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Get the Facts About Parental Rights, Paternity Testing, and Child Support

As far as the Massachusetts courts are concerned, both mothers and fathers have legal rights and obligations when it comes to children. However, a child born to unmarried parents doesn’t automatically have a legal father. The mother is given sole legal and physical custody until paternity is established. For married couples, the husband is presumed to be the biological father and is responsible for financial obligations. As a presumed father, if you believe you are not the biological father, meeting with an attorney to rebut presumed paternity is a time-sensitive matter and needs to be addressed as soon as possible. In order for an unmarried biological father to be established, paternity must be acknowledged. This can be done in writing if both parents sign a form known as a “Voluntary Acknowledgement of Parentage.” In many cases, this form is signed at the child’s birth. If the biological father is not present at the birth or unaware of the child’s existence, paternity testing may be required to establish parental rights or enforce obligations later on. DNA Testing The legal process used by the court to determine paternity is called genetic marker tests. These are simple medical tests to show paternal biological relationships. Two types of tests can be performed, a cotton swab with DNA from the mouth or a blood test. Samples are taken from the child, the biological mother, and the father in question. The tests are considered very accurate when it comes to determining biological relationships. Several different parties

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If my ex purchased our marital home before we were married, can I request the house as part of my divorce settlement?

The simple answer is yes, you can request the marital home as part of your divorce settlement. However, divorcing couples may request specific assets during the division of property, but that doesn’t mean their request will be awarded. Massachusetts law requires the division of property in a divorce to be equitable. This means property division must be fair, though not necessarily equal. Massachusetts law allows a judge to divide all property regardless of when it was acquired or which spouse actually owns it. When dividing assets, such as property, a judge will consider the length of the marriage, the present and future needs of any dependent children, each spouse’s income and contribution, and much more. Monetary value will be assigned to the house, along with other assets for a judge to consider. Many couples opt to sell property in order to divide their assets. However, if one spouse wishes to keep the house, he/she may attempt to buy out the other spouse’s equitable interest in the property, or agree upon an offset of the other spouse’s equitable interest in the property through the division of other marital assets. Because the division of assets can be complicated, it’s recommended you work with experts to help ensure you value your assets correctly. If you need help with your divorce proceedings or division of property, please contact our office right away.

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Am I Allowed to Date if My Divorce is Pending?

Divorce can be a lengthy process, and for many divorcing couples, the marriage is over emotionally long before a divorce is legally pursued. It’s not uncommon for a spouse to consider dating while their divorce is pending. The short answer to the question ‘to date or not to date’ is that there is no law in Massachusetts that prevents spouses from dating after separating or divorcing. So yes, you are allowed to date when your divorce is pending. However, before diving into the dating pool, you should be aware of the potential legal and financial consequences. Keep in mind, under the law, you are considered to be legally married until a judge officially divorces you. In regards to the financial aspects of a divorce, property division and support are determined by the Probate and Family Court using the factors outlined in General Laws Chapter 208, Section 34. One of the factors that come into play is the ‘conduct of the respective parties during the marriage.’ The Probate and Family Court will give little consideration to dating when dividing marital assets unless a spouse going through a divorce is spending a significant amount of money on their new love interest. This can be viewed as a dissipation of marital assets and can result in awarding the other spouse a more significant share of the marital assets. Financial support or alimony is the other financial aspect determined by Probate and Family Court. Outlined in General Laws Chapter 208, alimony can be “suspended,

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What is co-parenting, and how do we do it once we are divorced?

