Claudette-Jean Girard, Attorney at Law
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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.

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Springfield MA Family Law Blog

What are signs of abuse in the home?

One of the reasons Springfield, Massachusetts, residents might seek out a guardianship of a child who is a relative or a close friend is because they suspect abuse in the home of the child's parents. As much as these people might love the child's parents, they feel that they simply must step in to help the child whom they love.

For a lot of reasons, and as this blog has alluded to before, a Massachusetts court is not going to grant a guardianship over a minor child when the child's parent is still alive, willing and able to take care of the child. The upshot of this is that a court is not going to take a parent's child away over disagreements about parenting styles or even if the child's parent has real issues and problems.

Review of prenuptial agreements in Massachusetts

As this blog has mentioned previously, couples in Massachusetts are legally authorized to enter into what are commonly referred to as prenuptial agreements, or even just "prenups." While these agreements can be very helpful in the event of a divorce, they are also useful for even happily married couples who, for instance, have children from a prior relationship.

Massachusetts laws about prenuptial agreements, which are legally called antenuptial settlements, specify that they can apply only to a couple's property. What this means is that while a couple can specify who gets what in the event of a divorce or even, for that matter, after the death of a spouse, prenuptial agreements cannot lawfully cover matters like child custody or support. In other words, if a couple attempt to bargain child support or custody in their agreement, the court will be under no obligation to enforce that portion of the agreement and will instead follow Massachusetts law.

Fighting a termination of guardianship

Previous posts here have discussed how a relative can obtain guardianship over minor children when there is abuse in their home or the children's parents are otherwise unwilling or unable to care for their children. Massachusetts law has a procedure parents can use when they feel that they are again in a positon to take care of their children. While the procedure calls for a judge to end a guardianship when doing so is in the best interest of the children, it is also important to remember that Massachusetts law expresses a strong preference for a child's legal parents to raise their children.

What this means in practice is that a parent, if he or she feels ready to take on full-time care of the children again, can with relatively little difficulty get back into court in an effort to end the guardianship. While this might be acceptable if a guardian agrees, in many cases, a guardian may see red flags that, despite a parent's belief to the contrary, the parent is simply not ready to bear the responsibilities of parenthood.

How do I get a child support order changed?

Child support orders depend heavily on each parent's income and other changeable circumstances, so what may have been a fair child support order at one time may, over the months or years, become no longer reasonable. For example, parents in Massachusetts may change jobs or take on a different role in their company. There also may be other changes, like the cost or even availability of health insurance. There also may be changes in how much time each parent is spending with the children, a factor that can also influence child support.

Under these sorts of circumstances, a parent may want to seek a child support modification. A modification is particularly helpful when the parent paying support has a lower income or higher expenses and thus can no longer easily afford his or her current child support order.

Who has priority in guardianship appointments?

As this blog has discussed, when a Massachusetts child needs an adult in their lives to protect them legally and provide a home for them, a guardianship of a minor is a legal option. The appointment of a guardian, however, actually involves two steps:

First, a judge has to decide that a guardianship is necessary, and specifically must determine that the child's parents, if they are alive and are not agreeable to the guardianship, are not fit to have custody. Then, the court has to decide who the guardian of the child will be.

Review of Massachusetts' relocation law

There are many reasons why a single parent in the Springfield area may have to move either to another part of Massachusetts or even outside the state. Given that Massachusetts is relatively small in terms of land size and is close to a lot of other big cities in other states, it is, for instance, relatively easy to see how someone can find a new and better job opportunity that, while still geographically close to Springfield, is technically out-of-state.

The relocation of a child by one parent and following a divorce is nonetheless a relatively complicated legal affair in Massachusetts. Generally speaking, a divorced parent, even if he or she has custody, cannot legally just up and leave Massachusetts with the child, at least not if the child was born in this state or has lived in Massachusetts for five years.

Child support issues in guardianship cases

This blog has on previous cases discussed how relatives of Massachusetts children can use legal guardianship as a process to get authority to take care of their loved ones if their parents are unable or unwilling to do so for any number of serious reasons.

Financial help is available to guardians even if their guardianship is private and is not done through the Department of Children and Families. Specifically, guardians can ask a court for an order requiring both parents to pay child support to the guardians for the support of the parents' children. Like any other child support order, if the parents do not pay, then the guardians can ask the judge to impose a range of penalties on the parents, including jail time in the most serious cases.

Placing a value on a family business

There are many Springfield, Massachusetts, couples who are not only romantically involved but also partners in life and business. Happily married couples who own a business together will ordinarily be able to get along well enough when it comes to running the affairs of their company and, oftentimes, will be able to enjoy their profits together.

On the other hand, couples going through a divorce or separation, or even some other family or financial crisis, may either come at odds with each other or, for some other reason, have to figure out how to put a value on their business that they owned and operated together in happier times.

Child support guidelines and special needs children

This blog has discussed how various aspects of the family law in Massachusetts apply when a Springfield parent is trying to parent a child with special medical, educational or other needs on his or her own. This post will discuss the way parents, with the help of their attorneys, can get a fair child support order that accounts for their child's special needs.

There are two basic ways in which the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines can help parents get additional child support for their special needs children, but all subject, of course, to the discretion of the family law judge hearing the case.

The difference between parenting coordinators and "GAL"s

A previous post here discussed the role of a guardian ad litem, or "GAL" for short. A GAL may be an important part of a Massachusetts child custody or visitation case. However, a GAL is not the only third party who may be involved in a custody case.

A GAL is appointed by the court to conduct an objective investigation into the facts behind a custody dispute and also to get an idea of the circumstances and background of the child and the family. The point of this process is to give the judge a better idea of how to fashion child custody and visitation decisions so as to protect the child's best interests.

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