As a family law attorney, I’m often met with surprise (even outrage!) when I tell my clients that they’re required to participate in a Parent Education Program in connection with their Massachusetts divorce. People always say that it’s so much easier to get married than it is to get divorced, and that’s not entirely without merit.

While everyone knows that divorce is a costly process, both financially and emotionally, litigants too often become so focused on their own pain that they lose sight of the emotional toll the process can put on their children. Recently there have been some important changes to the Parent Education Program.… Keep reading

SJC Decision Regarding Parent Coordinators: What You Need to Know

I was in my office last week when I heard shrieks of joy coming from down the hall. (We really should have a bell or something we ring for a big win – this yelling is so unprofessional.) My colleagues Sue Stenger, Francine Gardikas, Laura StudenRobin Lynch Nardone and Andrea Dunbar had just gotten the SJC decision on the case on parent coordinators. Here is Robin’s take on what that case means for families and children in Massachusetts.



On September 15, 2014 the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) decided a case of first impression on the issue of whether a court can appoint a Parenting Coordinator. A Parenting Coordinator (PC) is a mental health professional or legal professional who assists high-conflict parents to implement their parenting plan by facilitating the resolution of their disputes. In Bower v. Bournay-Bower, the Probate and Family Court appointed a PC even though the mother did not want a PC and objected to the judge’s suggestion that one was warranted in this case.

Over the mother’s objection, the court appointed a PC with authority to make binding decisions on matters of custody and visitation. The Order provided … Keep reading

Hospital Room

Hi there,
This post was written by my colleagues Elizabeth Crowley and Lisa Cukier. A special congratulations to Elizabeth on her recent election to partner at Burns & Levinson!

Can you imagine bringing your child to an esteemed children’s hospital for care and medical treatment, only to have your child taken away from you and placed into state custody? Well, that was and is the reality of Justina Pelletier’s parents, Lou and Linda Pelletier of Connecticut.

The Pelletiers have been fighting for a year for their daughter, Justina, who they say suffers from mitochondrial disease (a rare genetic disorder with physical symptoms that can affect the entire body). First Justina was treated at Tufts Medical Center, then she was transferred to Boston Children’s Hospital. Doctors at Tuft’s Medical Center diagnosed her with mitochondrial disorder, but doctors at Boston Children’s Hospital say Justina’s symptoms were psychosomatic and did not result from mitochondrial disease.

Since the Pelletiers agreed with the diagnosis given by Tufts, they asked Children’s Hospital to treat their daughter medically. When Children’s refused, proposing psychiatric treatment instead, the Pelletiers advocated for their 15-year-old daughter as any loving parents would do. Instead of respecting their … Keep reading

Modification Process in Massachusetts Divorce Cases

Hi there,

The modification process is a bit more streamlined than the divorce process, mainly because there is a lot less discovery.  Since the property division portion of a divorce agreement or judgement is not modifiable, issues of valuation are rarely necessary.

Modification has a defined starting date: the date of the divorce.  What were the circumstances then?  This is shown by the financial statements or the custody plan as well as the court judgement or the parties’ agreement.  Then the question becomes: What are the circumstances now and what is the material change in circumstances that warrants a modification?

If the modification is being brought under the new alimony law, then the change in circumstances will have been set forth in the law itself.  In these cases, generally the person paying is asking for a reduction.  The burden of proof is on the recipient to show why (if she/he can) the reduction or elimination should not take place.

Aside from alimony cases, the party alleging the change in circumstances usually has the burden of proving that a material change in circumstances has occurred.  Most judges will not allow modifications at the time of motions for … Keep reading

Hi there,

I know I have just spent almost 2 years saying "settle if you can," but there are very compelling circumstances where going to trial may be the most effective choice.

Custody and parenting issues create compelling circumstances – there is nothing more important in a divorce than the kids.

If one parent is actively preventing the other from seeing the kids, or from having a normal relationship with them, then trial may be necessary to try and protect the children’s relationship with both parents.  There is an over-hyped definition of this behavior, Parental alienation syndrome, but the behavior does exist and often requires that a judge make a final determination as to the parameters of the best custody and parenting plan.

Generally, when this is occurring there is no realistic way to fix it short of a change in custody with the non-alienating parent getting the children.  This usually means the hiring/appointment of a Guardian ad Litem, as well as a trial, as it is my experience that a parent who is alienating the kids cannot step back from the fight and so winning that fight is the only hope.  This is an uphill battle, but these … Keep reading

Hi there,

I have been reading the David Goldman saga for some months now.  As a story, it highlights the problems of international custody cases when one parent takes the children to a foreign country and will not return them.  These cases are very difficult, even if the country in question has signed the Hague convention.  You need an American divorce attorney who understands the convention, contacts at the US State Department; an attorney in the foreign country who does family law and understands the Hague convention and has contacts in the foreign State Department.  It is hellishly expensive.  Furthermore, if the country in question hasn’t signed the Hague convention (like most of the Muslim countries) then the result can be tragic.

If you don’t know the Goldman story, in 2004 David’s then wife took their 4 year old American born son to Brazil for what she told David was a 2 week vacation. Once there she ended the marriage, remarried a Brazilian lawyer and then died in childbirth in 2008.

David Goldman has been fighting to be reunited with his son for 5 years and the reunion happened on Christmas Eve.

It should have occurred much, much earlier. … Keep reading