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.
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
The majority of child custody cases in Massachusetts and elsewhere center on two parents struggling over the care and control of their shared children. Family courts see a wide range of custody issues, however, and one recent case demonstrates an unusual scenario. The outcome is being viewed as a significant win for fathers’ rights. The case involves a father whose child was adopted without his knowledge or consent. The man is a drill sergeant in the United States Army, and was transferred out-of-state just before his wife was scheduled to give birth to their first child. His wife, however, had different plans, and arranged to put the child up for adoption just days after her husband left the state. She told the adoption agency that her husband had abandoned the family and had no interest in their child. The adoption agency located an adoptive family and placed the child. When the father found out what had happened to his child in June 2011, he contacted the adoption agency and demanded that his child be returned to him. The agency chose to ignore his complaint, and proceeded to finalize the adoption. The father filed for child custody, and in a recent hearing a family court judge ruled that the child must be returned to her father by Jan. 16. While this case is unusual, it does serve as a reminder of the importance of taking immediate and aggressive legal action when one’s parental rights are threatened, in Massachusetts and elsewhere. This
With the advent of ever more sophisticated forms of technology, keeping in touch has never been easier. Whether you use email, text messaging, online scheduling or social media, staying in touch takes far different forms today than in years past. For Massachusetts couples who divorce or separate, issues of child custody can be made much smoother by choosing a remote form of communication, especially when parents cannot get along in person. However, when one parent chooses to use technology as a weapon, it can cause significant problems for the relationship between the child and the other parent. Many who support fathers’ rights see potential problems with relying on technology to have access to one’s child. A recent study looked into the ways that divorced couples use technology in regard to child custody issues. Researchers discovered that when former spouses maintained a positive relationship, technology was used to facilitate custody exchanges, keep both parents in the loop regarding the child’s activities, and make sure that both parents stayed on the same page in regard to the kids’ schedules. However, when parents did not enjoy an amicable relationship, technology was often used by one parent to limit the other’s access to the child. By simply avoiding answering text messages and email, some parents seek to limit the amount of time that the other parent has with the child. In some cases, parents admitted to pretending that they never received email. This type of behavior not only brings further tension between the parents,
For divorcing couples in the same city or state, coming to terms with shared parenting can be difficult. However, those challenges can increase dramatically for couples from different countries. For one Boston father, his concerns for his sons’ safety and well-being are in the forefront for many politicians aiding the father in his efforts to retrieve his two sons from Egypt after they were illegally taken from the country by their Egyptian mother. And this father is not alone in his plight. He is one of many U.S. fathers caught up in the wake of international child abductions, fighting to regain custody from countries such as Japan and Egypt, that do not acknowledge the Hague Convention. In 2008, the Boston dad was granted sole legal custody of his sons when he and his ex-wife divorced. The boys’ mother has dual citizenship; British and Egyptian. She was only given limited visitation, initiating the catalyst towards the subsequent kidnapping. Prior to picking up his sons from visiting their mother in 2009, he received a phone call telling him that his sons had been taken to Egypt. The mother had acquired false passports for the boys. Divorced parents are required to provide dual parental consent forms prior to traveling with children overseas. However, EgyptAir states that they only are “required to review passports” and that due to the lack of support staff cannot contact “non-traveling” parents to confirm international travel plans with them. Sadly, since 2000, international child abductions have tripled in the
Massachusetts cinema buffs may be interested to know that couple James Marsden and Lisa Linde recently filed for divorce after 11 years of marriage. Marsden is known for his roles in X-Men and Straw Dogs. His wife is the daughter of Dennis Linde, who was the country songwriter who penned Elvis’ 1972 hit “Burning Love.” Although a representative for Marsden claims the decision is mutual, high net-worth divorces are rarely a clean process. Despite the comments of Marsden’s representative, Linde filed the divorce documents citing “irreconcilable differences.” She is seeking joint legal and physical custody of their two children. They share a 6-year-old girl and a 10-year-old boy. However, even when divorce is based on a shared decision and mutual respect, it often still results in a tangled web of issues. Here, the couple was married for 11 years with two children. As such, the divorce will necessarily involve complex property division and child custody issues. Linde is also seeking spousal support, which may prove contentious. The couple has probably already retained separate legal counsel, which is highly advised in cases like these. An experienced divorce attorney can prove invaluable in a high net-worth divorce due to the complexity of issues involved. The attorney may also be able to ensure that the result is fair and reasonable and in accordance with the wishes of the client. Indeed, any couple in Massachusetts and elsewhere seeking or considering divorce may benefit from consulting with an attorney. Except in a few rare instances,