Children & Divorce

At What Age Does a Child Have a Say in the Parenting Plan?

One of the most frequent questions I am asked by parents involved in custody disputes is: “when is my child old enough to decide to live with me?” The answer – that children under age 18 in Massachusetts do not get to make decisions around parenting plans – often comes as a surprise.

M.G.L. c. 208, sec. 28 provides:

Upon a judgment for divorce, the court may make such judgment as it considers expedient relative to the care, custody and maintenance of the minor children of the parties and may determine with which of the parents the children or any of them shall remain or may award their custody to some third person if it seems expedient or for the benefit of the children….Upon a complaint after a divorce, filed by either parent or by a next friend on behalf of the children after notice to both parents, the court may make a judgment modifying its earlier judgment as to the care and custody of the minor children of the parties provided that the court finds that a material and substantial change in the circumstances of the parties has occurred and the judgment of modification is necessary in the Keep reading

Considerations for Your Kids in Your Estate Planning

Planning for the wellbeing of your children may be at the forefront of your mind in the midst of the current COVID-19 pandemic. The decision you have been putting off may feel more urgent than ever. Namely, who would care for your minor children if you and a co-parent (if any) become unavailable? Now is a critical time to carefully consider your intentions and solidify them in writing with an estate planning attorney. But where should you start and what factors should you consider?

Consider naming separate individuals.

Legally, stand-ins for parents fall into two separate roles. A guardian of a minor is responsible for making any legal and medical decisions on behalf of the minor, and generally is the person who cares for and raises a child. A conservator is responsible for managing assets and financial affairs on behalf of a minor (or otherwise incapacitated person) Both are nominated in your Will (and a temporary guardian may be nominated in an Emergency Guardianship Proxy), and you may considering naming separate individuals for each of these roles.

It may prove easier to narrow down individuals who would be well-suited for each role separately based on their respective strengths and … Keep reading

Co-Parenting Considerations for April “Vacation”

There is little differentiation between weekends and weekdays in this remote-work, socially-distant world we’re living in. The “Boys of Summer” have not yet returned home to Fenway Park. The Boston Marathon has been postponed. Under these circumstances, it’s easy to forget that Massachusetts schools would traditionally be “on vacation” next week. For children in intact families, this may have little meaning or impact, but for children with separated or divorced parents this often is a week of great significance, as many parenting plans allocate the February school vacation week to one parent and the April school vacation to the other. In those situations, the February parent would have already enjoyed his or her school vacation time with the children, before the country shut down in mid-March. What happens now, in the midst of this pandemic? Here are five key considerations.

  1. Are the Children’s Schools Observing the Vacation Week? If so, and if there is a Temporary Order or a Judgment allocating April school vacation to one parent, that parenting time should go forward in most cases. In an Open Letter posted online, the Chief Justice of the Probate and Family Court reiterated: “Parenting orders are not stayed during this
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Tips for Navigating Marital Stress During the COVID-19 Crisis

As we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are finding themselves working from home while caring for and schooling young children, which creates enormous stress. In situations where a marital relationship was already suffering before the parties were forced to be in near constant contact, the boiling point may be reached. Courts are mostly closed, except for true emergencies, instilling further feelings of hopelessness and stagnation. If you find yourself in a precarious home situation during these difficult times, below are some tips to navigate.

1. Be gentle on yourself.
Recognize that trying to work from home, care for children, school children, cook, clean, make dinner, etc., all while navigating the uncertainty, is hard! Don’t beat yourself up. The perfect is the enemy of the good. Your children will not be scarred forever if not all school assignments are completed perfectly, or if screens are used to allow you to get a few hours of work done. Just do the best you can, and don’t be fooled by the pictures of perfection portrayed on social media.

2. Protect your mental health.
If at all possible, try to engage in some form of self-care each day. Take a … Keep reading

Child-Focused Dispute Resolution

All too often divorce cases involving children end up being hotly contested, with a “win” or “lose” mentality.  Inevitably, this mentality results in neither parent winning and the children more often than not losing. While an asset division or support dispute can easily be assessed on a cost-benefit analysis (there is X is in dispute and you will spend Y in attorneys’ fees fighting it), when it comes to child-related issues, there is no price you can put on your child’s best interest. This often results in both parents spending a significant amount of time and money “fighting” to get custody of the children, which invariably causes a polarizing effect on their ability to co-parent the children going forward.

Rather than focus on who is going to “win” custody of the children, both parents should focus on what is truly in their child or children’s best interests, not their own.  What works for other families may not work for their family.  Both parents should be acutely aware of the individual needs of their child or children and work towards addressing those needs upon separation and divorce.

