the Family & Probate Court. When your kids, your life savings, your house, and sometimes even your freedom are at stake, what are some options for a person who cannot merely withdraw many thousands of dollars from their savings account?
LAR Attorney Services
LAR is an abbreviation for “Limited Assistance Representation.”
Say you go to a fast-food restaurant. You could buy a value meal, but what if you’re not thirsty and don’t want to pay the full price with a drink? Sure, it may be cheaper for someone who is thirsty, but maybe that isn’t the best option for you.
The same theory applies with LAR Services. I often explain it to our potential clients as “a la carte” legal services. The up-front cost is much lower, and clients can manage their cases based on their comfort levels and ability to pay.
These levels of service range from consulting and advice only, to ghost-writing documents such as motions, legal memorandums, discovery, agreement, etc., and may also extend to court appearances. LAR Attorney Services in Massachusetts allow an attorney to appear and withdraw in the same day court appearance. This will enable clients to pick and choose which court appearances they want their attorney to appear. For clients who are comfortable stating their case in front of the judge, this can be a great and lower-cost option.
Affidavit of Indigency
The Affidavit of Indigency can be filled out and submitted to the courts by low-income individuals. This Affidavit does not help a person retain legal services; however, it does waive expensive filing fees for qualifying individuals. Please check out the following link for eligibility requirements and application: https://www.mass.gov/lists/court-forms-for-indigency
Reduced Fee Program
If you believe you may qualify for a reduced fee because of your economic situation, the Reduced Fee Panel is another way to save on overall legal fees. The panel links individuals with an attorney that has volunteered to take a certain number of cases on a reduced fee schedule.
Individuals will call those attorneys and schedule a consultation, and will generally have much lower retainers because the hourly fees are less than a practicing attorney’s full rate. If you think you may qualify, please fill out the application at the following link: https://www.worcestercountybar.org/lawyer-referral-service/
Lawyer for the Day Program
Need help getting started? The Worcester Probate & Family Court provides a “lawyer for the day program.” It is a program co-sponsored by Community Legal Aid and the Worcester County Bar Association. The program offers individuals help in filling out Complaints and Motions.
The program primarily helps with navigating paperwork. They do not provide case-specific advice; however, they will walk you through the meaning of each section of the paperwork. For those who cannot afford representation by counsel, it can serve as an alternate option.
Court Service Center
In the Worcester Court, this is located by making a U-turn to the right after you pass security. The program primarily helps with navigating paperwork. They volunteer, and not all volunteers are attorneys. They do not provide case-specific advice; however, they will walk you through the meaning of each section of the paperwork. For those who cannot afford representation by counsel, it can serve as an alternate option.
Help for Victims of Crime
The Civil Legal Aid for Victims of Crime (CLAVC) aids those who are victims of crime in their civil proceedings that are related to that crime. The requirements are as follows:
- You must be a victim or a survivor of a crime;
- You must have a civil (non-criminal) legal problem that is a result of that crime; and
- You must live in Massachusetts, or the legal issue must be in Massachusetts.
If you think this may be an option for you, please visit https://massclavc.org/find-legal-help/ for details regarding the application process.
If you have been calling attorney’s offices looking for pro-bono help and are frustrated, we understand. Most attorneys volunteer many hours of their time for pro-bono and reduced-fee programs. However, most do so through the existing programs. In order to provide this pro bono and reduced fee legal help to the community, these small businesses must also bring in enough revenue to keep the rent paid and the doors open.
If you have any questions at all, please give us a call. Also, please feel free to download Attorney Lavallee’s free e-book, “Divorce is not an Evil Word.” In it, she shares a lot of her experiences and knowledge from her 18 years of practicing law in Worcester County.
Everyone is hyper diligent about protecting their family and their children. So when it comes to the Coronavirus, what can a parent do?
For an intact family where both parents live in the same home, your job is to make sure you have “quality time” while still social distancing.
But what about parents that do not live together, whether it because of a divorce or they were never married and/or have never lived together?
The most asked question is, “should I permit my child to go with the other parent.”
As an attorney, I will not and cannot advise you to disobey a court order. The Probate & Family Court has specifically made an order that states that court-ordered parenting time is not “stayed.” This means you MUST follow the court orders.
Each parent needs to look out for their child. At this time, that means that each needs to learn how to compromise more and be more flexible given the situation.
