Child Support is the responsibility of both parents regardless of whether the parties share legal custody, physical custody, or even parenting time. Child support is a must unless the parties agree otherwise. Even then, the Judge may not approve an agreement to waive child support. Massachusetts calculates child support based on a unique formula utilizing income and percentage of parenting time and does not always end at eighteen (18) years of age.
There are multiple factors that are used in determining the amount of child support, including but not limited to: the incomes of both parents; number of children; the amount of parenting time each parent has with the children; amounts paid for childcare; health insurance; dental/vision insurance; support obligations for children of other relationships; as well as other factors that may be unique to your situation. It’s important to note that being unemployed or receiving social security benefits does not necessarily excuse an obligation to pay child support.
Child custody is a multi-faceted issue that is determined using the “best interest of the child” standard. Legal Custody pertains to making the major decisions for the child including medical, educational, and religious. The Courts seek to give parents joint legal custody to ensure both parents can be active participants in the children’s lives. That being said, the Judge has the discretion to award joint or sole to either parent. You may find that what the Judge determines to be in your child’s best interest is not what you and the other parent believe to be in your children’s best interests. Physical custody is becoming a more fluid concept in Massachusetts given that more and more couples opt for a shared parenting plan (formerly called visitation) instead of the every other weekend and Wednesday dinner with Dad model.
It’s important to put aside your disagreements and put your children’s needs first. The Courts encourage the parties to reach a parenting agreement but such agreements must be proportionate to the family’s needs. That means if circumstances change, so too should the custody order, however, agreements can be modified by agreement. It is important to have a well drafted agreement that covers multiple matters and can extend through a period of time to avoid frequent return trips to Court.
On Paternity matters in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, children of unmarried parents be afforded the same rights and protections as children of married parents. That being said, the Mother has presumed sole legal and sole physical custody of the child initially. Presumed means until the Father asserts his rights to obtain shared legal and/or shared physical custody. Once paternity is established, the same considerations and factors listed above come into play and must be considered.
It’s important to note that an active Abuse Prevention Order (also known as a restraining order) can also have an effect on custody and parenting time. Depending on the circumstances, parenting time may not even be an option. In the alternative, a parenting arrangement can be made while the restraining order remains in place for the adults.
I would be happy to discuss which path is right for your situation. Contact my office to determine how I can assist you in drafting a Parenting Agreement and creating a custody/child support/paternity arrangement that works for your family.