Mass Lawyers Weekly recently turned to Attorney Deborah Miller Tate for her insight into a Massachusetts case which saw federal court rejection of one woman's claim to allegedly hidden marital assets. Ultimately, the woman's claim, which was presented as a breach of contract suit, was rejected due to suspected "forum shopping."
Attorney Tate was asked to speculate why the plaintiff in this case chose to pursue legal action as a matter for bad faith/breach of contract rather than settle in Massachusetts probate court, where post-divorce financial disputes are usually seen. "Obviously there was a reason why this case was brought there and not in the Massachusetts Probate Court," she told Mass Lawyers Weekly. "The defendant was alleging forum-shopping because it would seem to me, on the surface, that the plaintiff wasn't happy with the ability of the Probate Court to deal with the issue."
"Forum shopping" is the act of disguising one legal matter as another, usually in order to give a case a "second chance" of consideration by a different court. In this case, the plaintiff is suspected of this due to the origins the complaint has in her divorce from the defendant.
"Dawn’s [the plaintiff] suit… asks the court to perform a domestic relations function reserved for state courts," the federal judge wrote. "Specifically, though her complaint is drafted to sound in contract law … Dawn’s suit calls upon the federal court to determine whether certain assets were acquired and held by Craig [the defendant] during the marriage and then to decide what share of them should have been apportioned to Dawn upon the parties’ separation."
"I Don't Think We'd Have the Same Issue Here"
Attorney Tate also told Mass Lawyers Weekly that it was doubtful that a similar tactic would have been taken if the case had occurred in Rhode Island's court system. "Maybe it takes longer to get a case heard in Probate Court in Massachusetts, where it’s more of a system and process than in our Family Court,” she explained. "But our judges want to get cases heard and resolved in a certain period of time, so for the most part they don’t linger. Maybe that was a compelling reason. But I don’t think we’d have the same issue here."
The plaintiff is now taking the matter to Massachusetts probate court, where many industry professionals believe it should have been submitted initially. The defense counselor for the defendant, however, maintains that the suit represents an over extension of spousal rights. "Not everything that’s good financially that happens to someone after a divorce is something a former spouse has a claim to," he claims.
If you are facing a divorce or an urgent family law matter, we invite you to contact our dedicated, knowledgeable team at McIntyre Tate LLP. Our award-winning Rhode Island family law attorneys have numerous times been industry recognized for the quality of their work and time and time again navigated our clients to swift and favorable legal solutions.
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