Many single parents have vast differences of opinion on how to do things. The most important thing is communication.
The best solution in this situation is to meditate and settle issues rather than dig your heels in and make matters worse once the court reopens.
Some examples to consider when one parent is in health care. While they are doing their best to protect and care for the general population they are, in the process, exposing themselves to patients who have Coronavirus, or if a parent works at a manufacturing plant that their employment is not taking the precaution of social distancing, or a parent who has determined this is all ‘hype’ and goes out to game night or a birthday a party.
Sometimes the decision is easy. For example, if a child were to travel (by plane or train) for Spring break to see their other parent, I would hope that both parents could agree its not safe and to try and schedule a make-up time when the pandemic is over.
However, when parents are just a mile away, or even walking distance now what? Parents could consider larger blocks of time (perhaps a week) with their children rather than a back and forth every other day, assuming both parents are home and have been self-isolating.
Other alternatives are to offer Skype, Facetime, Zoom or other video conferencing programs to the isolated parent who is missing his/her parenting time. Do these frequently and for a longer duration than a quick check-in. This allows for some quality time with their children. Depending on your Internet speed and the time you have booked together, do projects together, such as crafts, baking, games, etc.
Remember that when the pandemic is over, the parent who has not been able to touch their child due to the distance should enjoy some quality make up in-person time.
The goal is for each parent to be creative, reasonable, and flexible and understand that their child is not their possession but a gift to both parents.
If you want to be a parent who says, “I am the custodial parent and I will not allow contact or parenting time,” then once the court opens, the court will hear your position and might not look favorably on your actions. It is a violation of the law. Plus, if you were close to a settlement before the pandemic chances are, all negotiations have been terminated as the other parent thought you were unreasonable. Your action today and your conduct today has consequences for you, the other parent, and the child that can last a lifetime.
If you are a client of mine and need to work out a schedule with the other parent, we are here to negotiate with their counsel or schedule a 3-way zoom meeting. If you are not a client, and each parent is willing to mediate an agreement, we can book a zoom meeting to mediate your issues.
Please reach out to us at Reeves Lavallee PC at 508-425-6945 to book an appointment.
First and foremost we hope you are well. Things have been uncertain and these changes to our daily lives are unprecedented. The MOST important thing is that you are healthy. Anything else can be fixed.
We want you to know we are open. We will stay open as long as possible to serve our clients and community. Legal problems cannot be quarantined.
However, we are also aware that we all must do our part to slow the spread of illness and protect our staff, our families, and our clients who are elderly or immune-compromised. With that in mind, we are changing the way we conduct business to allow us to still serve clients without missing a beat and keep everyone safe. We are able to meet with any current or potential new clients via telephone or video conferencing. Most court are actively accepting filing and we will get a hearing once the court reopen. We can conduct discovery (including subpoenas), review contracts, offer advice and conduct real estate transactions.
If you have any questions about contracts, real estate conveyance or other real estate issues, or your family life and how any orders are impacted by Covid-19 please reach out.
Please give us a call at 508-425-6945 to book an appointment or email all questions or concerns to our clients-only email address [email protected]. I believe demand for our services will increase sharply in the coming months, and we want to make sure our current clients are given the attention they need and deserve right now.
We are here to help you through this tough time and the unknown changes that lay ahead. We are thinking of you and wish you all the best.
Nicole Reeves Lavallee, Esq
The legislature is required to review and revamp the MA child support guidelines every three years. This means that every four years or so the child support guidelines are updated. While there is a committee, consisting of some attorneys, I often find that the legislature is not creating a formula that is most beneficial to the low or even middle class income.
In years past the guidelines have changed as to whether they will include all sources of income or simply just apply a 40-hour work week. Years ago, there was an increase once children became teenagers, and only the parent that provided health insurance for the children were entitled to deduct it. That has all since changed and likely will never return. Based on the case Morales, you no longer are required to prove a substantial and material change in circumstances in order to request a child support modification.
A new child support guidelines should be effect on August 1, 2017, or so we are told. Generally, the attorneys are able to review the new guidelines 4-6 weeks prior to them becoming effective. Until they are released, then we can do is speculate as to what the new guidelines will look like and how they will impact our clients. I would suggest anyone interested in finding out how the new guidelines will affect them to contact my office to book an appointment so we can discuss how you are impacted and the best way to protect yourself in the event that the guidelines will change for your family, if and when a modification is filed.
