Fathers’ Rights

Tips for co-parents facing their first holiday season apart

Many Massachusetts parents are facing their first holiday season since their break-up. If you already have a parenting plan in place that outlines how your children will divide their time between their parents, that’s helpful. However, if you haven’t yet started the divorce process, making a holiday schedule can be challenging — particularly if you and your ex aren’t on good terms. The most important thing to remember throughout this season is to minimize stress and uncertainty for your children. They likely already have enough of both. Focus on helping them enjoy the season. Organization is key. The sooner that you and your co-parent can get a plan in place (with the input of the kids, if they’re old enough), the more reassured they will be. Kids are flexible, but they want the security of knowing where they will be spending the holidays. Their friends will all be talking about their plans, and they’ll want to join in. Of course, making plans is just step one. It’s essential to stick to those plans unless unforeseen circumstances arise. Children need to be reassured early on that their parents will keep their word, show up to pick them up when they’re supposed to and return them as scheduled. It’s important to set reasonable expectations for your children. They may have a fantasy that their parents will be together for Christmas and maybe even reunite. If they’re going to be splitting time between homes, emphasize the positives (two Christmas trees, for example). Don’t

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Can legal marijuana use cost you custody of your child?

One of the measures on the Massachusetts ballot Nov. 8, Question 4, concerns marijuana. Specifically, it would legalize marijuana for recreational use by adults. Massachusetts is one of five states voting on legalizing recreational marijuana this month. If the measure passes, it would take effect on Dec. 15. However, marijuana retail outlets may not open until 2018. Some child welfare advocates are concerned about a provision in the measure that says that parents’ use of marijuana can’t be used as the primary basis for losing custody or visitation of their children without “clear, convincing and articulable evidence that the person’s actions related to marijuana have created an unreasonable danger to the safety” of a child. The rationale is that many people use marijuana responsibly, and, just as parents aren’t at risk for losing their children if they have an occasional drink, they shouldn’t face that risk if they use marijuana to relax instead. Those supporting that language in the measure point to Colorado, where recreational marijuana was legalized in 2012. People had their marijuana use used against them in child custody cases. One of the authors of the Massachusetts measure says, “Canna-bigotry in custody matters needs to end.” The state Department of Children and Families says that the language of the measure “could limit a social worker’s ability to consider any substances, including marijuana, as a factor for child custody. However, other child welfare advocates argue that social workers can take into consideration any factors that they believe are endangering

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Parental alienation versus child abuse: Getting to the truth

In some contentious divorces, one or both spouses are so consumed with hate that they turn their child against the other parent by lying to the child about that parent, sometimes saying that the he or she doesn’t love them. In some cases, children are even convinced to say that a parent has abused them when they haven’t. This goes beyond saying unkind things about your ex in front of a child. It’s known as “parental alienation” because it turns children against a parent for no valid reason and destroys their relationship with a parent. Too often, that parent doesn’t understand the reason for the child’s animosity. Naturally, parental alienation can be highly damaging to a child well into adulthood. However, charges of parental alienation can also allow real child abuse to continue. Family court judges overseeing cases where one parent is alleging abuse and the other parent is claiming parental alienation have to determine who is telling the truth. One law professor notes that unfortunately, when one parent accuses the other of abuse, the parent bringing the charge can actually lose custody, leaving the child in the hands of an unfit or abusive parent because the judge believed that the accuser was guilty of parental alienation. That’s why it’s essential that if you accuse your co-parent of abuse, you have evidence to back it up. Psychologists may be called in to talk with the child. Witnesses may be brought in to testify on both sides. Some experts believe the

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Drug and alcohol testing requirements in child custody agreements

The 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that over 24 million people are married to an alcoholic or drug addict. Many of these marriages, not surprisingly, cannot endure a spouse’s substance abuse. It’s estimated to be the cause of more than 7 percent of all divorces. When a couple has children, it’s essential to take steps during your divorce to ensure your children’s safety. Of course, in many cases, it’s preferable for children to maintain some type of relationship with the parent who’s an addict or alcoholic. Therefore, specific protections need to be included in the custody and visitation agreements to ensure that your children are not endangered emotionally or physically by that parent. A crucial element of any agreement involving an alcoholic or addict is mandated participation in a drug and alcohol testing program. A well-designed program can help reduce the chances of your ex drinking or using drugs when he or she is with the children. Companies like Health Street have testing programs specifically designed for custody and visitation agreements. The agreement can be written in any number of ways. It can mandate that the parent be tested prior to, during and/or after any visitations with the children. Results can be reported to the two parents, the attorneys, and/or the court. The agreement should also designate what can happen if a parent tests positive. He or she could lose visitation rights or potentially all parental rights if a pattern of continued use is found. Your