Co-parenting describes a parenting relationship in which the two parents of a child are not romantically involved but still assume joint responsibility for their child’s upbringing. The extent to which parents can effectively co-parent significantly impacts how children will adjust to the transitions associated with a separation or divorce. Parents are responsible for major-life decisions, like those concerning religion, discipline, finances, morality, recreation, physical health, education, and emergencies. Whether married or divorced, agreement on these matters can differ but should be discussed and made jointly. It’s not uncommon for parents to be uncooperative with one another during a divorce. This usually stems from hurt feelings or unresolved anger, grief, or sadness, but can make co-parenting frustrating. Try to avoid engaging in arguments that are better left in the past and resist participating in dead-end conversations that leave everyone frustrated. During a pending divorce, it’s beneficial to maintain records of all interactions with your spouse. Record if they are keeping their commitments to any original agreements regarding custody, visitation, appointments, and providing consistent positive messages to the children. Always remember that how you feel about your ex is less important than how you act toward them. Each parent has a right to privacy, and the only information that needs to be shared between co-parents is that pertaining to the children. Through the divorce process, you and your spouse will create a parenting plan to outline how you will perform co-parenting responsibilities and how you will handle and divide daily activities and

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Divorcing During COVID-19

When your relationship is already strained, living under quarantine conditions can quickly shed light on a troubled marriage. Whether you’ve been contemplating divorce for a while or the stress of recent events has become the straw to break the camel’s back, so to speak, our attorneys can help you understand the divorce process and your options. During these unprecedented times, we are all taking a look at our lives and examining our relationships. Perhaps the tiny cracks in your relationship have turned into irreparable gaping holes. With a newfound outlook on how we see our futures, some couples may decide to part ways. If you’re among those wondering if you can file for divorce during the covid crisis, the answer is yes. While we do not know when the court will reopen to the public, the judges and court employees are continuing to work during this time period. Hearings on emergency matters, along with some uncontested matters, to the extent they are not handled administratively, are being handled telephonically. The court is further in the process of attempting to put procedures in place to hear contested matters through video conferencing to the extent possible. Below are some things you should know about the divorce process under any circumstances. Although Massachusetts recognizes both “fault” and “no-fault” divorces, most divorces are granted based upon “irretrievable breakdown” of the marriage (no-fault). Massachusetts Courts divide property equitably–not necessarily equally. This means property and assets will be distributed in a way that the Court believes

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Staying Safe and Saying NO to Domestic Abuse During COVID-19

Strict stay-at-home orders implemented for safety have placed abuse victims directly in harm’s way. Safety measures recommended to limit the spread of the coronavirus pandemic have led to a rise in domestic abuse. For many, this is not a surprise as domestic violence goes up whenever families spend more time together. With families in quarantine and isolation worldwide, stress-levels are at an all-time high. The uncertainty of the future can increase anxiety for many. Coupled with unemployment and financial stress, tension among households is sure to rise. With the children at home all day, empty refrigerators, low bank funds, and forced interactions, families everywhere are facing conflict, creating the perfect storm for abusers to intimidate and inflict harm on their victims. While conflict doesn’t always explode into violence, many living in isolation from their support network have nowhere to turn when violence erupts. As routines change and families are stuck in the confinement of their homes, reports of domestic violence are increasing nationwide. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has very stringent laws in place to protect domestic violence victims. Such laws apply to people who: are or were married are or were living together are related by blood or marriage have children together, and are dating or have dated. When escape feels impossible under stay at home orders, victims should know they have a right to safety. Abusers may use COVID-19 as a way to exert control over their victims. Governments around the world have been encouraged to address domestic violence

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Co-parenting in the Face of Coronavirus

Amid the spread of COVID-19, we are all facing unprecedented times. As this pandemic continues, regulations regarding safe practices change daily. One thing on the mind of parents sharing custody is whether or not their court order is enforceable. Rest assured, custody, parenting plans, and placement are in effect and continue to be enforceable during this period of time. Court-ordered arrangements remain obligatory and should be followed accordingly. Any parent planning to use the pandemic as a reason to deny access to another parent can expect the courts to come down hard on parent agreement violations. Many judges view time of crisis to be particularly critical times for children to maintain some form of normality. In cases where parents are willing to work together, they should consider the following: which parent has better resources for the child to complete distance learning, if one parent has a high-risk job, the health of family members, social distancing rules, etc. In the unfortunate event that a parent is required to self-quarantine or is restricted from having contact with others, efforts should be made to allow for parenting time by video conference or telephone. A critical aspect of co-parenting that may be affected is where the exchange of children takes place. For some parents, the changeover occurs at school. However, if the school is no longer in session, a new location and time will need to be agreed upon. If the exchange is not possible from someone’s home, it’s suggested to find a public

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What is a Guardianship?

