Children & Divorce

Catherine Spanu, Burns & Levinson

Catherine Spanu, Burns & Levinson

When summer and school vacations approach, many divorcing spouses wonder: what happens with the children and the parenting plan? Do I get to take them for vacation, and sign them up for camps? What happens if my coparent refuses to let me take the children to my family reunion that only happens once every ten years?

Summers and school vacations can be stressful due to the changes in routine alone. That stress can be exacerbated by issues communicating with your coparent, or by uncertainty about vacation parenting plans and travel arrangements.

There are no hard and fast rules on these issues under Massachusetts law. However, to minimize stress and disruption for you and, most importantly, for your children, it is useful to know what is typical for coparenting and parenting plans during school and summer vacations, as well as how to address issues that may arise around vacations and coparenting.

A preliminary issue to consider is what is typically ordered by a judge, or agreed to between divorcing parents, as far as summer and school vacation parenting plans:

  • February/April Vacations: Massachusetts public schools typically have two week-long vacations, one in February and one in April. These vacations are
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Can We Divorce Even if My Partner Is Pregnant?

What do Bridget Moynahan, Tiki Barbar, and Denise Richards have in common?  They (or their spouse) were all pregnant while going through a divorce.

Divorce is never easy.  Divorcing while pregnant adds another complication.  In some states it is not even possible to finalize the divorce while a party is pregnant.  However, in Massachusetts, although expecting parents are permitted to finalize a divorce, there are certain obstacles about which a divorcing, expecting parent should be aware.

1. There is a legal presumption that a child born to a woman during a marriage is the child of her spouse.

Pursuant to Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 209(C), section 6, a man is presumed to be the father of a child if he is married to the mother at the time of birth of the child or if the child is born within 300 days after the marriage is terminated by death, annulment or divorce. (While the terms man and woman are contained in the statute, this law applies to same-sex couples, as well.) The husband’s name will automatically be placed on the birth certificate of the child, even if the husband is not the biological parent.  It then becomes the burden … Keep reading

Divorce Law Monitor Blog Robin Lynch Nardone

Divorce Law Monitor Blog Robin Lynch Nardone

Alcohol consumption is widespread in American culture. A 2020 study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control found that two-thirds (66.3%) of American adults consumed alcohol in the past year, with 5.1% of them admitting to engaging in regular heavy drinking.

The likelihood of divorce triples for couples where one party struggles with alcohol. According to some statistics, more than 14.5 million Americans suffer from alcohol abuse disorders – defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism as a chronic relapsing brain disorder characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences.

Study data reflects that more than 7.5 million children in the United States live with a parent who suffers from an alcohol abuse disorder.

How are children protected during a divorce? The Court always strives to maintain a parental relationship while also protecting the child(ren) from harm. When a parent’s alcohol use impairs their ability to care for a child physically and/or emotionally during or after a divorce, the Court will intervene.

Interventions can include:

  • Requiring a parent to maintain sobriety in order to exercise parenting time, which is monitored through random urine screens or the
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Why You Should Consider Using a Parenting Coordinator

A parenting coordinator is a third party hired by divorced or divorcing parents to help resolve parenting disputes – such as holiday and vacation plans, the selection of activities for the children, or school choice. Under Massachusetts Probate and Family Court Standing Order 1-17, a parenting coordinator can be appointed in any case relating to the care and custody of minor children. Under the Standing Order, parents may, by agreement, engage a parenting coordinator to assist them in dealing with existing or future conflicts regarding their access to and responsibilities for their children. A parenting coordinator can be given authority to make binding decisions or be limited to simply trying to help the parties come to mutual agreement.

Here are a few of the benefits to hiring a parenting coordinator:

  • Less time in court. A parenting coordinator can help parents avoid repeated trips to the courthouse to deal with minor disputes.
  • Less cost. Sharing the cost of a parenting coordinator will be less expensive than continuing to use attorneys to work out parenting disputes.
  • Quicker decisions. It can take months to get a hearing date in the Probate and Family Court. Parenting decisions often must be made quickly
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New Child Support Guidelines to Go Into Effect This Fall

On August 2, 2021, Chief Justice of the Trial Court, Paula M. Carey, signed new Child Support Guidelines, which go into effect on October 4, 2021. These new guidelines are the result of work by the Child Support Guidelines Task Force, which was convened by Chief Justice Carey in 2020 to undertake the quadrennial review of the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines required by federal regulations.

