Category Archives: Children

Think before you act.

Mother and father arguing in front of Christmas tree, children sitting in the corner

As the holiday season approaches please realize that your children did not ask to have families that live separate and apart. It is important to follow the court order, if you and your ex cannot agree otherwise. Ignoring the terms of a court order can be detrimental for the entire family.

When one parent decides to unilaterally change the terms of a court order, the child is often put in the middle of the situation, which usually escalates to a battle. Often the children are aware they are supposed to be going with the other parent and are disappointed, and sometimes think, they are being stood-up (creating hostility).

Boy with teddy bear and parents fighting

The parent who does not receive his/her parenting time often has plans that either needs to be changed or cancelled altogether. If they decide to continue with the plans (without their children) than very often every family member comments about the non-complying ex and their evil behaviors. These comments are often heard by the children at future family functions. The children become sad or angry with their family and/or either parent.

Whether the court order was decided either by an agreement of the parties or by a judge, someone decided that the schedule was in the best interest of your children. To simply disrupt the schedule because you decided is not in the best interest of the children.

While we all understand that the holidays are meaningful and important and you want your children with you, it cannot always be that way growing up in separate homes. That is just something you have to accept as a parent and try to consider the other parent and most importantly your children.

Assuming a parent breaches the court order then the party who lost the parenting time may seek a complaint for contempt. In that contempt action the non-complying party may be responsible to 1) provide additional parenting time, 2) loose parenting time at the next scheduled holiday, 3) be responsible for other parent attorney’s fees and costs, 4) loose custody of the children, and/or 5) be sentenced to the house of corrections.

New Child Support Guidelines effective Sep 15, 2017

As required the Child Support Task force has met, established a new child support worksheet and it will be effective September 15, 2017. Every three (3) years the task force meets to determine how the current guidelines are working and what needs to change. Therefore, every four (4) years they issue a new child support guidelines which the courts and attorney must use moving forward.

The calculation formula is similar to those in years past (not the 2013 guidelines) but of course with several tweaks. This is the longest worksheet that I have seen in the past fifteen (15) years. I am working diligently to understand the worksheet, read the guidelines and start drafting samples so I can better assist my client.

Since the guidelines become effective in just under seven (7) weeks now is the time to schedule an appointment to determine how the new child support guidelines will affect you and your children or your support orders.

Children and having their voices heard

The law is every changing and has been leaning toward giving children of divorced/separated parents more and more rights and more means to have their voices heard.

There are three ways in which your children voices may be heard by a court. They are all permitted in any litigation involving custody or parenting time. This would include cases for custody, paternity, divorces, modification, and in limited circumstances contempt.

  1. Guardian ad Litem, aka GAL. This is a person who has received specialized training and must be recertified every few years. They are often attorneys. However, there are medical professional (often psychologist or psychiatrists or nurses) that may also be GAL’s. The GAL will follow the order by the court as to any limitations, restrictions, broad scopes or number of hours spent on an investigation.

    Generally, the GAL is paid by one or both of the parties involved in the action. The average cost is around $5,000.00. The age of the children can range from a few years until 17. Most reports are going to include interviews with the parties, the child/ren, collaterals (family, neighbors, school personnel, doctors, etc.). The GAL will go to each parent’s house, see how each parent interacts with the child and possibly go to the child’s school. After the GAL completed his or her investigation then a GAL report is created and submitted to the court. The standard for the report is “best interest of the child/ren.” The parties are not permitted to have a copy of the report but can read it with their counsel or at the courthouse in the clerk’s office. Based on if the Judge ordered it or not the report may include recommendations and conclusions.

  2. Attorney Representing Child, a/k/a ARC. This is exactly what is sounds like, your child would get a free ARC counsel has taken a required course and are doing the representation on a pro bono basis.  ARC counsel will only be appointed for children of age 10 or more. ARC counsel does not care about what either parent’s position is other than to ask relevant questions to their client (the child). ARC will meet with their client to determine what their client’s wishes are. The standard for ARC counsel is report to the court their client (child’s) wishes. It is not a best interest standard. ARC counsel participates in all aspects of the pending court action and is permitted to submit exhibits, and witnesses if the matter goes to trial.
  3. Probation Investigation. This is a free service offered by the Court from the probation department (located at the court where you usually have to start your case). The only requirement for a probation investigator is that they work for the probation department. The age of the children can range from a few years until over 18.

    The court will determine what issues will be addressed and reported. The probation officer will talk with the child/ren. They may talk with the parents, or collaterals, but it is determined based on the issues and the court order. The probation officer will likely spend five hours or less. Unless specifically ordered to do so the probation officer will not leave the court and the interviews will be conducted at the court (in person for the parties and child/ren, and by telephone for anyone else). After the probation officer completed his or her investigation then a probation report is created and submitted to the court. The standard for the report is “best interest of the child/ren.” The parties are not permitted to have a copy of the report but can read it with their counsel or at the courthouse in the clerk’s office. Based on if the Judge ordered it or not the report may include recommendations and conclusions.

I would suggest that if you are interested in having your child’s voice heard that you speak with me further regarding which option would be best for your case.

Removal of children out of state

This is American and I can choose to live wherever I want to. I do not need the court to tell me where I can go and where I cannot. Refusal t allow me to move is violation of my Fifth and Fourteen amendments to the US Constitution. If I want to leave Massachusetts then I can, right?

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If you have children and the other parent wants to continue to live in Massachusetts and does not want you to take the children to another state permanently then the answer is not a simple one.

We are only minutes from the Connecticut border now so an extra five
minutes drive will not make any difference.

I have heard this statement so many times in my practice and the truth is that it does matter and it does matter a lot.

In most separation agreements (terms of the divorce), there is language that precludes one parent from permanently leaving the Commonwealth of Massachusetts without a court order or obtaining other parents’ permission. Even without that language in the separation agreements, Massachusetts General Laws, c. 208, § 30, states that children “shall not . . . be removed out of this commonwealth without such consent . . . without the consent of both parents, unless the court upon cause shown otherwise orders.”

In other words, both parents must agree or the court must approve the parent to take the children out of the Commonwealth. The reasoning behind this, in part, was to prevent a parent from alienating the other parent or prohibiting the child-parent relationship/bond.

If the other parent does consent then it is best to get it in writing, and whenever possible, to make it a court ordered modification.

There are different standards required by the parent in order to prove that they should be permitted to move out of the Commonwealth with their children. The most well known is based on the “Real Advantage” test as established in Yannas v. Frondistou-Yannas, 395 Mass. 704, 1985. While Yannas is an old case it is still good law and is applied in full, or in part, in removal cases. The real advantage test is a two-prong test and both prongs must be met in order for the court to allow removal.

“If the custodial parent establishes a good, sincere reason for wanting to remove to another jurisdiction, none of the relevant factors becomes controlling in deciding the best interests of the child, but rather they must be considered collectively. Every person, parent and child, has an interest to be considered. The judicial safeguard of those interests lies in careful and clear fact-finding and not in imposing heightened burdens of proof or in inequitably identifying constitutional rights in favor of one person against another.” Yannas 712-713.
When considering moving out of the Commonwealth with your children it is best to consult wt. an attorney months in advance to better understand the law and what a move would legally entail.

The Yannas case pertains when one parent is the custodian. In situation where the parents share custody, then Mason v. Coleman is more applicable. 447 Mass. 177 (2006). “Shared physical custody contemplates that ‘a child shall have periods of residing with and being under the supervision of each parent . . . assur[ing] . . . frequent and continued contact with both parents’.” G. L. c. 208, s. 31. The court must determine what is the child bets interst given all relevant factors.