Q&A with Robin Lynch Nardone and Andrea Dunbar, Leading Divorce Attorneys at Burns & Levinson


Robin Lynch Nardone and Andrea Dunbar

Robin Lynch Nardone and Andrea Dunbar recently led a free webinar, "So you are ready to divorce, what is the process?" as part of Burns & Levinson’s ongoing webinar series to help people navigate the many challenges of getting divorced. The webinar series is sponsored by the firm’s Divorce Law Monitor blog.

Q. Can you share some highlights from your webinar about the process of getting divorced and what people need to know before they begin?

Lynch Nardone: In Massachusetts, parties can jointly file an uncontested divorce, which requires that they settle all issues and prepare a separation agreement before filing anything with the court. Alternatively, one party can file a complaint for divorce, which starts the running of certain timeframes to take steps to move the matter forward, including taking a parenting course, exchanging financial statements disclosing all income, assets and liabilities, and exchanging mandatory discovery documents. Check out the webinar for more details.

Q. In times of extreme hardship even the best marriages can become strained, but bad marriages usually hit their breaking point. Are you seeing an uptick in divorces now or do you expect a post-COVID divorce boom?

Dunbar: In my experience, divorces have remained steady throughout COVID. Our Divorce and Family Law Group has remained very busy despite the pandemic. There have been weeks where I have met with multiple new clients, but I don’t know that I would call this an uptick. I think time will tell whether there will be a post-COVID divorce boom. As COVID restrictions lift and people get a better sense of the ultimate financial fallouts (or lack thereof), we could very well see a divorce boom.

Q. Given the potentially significant decrease in the value of some assets due to the pandemic, do divorcing couples need to obtain updated appraisals and business valuations before proceeding?

Lynch Nardone: First, our experience so far with various valuation experts has shown that they are not seeing a significant decrease in the value of certain assets, like real estate. In fact, I am told it is a seller’s market given that not many new properties are coming on the market and those that do are sold quickly at top dollar. Some businesses, such as restaurants, have suffered declines that could impact value. Consult with your business valuation expert as to the impact of the pandemic on the particular industry to determine if an updated valuation is necessary.

Q. With so many courts closed due to the health crisis, is it even possible for someone who wants to get divorced to navigate what needs to be done?Are more people embracing alternatives like private adjudication or mediation?

Dunbar: It is absolutely possible to navigate what needs to be done. Courts are starting to reopen and hear matters in person, though most hearings are still taking place virtually. I think more people are embracing alternative dispute resolution given that the pandemic has created such a backlog in the courts. Uncontested matters are almost always heard before contested matters, so the more you can resolve on your own privately, without court intervention, the more swiftly your matter will be resolved.

Q. Negotiating child custody agreements can be challenging under even the best of circumstances. What advice do you have for parents who are worried about this part of the divorce process?

Lynch Nardone: My advice today remains the same as it was before the pandemic – put your children first. Think about them, not about yourself. Work together with the other parent to establish a plan that meets the needs of your children. Put your anger about your failed marriage aside while you strive to agree on a parenting plan that will work for your children. Letting a judge – who will never meet your children and knows very little about your life – decide on when you can see your children can result in a parenting plan that does not work for you or your children. It is always best to come to an agreement if possible.

Q. With these seminars, you are hoping to demystify the divorce process. Why is this so important?

Dunbar: It’s important because knowledge is power. When people do not have the tools, or the information necessary, to move forward, they feel stuck. This can result in a person remaining in a bad situation, which may not be good for his or her mental and physical health and/or the mental and physical health of children in the home. Moreover, being knowledgeable about the process ahead of time helps the process move along more efficiently and hopefully more cost effectively.

Q. What is the one thing you think divorcing couples need to know right now in terms of getting divorced during these difficult times?

Lynch Nardone: Know that the courts are overwhelmed with backlog and moving through the court system will take much longer than usual. Try mediation or conciliation. If you reach agreement, the court will grant your divorce quickly. If you cannot reach agreement, be patient with your attorney and the court. There will be some unavoidable delay.

Robin Lynch Nardone chairs the Divorce & Family Group and co-chairs the Private Client Group at the law firm of Burns & Levinson in Boston. She has more than 20 years’ experience helping clients through challenging family law matters with a specialty in handling high net worth divorce and high conflict custody/parenting disputes. Andrea Dunbar is a partner in the firm’s Private Client Group, where she concentrates her practice on probate and family court litigation in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. They can be reached at rlnardone@burnslev.com or adunbar@burnslev.com.

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