Guardianship is a legal arrangement that allows one party—whether that be a concerned individual, a lawyer, or even an organization—to make personal and legal decisions on behalf of an individual who is not fully capable of doing so himself or herself. This is in contrast to a conservatorship, which grants the right to make financial decisions and handle the financial assets of an individual who is not able to do so. Where large amounts of money are involved, a conservator is usually appointed alongside a guardian. Often a guardian and conservator will work together to make sure the guardian has enough funds on hand to provide for the daily needs of the person under his or her protection while the conservator works to safeguard and grow that person’s assets. There are two forms of guardianship: guardianship of adults and guardianship of minors. Each has their own requirements and process for approval. Guardianship of Adults Under Massachusetts law, any concerned individual—or corporate party, for that matter—may apply to be the guardian of an adult who fits the criteria of an “incapacitated person” whose decision making is significantly affected by a diagnosed medical condition The guidelines for an incapacitated person include, but are not limited to someone with: a severe intellectual disability (an IQ of about 70) a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) severe mental illness There are special situations, such as the cognitive decline of a spouse due to Alzheimer’s or the coming-of-age of a disabled child, that the court may

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ARC vs. GAL vs. Parenting Coordinator

Divorce, even in the most amicable situations, can be difficult for children. When divorce is not so amicable, and courts get involved, this can add to the stress of the situation. A courtroom environment can intimidate children old enough to understand the proceedings and overwhelm children too young to grasp exactly why they are there. Luckily, there are a variety of legally recognized advocates for children available in Massachusetts courts: a guardian ad litem, an attorney-representing-children, and a court-appointed parenting coordinator. 1. Guardian Ad Litem A guardian ad litem (GAL) is an individual appointed by the court to investigate, report and at times make recommendations as to matters of custody, parenting time; and requests for in-state and out of state removal relative to the parties’ children. A guardian ad litem may be a licensed mental health professional with a focus on working with divorcing couples and their children, or may also be an attorney who has undergone additional training to work with children and their families. A guardian ad litem interviews the children, their parents, and other collaterals, such as medical providers, teachers and other individuals with first hand knowledge of the issues presented to determine what is in the children’s best interest. The GAL will then present these findings in a written report to the court. In a divorce, either party or both parties may request the involvement of a GAL, or the court may order the appointment of one to determine the children’s best interest. The cost of

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The Massachusetts Divorce Process: Know Your Options

The decision to file for divorce is never easy. When the determination has been made, it’s essential to understand the process, which varies by state. To begin the divorce process in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, here are a few things to consider. To file for divorce in Massachusetts, one of the following must apply: (1) you have lived in the state for one year, or (2) the reason the marriage ended happened in Massachusetts, and you have lived in Massachusetts as a couple. Massachusetts allows a divorce to be filed as ‘no-fault’ or ‘fault,’ and either of these can be contested or uncontested. A no-fault divorce is called an “Irretrievable Breakdown of Marriage” in Massachusetts and is a result of a marriage broken beyond repair, but neither spouse blames the other. There are two no-fault options: uncontested or contested. An uncontested no-fault divorce is when both parties agree that the marriage has irretrievably broken down AND a written agreement about child support, parenting time, alimony, child custody, and dividing marital assets has been agreed upon. A contested no-fault divorce, on the other hand, is filed when both spouses believe the marriage has ended, but they are NOT in agreement about custody, support, or marital property issues. When one spouse is considered at fault in causing the marriage to end, one of seven different fault grounds must apply. The person asking for the fault divorce must prove one of the following grounds: Adultery Desertion Gross and confirmed habits of intoxication Cruel

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