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Worcester Family Law Blog

How is international child custody handled?

There are times when a parent may attempt to sidestep the laws of Massachusetts and take a child out of the country after a divorce. When the child is removed from the country, a previous agreement may no longer be enforceable because the document no longer has jurisdiction. However, there is recourse for a parent in this situation. The Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which was held in October of 1980, created an agreement between many of the countries of the world to protect the interests of children in this situation.

The convention agreement means that any country that was a party to the agreement will take steps to ensure that the custody laws and decisions of any particular country are upheld regardless of where the child is taken. The primary objective is always to return the child to their proper country of residence and to ensure that all rights of custody and access are upheld equally in all countries that are part of the agreement. The articles of the convention may come into play if the child was taken unlawfully, as in an abduction scenario, or if a joint custody agreement is made between parents living in different countries.

What is the process of a paternity DNA test?

Some Massachusetts residents who are questioning paternity may be interested in the way it is established. Paternity testing uses DNA from the parents and the child to establish or disprove biological fatherhood. If paternity is proven, the father will be given the rights and responsibilities due him. If not, the father is not legally responsible for the care and sustenance of the child.

DNA is specific for each individual and is received from both parents. By examining the DNA from the mother and the alleged father, it is possible to say if the baby received the father's DNA. The best specimen for testing is obtained from blood samples although cheek swabs and hair samples may be used. The test may be done immediately after birth. While prenatal testing is available, it may result in risk to the child.

Paternity disputes involving related males

Families involved in paternity disputes in Massachusetts might encounter the situation of having two related males as possible fathers to a child. These males can be brothers or father and son, and they might seek the results of DNA testing to identify the real father.

Even though brothers and fathers and sons share many of the same DNA markers, a DNA test is usually able to distinguish which one has fathered a certain child. The danger with these similar markers is that both men could test positive in a paternity test, if the lab does not have all the information needed to make a correct determination. However, if the lab is informed ahead of time about possible fathers being related, the correct precautions for the situation can be taken and the testing can provide accurate results.

What is the process for filing for adoption?

Adopting a child in Massachusetts is a multi-step process designed to ensure that adoptive parents and the children they adopt are a good match. The first step in the process is to call the Department of Children and Families. A representative from the department will then perform an inspection on an applicant's home to ensure that it provides adequate safety and privacy for everyone living there.

Anyone over the age of 14 who is living with a prospective adoptive parent will be required to go through a background check. Applicants will then have to attend weekly training courses and submit to a fingerprint check prior to being matched with a child. An agent will then review an applicant's home again and decide what type of and how many children an applicant may adopt. The matching process could happen quickly or be a lengthy process depending on how many children are available at a given time.

Massachusetts child support

The Massachusetts legislation treats child support orders with utmost importance. If a noncustodial parent fails to make his or her payments, he or she is violating a legal order of the court.

The day a child support payment is due, it becomes a judgment under the law against the person who owes it if they fail to pay. Like other types of judgments, collection actions can be taken in order to collect it.

What to do when a paying parent moves out of state

Oftentimes after a divorce, a former spouses may take the opportunity to move out of state. When the marriage involves children, this can cause turmoil in regards to child custody arrangements, especially regarding child support.

If the non-custodial parent were to move out of state without giving their new address or information to the custodial parent, the Department of Revenue could potentially help locate them. However, the DOR would only have limited information available to them in their databases, so any information the custodial parent has about the other parent's whereabouts could be helpful.

Alimony orders in divorce proceedings

Massachusetts family court judges can and sometimes do order the payment of money separate from child support from one spouse to another for a specified length of time following a divorce. This is called alimony, and can be requested by either party. Although a court may grant it, the court is not required to do so.

In making a determination regarding requested alimony, the applicable statute directs judges to consider a number of factors in deciding whether to grant it as well as the amount. Important considerations include the length of the marriage, the relative incomes of both parties, the contributions each made to the marriage which can include homemaking, the standard of living each enjoyed during the marriage, the ability of each to provide for themselves through employment and the educational level of both.

When genetic testing may be ordered in Massachusetts

Without a court order, a mother, child and putative father may be required to submit to paternity testing in Massachusetts. The birth mother or putative father may submit an affidavit claiming that intercourse took place during the probable period of conception. However, this may only be the case in the event that there is no other person who may be the father.

If a test is ordered, the order will be delivered to the parties in accordance with rule 4(d)(2) of the Massachusetts Rules of Domestic Relations Procedure. When test results are received, the mother and the alleged father are given an opportunity to voluntarily acknowledge parentage. If there is no voluntary acknowledgment of parentage, action may be taken pursuant to chapter 209C of the General Laws of Massachusetts. If either party disputes the authority of the IV-D organization that issues a genetic marker test or fails to show at a hearing, action may also be taken pursuant to chapter 209C.

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.

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Robert A. Antonioni, Esq.
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