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Father's rights claims heard by Supreme Judicial Court

Father's rights issues continue to be pressed in Boston and Massachusetts courts, particularly in the area of child custody and support. Recently, a constitutional challenge was made to the state child support guidelines, which were adopted in 2009. The basis of the challenge was that the guidelines were promulgated by the state judiciary behind closed doors, when their enactment should be solely within the province of the state legislature.

The father's rights group which filed the lawsuit also argued that the guidelines unfairly penalize the children of a subsequent marriage by providing for excessive payments for children of a prior relationship, thus leaving little for the basic needs of later-born children. The lawsuit sought a declaratory judgment, which is a court order spelling out the rights, duties and obligations of one or more parties without specifically ordering any action to be taken.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts upheld the child support guidelines unanimously, concluding the legislature had specifically granted authority to the judiciary to set child support guidelines in 1986. It held that declaratory judgments are not permissible under the law in actions against the judiciary. The court further held that the issue was not one to be addressed on a statewide basis. Rather, the litigants to any child support proceeding have not only the right to be heard, but also the right to make constitutional arguments in the proceedings to which they are a party. The court observed that parties to those child support proceedings also have the right of appeal from adverse findings.

While this litigation in support of father's rights issues was not ultimately successful, it brought attention to matters of crucial importance to family law litigants. There will no doubt be further challenges as father's seek to obtain what they believe is a more even-handed treatment of their rights and obligations. In Boston, an attorney sensitive to the issues confronting father's in family law proceedings may help carve out a path to a fair resolution.

Source: Boston, "SJC rejects challenge to child support rules filed by fathers group," Travis Anderson, Sept. 2, 2011

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