While it may not work in each case, and while it is certainly … Keep reading

The Price of Peace

The Price of Peace: a concept that arises in nearly every divorce matter, but you will likely never read about in any legal treatise on divorce law. You commonly hear about transactional costs (I.e. legal fees) and the cost of alimony or child support, but the price of peace is not commonly spoke of in mainstream divorce literature.

So what is the price of peace? To use a common lawyer answer, “it depends.” Generally speaking, the price of peace is a tangible or intangible cost for moving on. It is individual to every person or couple going through a divorce. It is that thing that a person is willing to forego in order to be done.

An example of a tangible price for peace is the following: Jane and John Doe are involved in heated negotiations to resolve their divorce matter. They have agreed on all matters, except they both want the new bbq grill that was purchased just before they separated. Recognizing that the transactional costs are steep, and that there is great value in resolving the divorce matter and moving on, Jane agrees to allow John to keep the bbq grill. The price of peace for Jane … Keep reading

Divorcing With Special Needs Children

Divorce is hard.  Along with all the emotional upheaval associated with the end of a relationship, the legal wrangling and disputes over division of assets, allocation of liabilities, parenting plans and the appropriate amount of support can be challenging.  When special needs children are involved, parenting and support issues become even more complex.

Special needs children can place extraordinary demands on their caretakers.  In fact, taking care of a special needs child often becomes a full time job for one of the parents.  The parent who sacrificed his/her career to care for the child is likely to be faced with on-going caretaking responsibilities beyond the child’s age of majority.  Determining spousal support for the caretaker-parent must account for the lost career opportunities both in the past, as well as in the future.

Where a child suffers from a physically debilitating condition, there can be challenges involved in meeting the child’s daily care needs, equipment, and specialized treatments that need to be considered.  Parents may not have the financial ability to have two sets of necessary equipment to allow a child to safely spend time in each parent’s home.  This creates additional problems when it comes to fashioning a parenting … Keep reading

Divorce and Space Crimes

The First Crime in Space! Recent headlines from The New York Times and other prominent news agencies drew in readers stating that the first crime in space had allegedly been committed. The articles went on to discuss the thorny privacy and jurisdictional issues given that NASA was involved and the crime was purported to have occurred on the International Space Station, where astronauts from the United States, Russia, Japan, Europe and Canada orbit the Earth. At its heart, however, the supposed first crime in space is a bitterly contested domestic relations matter involving income, assets, custody of a child, and de facto parent status.

Summer Worden and Anne McClain (a decorated NASA astronaut who was tapped for the first all-female spacewalk, and is in consideration to be the first woman on the moon) were married in 2014. Ms. Worden has a son, who was born approximately one year before the parties met.

By 2018, the parties’ relationship had broken down, and Ms. McClain, who had no legal status as a parent to Ms. Worden’s son, approached a Texas Court asking for shared parenting rights to the child and “the exclusive right to designate the primary residence of the child.” … Keep reading

Recent Changes to the Law Relating to Child Support and Health Insurance

On July 8, 2019, the Massachusetts legislature approved changes to the law surrounding orders for health insurance coverage in cases where child support is ordered. The statutes impacted include G.L. c. 208 (the divorce statute) and G.L. c. 209C (for children of unmarried parents). The law, entitled An Act Making Appropriations For The Fiscal Year 2019 To Provide For Supplementing Certain Existing Appropriations And For Certain Other Activities And Projects, provides for, among other things, the following:

  • If the Court enters a child support order, either parent may be ordered to maintain health insurance coverage for a child if such coverage is available at reasonable cost and is accessible to the child. Under the previous law, only the parent paying child support could be ordered to maintain coverage for a child, unless the parties otherwise agreed.
  • Health care coverage is deemed to be reasonable in cost if the cost to the party ordered to provide health care coverage does not exceed 5% of the gross income of that party. Further, private health insurance shall be deemed not available at reasonable cost to a parent whose gross income does not exceed 150% of the federal poverty guidelines for the family
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Summer Parenting Time

Mother and Son in a Park

As we enter the “dog days of summer” and New England braces for a serious heat wave over the next few days, I can’t help but think about the importance of summer parenting plans. Summer is when most parents try to maximize the time they spend with their children.  Free from the demands of school, homework, and most extracurricular activities, summer is an optimum time to enjoy quality time with children, especially school aged children.  I recently saw a quote that said “there are only eighteen summers in childhood . . . How will you make this one count?”

As summer time with children is so fleeting and precious, summer parenting time can become a hot button issue in a divorce.  When crafting a summer parenting plan, the best interest of the children should be at the forefront in setting the parenting schedule, and this generally entails maximizing the children’s time with both parents.

Summer parenting plans can take on many different forms. Some parents share time equally in the summer with their children.  Some parents continue to observe the school year parenting plan with slight tweaks to allow for long weekends or vacation weeks.  There are a myriad … Keep reading