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Family Law Attorney

I provide experienced legal guidance in family law, divorce and special education law. I represent parents and families throughout western Massachusetts.

Springfield MA Family Law Blog

Benefits should be considered in special-needs divorce planning

This blog has previously discussed the fact that parents of special-needs children may have to do more planning and negotiation than other parents, when they get divorced or separate. Putting together a shared child custody implementation plan in Massachusetts was touched on in a prior post. While most parents of such children are used to having to go the extra mile for their kids, there may be things that do not occur to them when contemplating how to proceed in a family court situation. One of these may be how any family court order could affect benefits received for the child in question.

Special needs kids in Massachusetts may receive cash benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA) in the form of Social Security Disability (SSD) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Because SSD is an entitlement program and not income-based, it may not be affected by a family court order.

Why does Massachusetts use child support 'guidelines'?

Every state in the country has some legal mechanism to help ensure that a child is supported financially when their parents divorce or separate. Because most states have adopted a uniform set of federal child support laws, many of those systems are similar, though not necessarily identical. In Massachusetts, the family court system uses a process known as the 'child support guidelines' to determine how much money a non-custodial parent should pay to support a child. But why do these guidelines exist, and why are they the way they are?

The Supreme Court of Massachusetts appends to the front of the guidelines issued a list of principles that are meant to give people an idea of what the child support guidelines are meant to accomplish. This list is not exhaustive, and there may be other purposes behind the way the guidelines work, but it is certainly representative and can give readers a better understanding of why what some see as a strict system of deciding child support amounts exists.

What conditions can be placed on visitation in Massachusetts?

This blog has dealt with several types of custody issues that people in Massachusetts might encounter. We've previously discussed some of the basics of the best interests of the child standard applied by family courts in the state, and the general types of custody, such as legal and physical, as well as sole and shared. However, when physical custody is awarded to one parent, it is customary for a court to grant the other parent some form of visitation so that he or she can be involved in the child's life.

The basic type of visitation awarded is frequent and liberal, but this could be altered by the parties or findings made by the court. The parties might agree to a certain schedule of visitation, for example, or the court may place restrictions on the visitation by one of the parties. This latter case is most often seen when one party has been accused of, and the court has found evidence of, abuse.

What are 'weekly expenses' in a Massachusetts divorce?

Previously on this blog, we talked about the fact that those Massachusetts residents filing for divorce will have to complete a financial statement and submit it to the court. The purpose behind this is to allow the court to determine the financial situations of both parties so as to better make a decision on various aspects of the divorce case, such as property division and child support. Because child support is generally calculated based upon the state guidelines, which rely on the incomes of both parties, this information is crucial to a fair determination of the support amount.

Massachusetts guardianship of a minor hearings

A few weeks ago, this blog covered some of the very basics of beginning the process of becoming a legal guardian for a child. An adult may do this if, for some reason, the child's parents are not capable of taking care of him or her, due to illness, incarceration, or other circumstances. We discussed who can file a petition for guardianship, and the fact that certain people, such as the child's parents or other relatives, will need to be served notice of the time and date the court sets for a hearing. But, what will generally happen at such a hearing?

First, it should be noted that both the child, and the parents of the child may have a right to an attorney at this hearing. Either the child in question, or someone acting as an agent for the child can request the appointment of a lawyer to represent the child. The parents can bring their own lawyer, or, if they prove they are indigent, may have one appointed for them.

Massachusetts parenting plans for special needs children

The emotional toll a divorce can take on both partners in a relationship is hard to overstate. The dividing of a household, the untangling of finances and debts, and the realization that one may not have someone else to depend upon all the time can create a lot of anxiety. This is often further exacerbated when children are involved, as then there will also be questions of where the kids will live, and who will be making the important decisions about their lives.

When a couple has a disabled or special needs child, this process can be even more stressful. After all, the previously married couple had likely gotten used to dealing with both the joys and challenges that come with caring for children together. Now, there may be questions about how the child's needs will be met by one or the other of the parents. Parents in such a situation should be assured that there is a way to deal with these difficult questions.

Does Massachusetts child support automatically end at 18?

Most parents in Massachusetts can tell you that taking care of a child is a life-long commitment. While, for most purposes, society treats people as adults when they turn 18-years-old, this does not always mean they can be completely independent at that point. This may be especially true in coming years as educational expectations continue to climb and undergraduate degrees become more and more expensive. When parents have ended their relationship with each other prior to a child's 18th birthday, there may be questions with regard to whether a non-custodial parent is to continue ordered child support payments once the child turns 18.

According to Massachusetts law, family courts can continue child support orders beyond the age of 18 in certain circumstances. For example, a court could determine that a child under 21 years of age requires further support if he or she is residing with a parent and is still dependent upon that parent for maintenance. The court can also make stipulations in such an order regarding the child's education as well.

'Shared custody implementation plans' in Massachusetts

This blog has previously mentioned the difference between types of child custody under Massachusetts family law. There are two important distinctions to remember in custody cases: that between physical and legal custody, and between shared and sole custody. Physical custody determines with whom a child resides, and legal custody has to do with who makes important decisions regarding the child's life and well-being. Sole custody is where either residence or decision-making capacity rests with one person, while shared custody will give it to two individuals, usually parents, simultaneously.

As parents in Massachusetts might imagine, when both parties to a divorce or child custody matter want to have custody of a child, there may be differences as to how this custody should be arranged. Because of this, when a child custody case comes up in a Massachusetts family court, and either party wishes shared custody, the court may ask the parties for a 'shared custody implementation plan.' This plan may be created jointly between the parties, or each party may submit his or her own version.

What is a 'financial statement' in a Massachusetts divorce

When a couple in Massachusetts decides to dissolve their marriage, there are many issues to be considered. Because it can be an especially emotional and stressful time, parties to a divorce may feel like putting off certain actions that need to completed to move the case forward. One of these that is often pushed aside for other 'more important' matters is the completion of the required financial statement.

The financial statement in a divorce is meant to give both the court and the other party a clear, accurate picture of one's financial status. The information provided by it will be used to help resolve several important issues, such as distribution of property, and the amount of child support, if any. It is important to remember that the financial statement is a sworn document, meaning that by signing it, you are promising you have told the truth when filling it out. There are two forms of financial statement in Massachusetts, the long form and the short form. The short form is used if a party's gross income is under $75,000 per year; otherwise the long form is used.

First steps for Massachusetts guardianship of a minor

In an ideal world, all children would be taken care of by happy, healthy parents. Unfortunately, that is not the world that Massachusetts residents live in. Parents of minor children can reach a point where they are unable to care for their kids, either due to illness, substance abuse problems, or incarceration, among other reasons. When this happens, someone needs to step in to look out for the children. In many cases this is a family member or friend. However, to be able to legally make many decisions for children and properly care for them, these individuals may need to become the children's legal guardians.

Having a guardian appointed for a child means filing a petition with the court. While anyone may file such a petition, including a minor, only an adult, that is, a person 18 years old or older, may serve as a guardian. The petition is free, but there are some requirements that must be met during the early stages of the process. Once filed, the court will issue a Notice and Order of Hearing. This will designate a time and place for a hearing on the matter, and denote those parties who need to be notified.

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