Expanding Authority for Probate and Family Court Judges: Non-Compete Orders

Hello World,

On May 4, 2012, the Appeals Court issued its decision in Cesar v. Sundelin, slip opinion 11-P-351. The Court in Cesar held that a Probate and Family Court judge has the authority under M.G.L. c. 208 s. 34 and M.G.L. c. 215 s. 6 to impose a non-compete order, or otherwise place limitations, upon one party where the division of a family business is in controversy.

In Cesar, the parties’ in a divorce action each sought sole ownership of  a family feed and grain store. The trial judge awarded the family business to the husband, however the trial judge would not enter an order prohibiting the wife from operating a competing business. The trial judge claimed he lacked authority to enter such a “non-compete order.”

The effect of the Cesar decision is that it appears that judges of the Probate and Family Court may now impose non-compete orders upon spouses or otherwise possibly limit spouses employment / business opportunities post-divorce.

It will be interesting to see to what extent parties, attorneys and the courts use this decision when drafting settlement agreements, pre-marital agreements, post-marital agreements and proposed judgments.