All the time. Anytime. Now. When you are pregnant or having a child it is a good time. When you are getting married it is a good time. When you are thinking about retirement it is a good time. When you have assets it is a good time. When you don’t think your assets are worth anything it is a good time.
Everyone should have three basic estate planning documents executed.
- Durable Power of Attorney
- Health Care Proxy.
No one wants to plan for their health to fail or their mind to deteriorate or even to die. However, everyone must consider that it is a possible reality and ultimately you will also die.
Most people think “I have nothing so why should I waste my money.” The truth is everyone has something. It might not be assets, but children. When you first have children, no matter your age you should have a Will executed. The purpose of the Will, even without assets, is to ensure that you pick the guardian(s) who will care for your children when you are no longer here. If you have assets you want to ensure that your assets go to the people you want to leave them to. If you do not have a Will then your estate must be probated and anyone, even a stranger, can seek to be the person in charge of distribution of your assets.
Durable Power of Attorney
Once executed, a power of attorney comes into effect when you are mentally incapacitated. The person who you designate will make financial decisions on your behalf and pay your bills during the period of incapacity. If you later gain capacity, such as coming out of a coma, then the assigned power of attorney no longer has authority to act on your behalf until and if you become incapacitated again.
Without executing a power of attorney, and if you became incapacitated, then someone would have to go to court and obtain a conservatorship to pay your bills. The power of attorney allows the same privileges without the need, time and expense of having to go to court to get such permission. If bills do not get paid then you may lose everything you have worked so hard for, including your vehicle or house.
Health Care Proxy
Like the power of attorney, a health care proxy comes into effect when you are mentally incapacitated. The person who you designate will make medical decisions on your behalf during the period of incapacity. If you later gain capacity, such as coming out of a coma, then the assigned proxy no longer has authority to act on your behalf until and if you become incapacitated again.
Without executing a health care proxy, and if you became incapacitated, then someone may have to go to court and obtain a guardianship to make medical decisions. Most people assume that because they are married their spouse has this right, or their parents if not married. The proxy allows you to pick the person who can make the medical decisions. It does not have to be your spouse or your parents.
Just think, if you are a child of divorced parents who agree on nothing, and you are not married, will your mother or father make that decision? Assuming you have a good relationship with both parents, they are both in the hospital demanding to make that medical choice on your behalf, yet they disagree on the medical treatment. Without a health care proxy, the hospital will be unable to act (absent and emergency) until a court intervenes and determines who should make the medical decision. Court proceedings can be time-consuming and costly. The health care proxy avoids the needs for a court to intervene.
Once you have a health care proxy executed do not sign another one just because the hospital or doctor’s office gave you another one. If you do you are voiding out the previous one done by an attorney. Instead simply tell the medical providers you already have one.
Once you have executed the documents it does not mean you never should think about them again. They should be reviewed and updated as needed. It is my suggestion that you review them at least every five (5) years.
As Judge Gregory Roach retires, I find myself contemplating his successful career in Worcester. Here are some of my reflections:
Though I’ve never held a judgeship, I can imagine that the job is incredibly challenging. Judges must dissect mountains of testimonies and discern the core facts of the case. As attorneys, we bear the responsibility of persuading the judge that our version of the story is accurate, hoping for a decision in our client’s favor.
Frustration arises when a judge lacks understanding of the law, or the requisite level of proof, or fails to recognize the shift in the burden of proof to the other party. In such situations, we, as attorneys, must step up to educate the court. Judge Roach consistently demonstrated his knowledge of the law, something I appreciated every time I appeared in his court.
In my eyes, an ideal judge possesses a deep understanding of the law, stays updated with all relevant case law, and aptly applies the law without any additional effort on my part. I should concentrate on facts and how they align with the law, thereby justifying why the court should rule in my client’s favor.
It benefits greatly when a judge actively listens to the facts, and when fitting, provides feedback on potential rulings based on the presented facts. This feedback is particularly beneficial in Family and Probate Court and Housing Court cases. Sometimes, a nudge from the judge is all it takes for parties to settle a matter.
Ultimately, a judge must stay neutral throughout proceedings. Favoritism should never influence their decisions. Relying on the case facts and law is crucial as each verdict impacts individuals and families significantly.