Massachusetts Fathers' Rights
Years ago, fathers' rights were only secondary to those of mothers on the issue of child custody. However, times have changed as a growing percentage of divorced fathers undertake active roles in the lives of their children. Massachusetts Family Law Courts now look at the facts and the circumstances rather than only the sex of the parent to determine which party should serve as primary caretaker. By being aware of Massachusetts fathers' rights on child support and custody will put you in a better position to put a plan in place that will help you achieve your custody or visitation goals.
If the father has been substantially involved in the child’s life, and the evidence shows he will be the more effective caretaker, it is now much more likely than a decade ago that he will be awarded custody. The primary consideration is what’s in the best interest of the child. The factors considered by the judge include: what’s less disruptive, who can meet the child’s needs, the child’s relationship with the parents and other family relations, schooling, community, history of abuse, abandonment, drug use, and who has been the primary caretaker responsible for medical appointments, schooling, bathing, etc.
Drug usage, domestic abuse, and financial misconduct are some of the most common issues raised on fathers' rights cases in Massachusetts. It is essential to be prepared to address these issues effectively if allegations along these lines are made. If it can be proven that the father is unstable, it is likely that the judge will be cautious with the custody arrangement and the visitation plan in order to protect the child. Drug usage is a primary concern to judges, and this allegation can be verified through hair follicle tests, urine screens and blood testing, which can be ordered by the court. Domestic abuse by the father, if proven, will likely present an obstacle to his gaining custody. However, allegations of violence are unfortunately sometimes fabricated or exaggerated by the mother in order to gain leverage in the divorce proceeding.
The court’s primary interest is protecting the welfare of children. When there is a safety issue, or sometimes for a general investigation on the parents’ roles and the family circumstances, courts may appoint a guardian ad litem, referred to as a “GAL.” The GAL will interview the parents and other involved parties and write a report for the court. If requested, the GAL will also make recommendations on the issues of custody and visitation.
Supervised Visitation and Restraining Orders
If you are accused falsely of domestic violence or abuse, and the issue is not defended appropriately, it may hurt your reputation with the court and your chances of playing a significant role in your child’s life. Thus, you should contact an aggressive divorce attorney who focuses his practice on family law, so you can give yourself the best chance of negating the allegations, which will then turn the tables on the mother so the judge may view her as lacking in credibility. Knowledge is power. Understanding your rights as a father can help you avoid serious conflict with your wife. Knowing your rights will help you better plan your arrangement with her, which will decrease the risk of conflict.
Massachusetts Child Custody
In a divorce, child custody is often a contested issue, which involves more than setting the amount of time each parent is allotted to spend with the child.
There are two types of custody: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody determines which parent makes the major decisions: health care, schooling, religion, etc. Physical custody determines which parent the child primarily lives with. If a parent obtains sole legal custody, the other parent is not involved in major decisions. Sole physical custody means the child has one primary home and visits the other parent, unless visitation is not in the best interest of the child.
The best interest of the child is the major consideration in making an order relative to the parents' custody of children. The court will consider whether or not the past or present living conditions of the child have an adverse effect on his or her emotional, moral, physical and mental health.
If the court determines that there are communication issues between the parents that can be resolved, it may appoint a parenting coordinator to help the parties work together in the best interest of the child. The coordinator often helps the parties with methods of communication and scheduling.
Massachusetts Child Support
Children have the legal right to obtain financial support from their parents regardless of the fact that the parents were never married, divorced, or separated. Child support in Massachusetts is based on the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines. A new version of the Guidelines went into effect on August 1, 2013.
The Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR) is the government agency responsible for facilitating and enforcing the payment of child support in Massachusetts. The custodial parent has the choice of whether to use DOR or accept a private payment arrangement. If DOR is involved, the noncustodial parent's employer is notified immediately when a child support order is issued by the court. The child support amount is then withheld from the paying parent and sent to DOR. DOR then issues payment to the custodial parent. If the noncustodial parent is unemployed or self-employed, DOR will send him or her instructions on how to settle the weekly bill.
If DOR is involved, it is important that the non-custodial parent send payment to DOR instead of the custodial parent. If private payments are made when the case is registered with DOR, arrears will accrue and DOR may take enforcement action against the non-custodial parent including but not limited to the garnishing of wages.
It is also important to note that visitation rights and child support are two separate legal issues. Thus, unless visitation is not in the child’s best interest, the court will not prohibit a parent from visiting with the child just because that parent is behind on child support. In fact if the parent with sole physical custody withholds visitation because of a child support issue, and there are no concerns for the safety of the child during visitation, the court may find the custodial parent in contempt. If there is a child support issue that needs attention, the custodial parent should file a contempt action on the other parent to address that issue.
Modifications to the Court Order
If you wish to make any changes to the amount of financial support given to the child, you must understand that only the court can legally modify or change the child support order. Thus, either parent may choose to request modifications to the court's child support orders depending on the circumstances of each parent. For instance, modifications are possible when a parent's income or health care coverage has changed, when there are any changes to either parent's right to the physical custody of children, or a significant change in income for either parent.
You may contact your DOR case manager for a status update or to ask questions on child support. In answering your questions, DOR will reference the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines, which consider a number of factors in determining the amount of financial support. These factors include the income of both parents, overall cost of health care coverage for the child, and the ages and number of children involved.
If there is an issue involving fathers’ rights in your case, it’s important that you contact an experienced, aggressive Massachusetts Fathers’ Rights Attorney to give you the best chance of getting the outcome you need and increasing your chances of playing a meaningful role in your child’s life.