If you currently pay or receive child support, you should consider whether these new guidelines result in a different child support obligation in your situation. There is a rebuttable presumption that the guidelines apply in all cases establishing or modifying a child support order, regardless of whether the parents are married or unmarried, the order is temporary or final, or the Court is deciding whether to approve an agreement for child support. There is also a rebuttable presumption that the amount of the child support order calculated under the guidelines is the appropriate amount of child support to be ordered. Existing child support orders are not automatically changed to be in compliance with the new guidelines unless the parties specifically agreed within the terms of an Agreement to automatically recalculate child support. Absent … Keep reading

Suspension of Parent Education Program Attendance in Divorce Actions

In an announcement made by the Probate and Family Court on June 25, 2021, effective September 1, 2021, divorcing parents of minor children will no longer be required to attend and complete the Parents Education Program as the Program is, at least temporarily, suspended. What does this mean for parents presently going through the divorce process? It depends on whether the complaint for divorce has already been filed or will be filed in the future. If filed on or before July 11, 2021, parents will still need to attend the Program and submit a certificate of completion before September 1, 2021. If the complaint for divorce is filed on or after July 12, 2021, the requirement is waived.

Prior to this recent suspension of the Parents Education Program, all parties to a divorce action in which there are minor children (under the age of 18) were required to attend and participate in an approved Parent Education Program pursuant to Standing Order 2-16. The purpose of Standing Order 2-16’s requirement was to provide divorcing parents guidance in understanding and addressing the challenges caused by divorce and to assist them in addressing and reducing the stress children may experience during and … Keep reading

Non-Disparagement Orders in Custody Cases

As my partner Andrea Dunbar recently wrote, it is inappropriate to post negative comments about the opposing party in a custody matter on social media. But can the court prohibit it? The answer in most cases is no.

Notwithstanding the fact that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has a compelling interest in protecting children from being exposed to disparagement between their parents, freedom of speech is protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The First Amendment limits the government’s power to restrict expression simply because the government does not like the subject matter, idea, or content of the message. An Order from a Probate and Family Court judge instructing a party not to post comments about the other parent on social media is called a “non-disparagement order.” These types of orders are prior restraint on speech. In order for prior restraint on speech to be allowed, the speech must be truly exceptional. This requires that the harm expected from the unrestrained speech must be grave, the likelihood of the speech must be all but certain absent the prior restraint, and the order must be the least restrictive way to stop the grave harm. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial … Keep reading

Custody Litigation: The Roles of the Guardian ad Litem and ARC Counsel

In Probate and Family Court cases involving the care and custody of children, the Court may appoint a Guardian ad litem (GAL) to investigate or evaluate the case, and/or an ARC (Attorneys Representing Children) attorney to advocate the child’s position. Join Tiffany Bentley and Robin Lynch Nardone for a discussion on the roles of these professionals and their impact on custody litigation. Learn about:

  • How and why a GAL or ARC attorney is appointed.
  • The differences between a GAL and ARC attorney and how to determine which is most appropriate for your case.
  • How to prepare for a GAL investigation.
  • How to use a GAL report in negotiation or further litigation.

Click here to watch the full episode.… Keep reading

In-State Relocation With Children During or After Divorce

I recently participated with a client in an uncontested divorce hearing where the Probate and Family Court Judge presiding over the matter said something I have not heard many judges say at an uncontested divorce hearing. Addressing both parents, the Judge called attention to the removal language contained in the divorce agreement, making specific note to the residential parent. The Judge pointed out that while the language contained in the agreement only referenced removal of the children out of the Commonwealth, if the residential parent wanted to relocate with the children within the Commonwealth – but at such a distance that would impact the current parenting schedule – the residential parent may need to seek the Court’s permission to do so before she moved. While most divorce agreements contain specific language prohibiting out-of-state removal, very rarely do separation agreements provide similar restrictions for in-state relocation of a great distance, yet Massachusetts caselaw does restrict in-state “removal.” I was pleased that the Judge in this case called attention to this issue so that both parents were reminded of their obligations post-divorce with respect to the other parent’s relationship and parenting time with the children.

M.G.L. c. 208 section 30 … Keep reading

The Hague Convention & International Child Custody Disputes

For those facing international divorce and child custody disputes, knowing and understanding your rights, options, and potential pitfalls before they happen is vital – especially for parents who are dual nationals, foreign nationals, or are married to individuals with foreign ties. Join Elizabeth Crowley and Katie M. Dalton for a virtual webinar where they will share insight on these important matters and discuss recent high-profile Hague Convention cases in the media.

Click here to watch the full webinar.… Keep reading