Courts primarily base their decision on what is in the child’s best interest, using the Child’s Best Interest Standard. Factors vary from state to state, but the overall goal is to make a decision that promotes the health and wellbeing of the child. Parents are encouraged to come to an agreement on matters of child custody and visitation to submit to the court. However, if the judge finds the settlement agreement is not in the child’s best interest, it can be rejected. Courts will generally determine the stability of each parent’s home environment and their interest and commitment to caring for the child. Other factors include the health of each parent, both physical and mental; the special needs of the child, if any; the child’s own wishes if they are old enough to say so; whether there is evidence of illicit drug use, or drug/alcohol abuse; and adjustment to the community, such as where they go to school, proximity to other caretakers, etc. In Massachusetts, the best interests of the child are the overriding guiding principle for judges making custody decisions. State law also says that the child’s “happiness and welfare” are paramount and that the parents’ rights are equal unless a parent has been found to be currently unfit. Child custody cases can be complicated and always require extensive knowledge of family law. When facing a child custody issue, you will probably have several questions. Please call our office for experienced advice regarding your family law concerns.
In situations where a custodial parent wishes to relocate with a child, the court will determine whether child custody relocation is in the best interests of the child. While a parent is free to relocate out of state themselves without the child or with the permission of the other parent to take the child, the state of Massachusetts requires a judge ruling regarding relocation contested by a parent. Depending on the current custody agreement, the judge has two different processes for determining if relocation is in the child’s best interest. For joint or shared custody the judge will take into account the following: Whether or not the quality of the child’s life will be improved and if the child will endure similar benefits as the parent from the move. Adverse effects of altering visitation schedule and the extent to which the child’s relationship to the non-moving parent will be compromised. How the child’s emotional, physical, or developmental needs will be impacted by moving or not moving. If there is a way to create a new visitation order to allow the non-relocating parent to maintain a close and enduring bond with the child. In the event a parent with primary custody is requesting relocation, the judge will apply what is known as the “real advantage” standard as the child’s well-being is more closely intertwined with the parent’s welfare in these situations. In this case, the judge will examine evidence of economic benefits, availability of extended family, and the desire to relocate
While it remains a common belief that courts favor, or are even biased for, mothers in custody disputes, this is not the case. The belief stems from past practices and trends in court. When divorce became more common in the 1970s, society, including the judges within it, assumed a gendered division of labor within households. Before women entered the workforce in large numbers, men were expected to be the providers. Women, on the other hand, were seen as not only the primary, but the “natural” caregivers to children. As such, custody agreements tended to favor women as they would, in the view of society, be better able to provide for the emotional and everyday needs of their children. Times have changed though; in marriages, it is much more common for men and women to share childrearing responsibilities. Now, a majority of women work outside the home. Additionally, now that same-sex couples can receive the legal protections of marriage throughout the United States, the 1950s division of labor is even less relevant to custody decisions today. Today, most judges will look at a variety of factors when assigning custody, with the goal of providing for the child or children’s best interest. For young children, this may include providing constancy and stability, perhaps with the primary caregiver. Other factors include the relative income of the parents and their personal histories. Consult with our office today about how to best to gain custody of your children.
Massachusetts General Law (MGL) 208 covers divorce. This chapter of the laws of the Commonwealth describe everything from the definition of divorce to alimony, child support, and custody issues. Section 31A pertains to visitation and custody in the best interest of a child and covers abuse of parent or child. The best interest of the child is the primary determining factor in awarding custody. An abusive parent may not be awarded sole custody, shared legal custody, or shared physical custody. Custody arrangements must be in the best interest of the child. If one of the parents in a divorce or custody dispute has a history of being an abusive parent, then the court may deny custody or visitation or place restrictions. The court may order supervised visitation for the abusive parent. The abusive parent may be ordered to attend a certified batterer’s treatment program. They are often ordered to refrain from alcohol and other controlled substance during and up to 24 hours before a scheduled visitation. They may also be restricted from overnight visitation. The court may impose any other condition to provide for the safety of the child. Restraining orders are often issued when there is a request for protection and there is concern for the safety of one parent and/or a child. The mere existence of a restraining order (209a) does not serve as proof of abuse or define a parent as abusive. Evidence must be presented that shows a pattern or serious incident of abuse has actually
In Massachusetts, the Commonwealth uses Child Support Guidelines to estimate the correct amount of child support to be paid. The amount of support is determined by a set of factors outlined in the Child Support Guidelines and by applying the applicable factors to a Child Support Worksheet. The worksheet is calculated to reflect the amount of money for the benefit of the children that the custodial parent (who the children reside with primarily) will receive from the non-custodial parent. When there is a joint custodial arrangement the worksheet is calculated by having each parent as the recipient and subtracting the difference between the two outcomes. The factors that the guidelines consider are things such as, each parents’ income, the costs for health insurance, the costs for child care, and any other relevant costs. The court can also order the payment of college expense and extracurricular activities. On Friday, September 15, 2017, the Commonwealth will be implementing new Child Support Guidelines. The changes were made by a task force after careful review and consideration of the increased costs associated with raising a child in Massachusetts. Key changes that were made to the guidelines are as follows: 1) Minimum support increased from the 2002 standard of $18.46 per week to $25.00 per week due to an increase in the overall cost of living in Massachusetts since 2002. 2) Actual time spent parenting is not determinative of Child Support. The new guidelines are based on only two scenarios, joint custody and one parent
This is often a question that clients ask us. The simple answer is no, we advise against it. But you may be wondering why? We advise bringing a significant other or your children to your court hearing for a multitude of reasons. For one, children are often the subject of the hearing and it would be inappropriate and unfair to the child to be witness to the hearing. If the child is not subject to the hearing, we still advise against having them accompany you because you need to give your full attention to your attorney’s and the hearing. We further suggest that that boyfriends and girlfriends are left at home. Again, in contentious cases there are often accusations thrown about regarding your significant other, to have said person present would potentially lead to more conflict and distraction. So remember, as much as we want our clients to have support, it is better for your case if the crowd of supporters is restricted.
Sharing custody of a child is difficult enough when two parents live in the same area, however when one parent wishes to move to another state with a child, a new set of challenges arises. In Massachusetts, a parent must request permission to move out of the state with the child. The other parent has a right to object, and challenge the request. Moving away can have major impacts on the other parent’s ability to spend time with the child. Unless the parents reach an agreement, the dispute will be left for the courts to resolve. Massachusetts courts must consider a number of specific factors when determining whether to grant a parent’s request to relocate. As with any other custody dispute, the courts consider the best interests of the child. This standard requires courts to evaluate both the positive and negative impacts the move will have on the child. In particular, the courts evaluate how the move will impact the child’s emotional or physical needs. The courts also recognize that the well-being of the custodial parent can affect the child’s best interests. As a result, the courts evaluate whether the move will improve the quality of life for both the parent and the child. Factors such as employment prospects, available support of family and friends, and the anticipated living situation in the new state are all factors that the courts consider. Relocation is a unique custody issue. There are many different variables, which can make the issue even more challenging.