Last year, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) made a landmark ruling in Cavanagh v. Cavanagh (2022) that will majorly impact common practices in the Probate and Family Court. This post will delve into some key takeaways from the decision and explore how they might impact cases moving forward.
One of the most significant changes brought about by the Cavanagh decision is the SJC’s mandate that probate court judges consider and calculate concurrent orders for both alimony and child support in every case where both are applicable. This is a significant departure from the standard practice following the passage of the Alimony Reform Act in 2011, in which it was typical for judges only to award either alimony or child support, but not both, when both parties’ incomes fall within the Child Support Guidelines. The reasoning behind this practice was that the Alimony Reform Act disfavored paying alimony and child support simultaneously. Most judges applied this language accordingly.
However, in 2021, the Appeals Court began to challenge this practice in Calvin C. v. Amelia A. (2021), where it offered support for concurrent orders for alimony and child support. With the Cavanagh decision, the SJC has opened the door to concurrent support, requiring probate court judges to consider and calculate it in every case where child support and alimony are available.
This major shift will likely lead to more simultaneous alimony and child support orders in the Probate and Family Court. But it’s not the only significant change brought about by the Cavanagh decision. The SJC has also ruled for the first time that employer 401K matches and pretax contributions to healthcare accounts must be considered income when calculating child support. While it could be more apparent if this ruling applies to alimony cases, it’s something to be aware of if you’re involved in a child support case.
In addition to these changes, the SJC has also changed the definition of income in the context of both child support and alimony. Specifically, the court has ruled that a party’s interests, dividends, and capital gains (unless resulting from real and personal property transactions) must be included in their income for child support purposes. It’s still being determined if this ruling applies to alimony. This significant change will likely result in more income being considered in child support cases as it expands the definition of income beyond just wages and salary.
Finally, the SJC has taken a hard line on the scope of trial in the probate court, limiting it to the specific contested issues outlined in the pretrial order. In the Cavanagh case, the SJC found that the judge had abused their discretion by considering testimony outside of these issues. This move will likely reduce the broad scope of discretion and autonomy that judges in probate courts often enjoy, and potentially lead to more predictable and efficient trials in the future.
As you can see, the SJC’s ruling in Cavanagh v. Cavanagh could upend many standard practices in the Probate and Family Court. The Supreme Judicial Court’s recent decision on legal precedence can significantly impact many different areas of law. Understanding the implications of this decision is essential for anyone with legal matters pending or that might soon be facing them. If you want to learn more about how this ruling could affect your particular situation, contact Sawin Law, P.C., to speak with an experienced attorney and get clear answers about how this ruling may impact your case. Get the legal advice you deserve. Reach out to Sawin Law, P.C. at (781) 713-1212 for a free consultation and learn more about how we can help your case today!