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

Child custody and parenting time in abuse situations

It is unfortunate that in Massachusetts, many children find themselves in situations of abuse and neglect. Oftentimes, parents even separate precisely because one or the other parent is hurting the children.

Massachusetts has a law that affords special protections to victims of abuse. Specifically, when a court deciding custody uncovers credible allegations of abuse, the court will presume that it is not in the child's best interest to award that parent custody. Likewise, the court may enter restrictive visitation orders requiring things like supervised visits at the parent's expense, counseling and other restrictions on visitation rights.

Emotional stress will ordinarily be part of the divorce process

Most Springfield, Massachusetts, residents know anecdotally that divorce is a stressful experience. It only makes sense that the end of a relationship would come with some emotional stress and psychological turmoil.

Scholarly research backs up this common experience. The emotional experience which accompanies a divorce often begins a couple or three years prior to the actual divorce starts. Along with a sense of generalized dissatisfaction with one's spouse, a person will also feel a lot of fear, guilt, anxiety and the like.

Can other relatives legally step in to help a child?

A previous post on this blog talked about how Springfield, Massachusetts, grandparents can use a guardianship to get custody over a grandchild that is in need of a stable home and whose parents, for whatever reason, are unwilling or unable to meet that need.

In some situations, however, grandparents may not be the best person to take care of a small child or even a teenager who can largely provide for himself. No matter how hard they may try and how loving they may be, the reality is that age and related medical issues, as well as just the ordinary burdens of life, can make it difficult for grandparents to provide for children, even if they were excellent parents.

Options for servicemembers, veterans behind in support

When people in Springfield, Massachusetts, hear discussions about the enforcement of a child support order, they are often thinking about what can be done to a parent who does not pay. However, there are also circumstances in which a well-meaning parent who is facing some temporary hardships deserves protection from the full consequences of the state's child support enforcement powers.

For instance, veterans and those on active duty in the military often run in to difficulties that might make it harder for them to pay their child support in a timely fashion. As with everyone else, it is still a solider or veteran's obligation to make sure he or she gets support paid, but there are some instances in which a little mercy is important to give.

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.

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Springfield, MA 01103

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Phone: 413-315-5518
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