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Worcester MA Family Law Blog

Determining the paternity of a child

In Massachusetts, unmarried parents can sign an agreement that establishes the identity of the legal father if both parties agree or if either party asks the court to do so. The easiest way is for the parties to sign a form, called the voluntary acknowledgement of parentage. No court action is needed, and they can complete the documents at the hospital, through their city or town clerk, or at the Registry of Vital Records and Statistics. In the latter location, the process can be conducted via mail. At the hospital, the parents will not need to pay, but there is a fee associated with filing the paperwork in the other two situations. However, if either parent is uncertain about whom the biological father is, they should ask the court for a paternity test.

Once a paternity acknowledgement is made, it can be rescinded. Either parent can have the acknowledgment voided within 60 days of filing it. If the parent has a separate court hearing related to the child, they must question the child's paternity at that time. If they fail to do, they will not have another opportunity to seek a revocation of the order. Once the 60 days has passed, the order is binding. They can only challenge it in court within a year in limited situations.

Custody agreements, what family courts look for

When a couple with children ends their marriage, a court works to ensure that the best interests of any children will be met. Parents in Massachusetts can come to a custody agreement on their own, and a judge will view a plan and either make changes or enter an order in accordance with the plan when finding no problems.

If a couple cannot come to a custody agreement, a judge will decide on an arrangement at a custody hearing. One parent may receive sole legal or physical custody, which grants a parent the right to make decisions and reside with the child. However, it is common for parents to have shared legal and physical custody because the rights of both parents are considered equal if no misconduct occurred.

Divorcing couples may benefit from a forensic accountant

Massachusetts individuals undertaking a high-asset divorce may benefit from having a forensic accountant on their legal team. The most common legal issues revolve around property division and debts, and a forensic accountant could help in ensuring that assets are properly valued and that the property division process runs smoothly.

The end of a marriage requires couples to carefully consider all assets that may be considered community property. Stock options, trusts, retirement plans and businesses can be difficult to value and divide. Settlement agreements must be drawn up carefully because the wording of the agreement may complicate things. A forensic accountant's input may be helpful in ensuring that a settlement agreement's wording is clear and concise in regard to financial matters.

How child support is determined in Massachusetts

Child support payments are court-ordered financial support that parents are obligated to provide to assist with the costs of raising a child. According to state law, all children are entitled to this financial support from their parents, even if their parents are divorced or were never married. In Massachusetts, child support obligations usually end when a child reaches 18 years of age, though it may be extended if the child is still in school, disabled and under guardianship or enrolled in a full-time undergraduate program.

While child support can be set up through agreements between parents or ordered by a judge during a divorce, the most common way that child support is set up is through the Department of Revenue. The first step for individuals seeking support is to fill out an Application for Full Child Support Services and to submit it to the local DOR.

What are my options for filing for divorce?

When a Massachusetts couple decides to divorce, they may not have given much thought to what type of divorce is most appropriate for them. It is even possible that they may be unaware that there are multiple categories of divorce that can affect how the process is handled. The two types of divorce available to most couples are either a no-fault or fault divorce.

A fault divorce simply means that one of the parties is considered to be responsible for the divorce. Massachusetts has seven grounds for fault divorce, including issues such as adultery, non-support or jail time of at least 5 years. For a fault divorce, the individual must be able to prove that the grounds they are pursuing a divorce on are entirely valid and true. Compared to a no-fault divorce, this process can take longer and be much more costly.

Custody issues may arise for pet owners in Massachusetts

In Massachusetts and across the United States, pets seem to be taking on more and more of a family role than they have had historically. With many couples treating their dogs and cats like children, custody issues can arise during a divorce. This can be further complicated as pets are still largely treated as personal property by the courts, rather than the family members than couples view them to be.

Typically, personal property is not co-owned by a couple following their divorce. This means that a pet normally ends up being awarded to only one individual and not the other. Despite this, since many people do view their pet as a child, it is possible to work out custody or visitation with the pet between the two parties.

Financial cheating can play role in divorce in Massachusetts

Most people in Massachusetts are probably familiar with the notion of cheating -- either physically or emotionally -- on a spouse. However, financial infidelity can be considered another form of cheating to some. In some instances, cheating on a spouse financially can ultimately end in divorce, which may leave some wondering what can constitute financial infidelity.

Perhaps the most prevalent form of financial infidelity, hiding money from a spouse, can cross the line for some relationships. It generally involves more than spare change, and the money may even be stashed away in a bank account. Even for spouses who otherwise choose to maintain separate bank accounts for various discretionary spending or bills, money purposely hidden is usually a different story.

Recent data debunks a divorce myth

The reasons for divorce in Massachusetts can vary as greatly and as widely as individuals in a marriage. In 2003, one economist discovered a surprising correlation between marriages that produced first-born daughters and marriages that later ended in divorce. However, recent data has demonstrated that this old notion might not be so true after all.

Married couples who have children, and have a daughter first rather than a son, have a 5 percent increased risk of divorcing. Various theories have attempted to explain this pattern. One such theory states that fathers might just instinctively prefer a son. This instinct could possibly encourage a husband to be more committed to making a marriage work. Another idea theorizes that mothers may feel more capable of being a single-mother with a daughter and may feel more confident in seeking a divorce.

Bill attempted to end disability discrimination in child custody

Disabilities, whether mental or physical, are an everyday part of life for some individuals. For some the signs of a disability may require the use of special equipment, such as a wheelchair, while for others the disability may be inwards and treated with a pill. Either way, plenty of parents in Massachusetts continue on with their daily lives and parenting responsibilities without much difficulty. However, when it comes to divorce, these normal aspects of certain individual’s lives can have a serious impact on child custody.

Sadly, when it comes to child custody arrangements, discrimination against disabled parents is not entirely uncommon. Bill H1379 was recently proposed to the Massachusetts Joint Committee on the Judiciary to prohibit the practice of discriminating against disabled parents during family law court proceedings. A total of 15 legislators co-sponsored the bill, which was inspired by a report by the National Council on Disability.

Cohabiting prior to marriage may affect divorce rates

Cohabiting, which is living together as a couple before tying the knot, appears to be growing in popularity in America. Roughly 70 percent of unmarried couples in Massachusetts and across the country may be living together, and one researcher claims that, in some instances, this may lead to divorce. In fact, the professor that conducted the study asserts that individuals often consider both cohabiting and divorce simultaneously.

For those couples who do choose to cohabit, the living situation lasts for about 22 months. However, including those that do last longer, 40 percent of those couples were married within the first three years of living together. However, more than one study has demonstrated that couples who cohabited before marriage are at a slightly increased risk of divorcing.

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