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Securing a father’s rights when a child is born

It’s crucial for fathers to understand how their relationship to a child is established, depending on the situation surrounding the child’s birth. This can help them to secure their rights when going through a divorce in Massachusetts. First off, a man is legally presumed to be the father if a child is born and the man and that child’s mother are married. While it’s true that this may not be the case — if infidelity was involved, for example — that assumption is made unless the truth is shown to be different. The same presumption is made even if the mother was pregnant before the two got married. For example, if a couple was dating, found out that the woman was two months pregnant and decided to quickly marry before the child’s birth, the same legal presumptions fall into place as if they’d gotten married two months earlier. The difference comes if the parents wait until the child has already been born and then they get married. If this happens, a legitimation form has to be signed. This claims that the man is the child’s father and gives him the rights he would have automatically gotten if the two had tied the knot before the birth. Finally, for parents who don’t get married, a voluntary acknowledgement of paternity may need to be used. This is similar to the legitimation form noted above, in that it establishes legal grounds to consider the man the child’s father. Parents don’t have to wait

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Many fathers support children who are not their own

Child support, at the base level, is very simple. The non-custodial parent is expected to contribute something to help with raising the child so that the other parent does not have to bear all of those costs alone. Married couples naturally split the costs, after all, so this is done to ensure that divorced couples also share them. However, there are many problems with the way this system works in reality. One issue that is not reported often, but which some have described as epidemic, is the way that fathers are sometimes forced to support children who are not biologically related to them. Do you think that the odds of this happening are low? Studies have actually shown that 30 percent of fathers paying support are giving it to children who are not their own. This happens in a few different ways. For example, if a mother signs up to get welfare benefits for herself and a child, the application asks for the father’s name, and she has to write one down. She may knowingly or accidentally write the name of a man who isn’t the father, and she does not have to offer proof other than her word. Another way that this can happen is when a child is born and a man truly believes that he is the father, so he signs the paperwork claiming the child at the hospital. Later on, he finds out that the woman — perhaps his wife, but perhaps not — had been

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Should you lose custody for smoking around your children?

Should child custody be denied to a parent who smokes around his or her children? That was one of the topics tackled recently at the annual International Society for Family Law’s North American Regional Conference. Family law attorneys and law professors heard from a public interest law professor known for taking on the tobacco industry. He told attendees that the issue of whether a parent smokes should be brought up in child custody proceedings. If a parent seeking any type of custody or visitation rights smokes, he argued, that parent should be required to abstain from smoking in their home for at least two days before the child will be there. Several cases were discussed in which parents who smoked lost custody because they did not refrain from doing so around their children. While such proposals may be controversial, second-hand smoke is a serious health issue, particularly for children, who can suffer from any number of ailments due to parental smoking. The conference attendees were told that over 6,000 kids in the U.S. die annually because their parents smoke around them. Further, “More young children are killed by parental smoking than by all unintentional injuries combined.” The professor compared the responsibilities of family law attorneys to help prevent the serious health risks of parental smoking to children with those of emergency room physicians. He said that family law attorneys “can and should be using the great power of law to right serious wrongs being done to children.” The professor used

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How Massachusetts decides if a man is a child’s father

The states all deal with establishing paternity in their own way, and it’s important for unmarried fathers to know how this is going to work. In Massachusetts, the state will presume that a man is the father in the following situations: 1. If the man had been married to the mother in the past and if the child’s birth happened within 300 days after the end of that marriage. 2. If he attempted to marry the mother, but it did not end up going through, and the birth happened within 300 days after the attempt. 3. If, after the child was born, the man said—perhaps in writing—that he would care for the child, and if he then tried to marry or successfully married the mother. 4. If the man and woman began living together after the child’s birth, and if they openly acknowledged that the child was theirs. 5. If the man made a parental responsibility claim, saying he was the father, and if the mother did not object. There is one more stipulation that applies to children born prior to April 13, 1994. In these cases, the man is presumed to be the father if he and the mother agree to list his name on the birth certificate. There are some gray areas in here, of course, as the law is fairly open-ended, especially when referring to things like attempts to marry or acknowledgement that a child belongs to a man. As such, it’s very important for parents to

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