Educational Web Sites and other Resources related to family healthy topics:
Family Healthy Choices is committed to providing information and resources to support parents as they go through the process of separation and divorce and to assist their children during this transition in the life of the family. The Family Healthy Choices approach is to help individuals and families build skills in communication and conflict resolution to promote informed and healthful choices that will enhance well-being and optimal functioning. We hope that the resources you find below are helpful in answering questions you may have.
Educational Web Sites and other Resources related to family healthy topics
General Divorce Links:
Massachusetts Law on Grounds for Divorce
A divorce from the bond of matrimony may be adjudged for adultery, impotency, utter desertion continued for one year next prior to the filing of the complaint, gross and confirmed habits of intoxication caused by voluntary and excessive use of intoxicating liquor, opium, or other drugs, cruel and abusive treatment, or, if a spouse being of sufficient ability, grossly or wantonly and cruelly refuses or neglects to provide suitable support and maintenance for the other spouse, or for an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage as provided in sections one A and B; provided, however, that a divorce shall be adjudged although both parties have cause, and no defense upon recrimination shall be entertained by the court.
Sample Separation Agreement for couples with children
Sample Separation Agreement for couples without children
Filing a Complaint for Custody or Support or Parenting Time
The following website provides useful information on how to file a complaint regarding custody, support or parenting time.
“Parents Who Are Non-Married”
Legal Aspects of Unmarried Parenthood
There are three major legal issues related to unmarried parenthood: 1) Paternity establishment; 2) Child support; and 3) Visitation. Children have a right to all three. Even though it may seem unfair, you can have one without the other.
The only way your child can have a legal father is if you establish paternity. Most often this is done by both parents signing a form in the hospital or in the city or town clerk's office where the child was born. You can also request that the court order genetic marker testing and name the legal father. Establishing paternity gives your child important rights he or she would not otherwise have. These include: 1) Financial support to help meet your child's needs; 2) Access to the father's medical history in the case of illness or disease; and, 3) Access to the father's benefits such as Social Security, pensions, health insurance, inheritance.
Child support is a way for parents who don't live together to share the financial responsibility for their child. The parent living with the child spends a lot of income to meet the child's needs. The other parent needs to provide income to help provide the child's Food, Clothing, Housing, Transportation, School supplies, etc. Usually child support is arranged through a court order. Either parent can ask for an order - directly from the court, or with the help of the child support agency (in Massachusetts, the Department of Revenue). If you are paying child support directly to the other parent - with or without a court order - keep written records of all your payments to avoid disputes. Money order receipts and cancelled checks are good payment records. It is best not to make child support payments in cash.
Visitation establishes a way for a parent who doesn't live with a child to spend regular time with the child. It is different from legal or physical custody. Legal custody is the right to make decisions about the child's Daily activities, Healthcare, Religion and Education. Physical custody is who the child lives with most of the time. Parents who agree on a visitation or parenting plan can have the court enter their agreements as orders. If parents can't agree, the court can make its own orders. The goal of the court is to make an arrangement that is in the child's best interest.
What the Court considers in creating visitation orders
Age and developmental stage of the child; The individual needs of the child; History of the relationship between the parents; How close parents live to each other; Parents' work schedule; Parents' problems such as Substance abuse, Domestic violence, Child abuse, or a criminal record. These are general guidelines, so not everything may fit your situation. This is especially true if there is a history of unsafe behavior during visits, high conflict between the parents or domestic violence. In these cases, the court may need to make recommendations about how to set up the visits to keep everyone safe.
Resolving Issues by Litigation or Mediation
Anthony C. Adamopoulos' Divorce Resolution Services, notes that you have potentially three divorce approaches.
· The Adversarial/Traditional Approach
In the Adversarial Approach, each spouse has their own lawyer who is obligated to advocate for their best interests. If parties are unable to reach agreement, then they must turn to a third person - a judge or arbitrator – to resolve what the parties cannot. A judge or arbitrator resolves an issue or issues by hearing the evidence then issuing a Judgment (by the judge) or an Award (by the arbitrator).
Because of the nature of the process, Adversarial Divorce is usually the most expensive in time, emotion, and money. Court trials take longer to schedule and happen. They are "rule heavy" and subject to appeal.
· The Collaborative Approach
In Collaborative Divorce, each party has their own attorney who is specially trained in the practice of Massachusetts Collaborative Divorce. Both attorneys collaborate in gathering all information necessary to resolve disputed issues. Collaborative Divorce is a way for the spouses to end their marriage without the threat and uncertainty of going to court as in a traditional (adversarial) divorce. Both spouse’s goals for resolution are determined ahead of time and outlined in a contract signed by each spouse, both attorneys and a coach/facilitator.
Benefits of Collaborative Divorce: 1) allows couples to save the additional cost, time, loss of privacy and emotional distress associated with an adversarial divorce; 2) fosters open communication, encourages respect and helps to protect future working relationships between future former spouses; 3) focuses on problem solving and the resolution of issues from a client-driven and client-controlled perspective; and 4) focuses on the best interests and concerns of both spouses and children.
· The Mediation Approach
In Mediation, the divorcing parties usually do not have an attorney at their side but instead meet together with a neutral called a mediator. With the mediator, they attempt to resolve issues face-to-face. Divorce Mediation is usually less expensive than Adversarial Divorce. In mediation, the process concentrates on "interests" and “goals” rather than "positions" or "entitlements". In Massachusetts, a mediator cannot, by law, give legal advice. Therefore, you and your spouse should consider each having your own attorney with whom each of you may consult when needed. Usually, attorneys do not attend mediation sessions; typically, each acts as an advisor “on call”.
What Is Mediation?
MASSACHUSETTS COUNCIL ON FAMILY MEDIATION https://mcfm.org/mediation/choose-mediation
Mediation is effective when there is a difference in styles of communication and expression between the parties involved. A trained mediator can facilitate a discussion and make sure the needs and thoughts of each party are expressed and heard. Mediators are neutral, trained professionals who may have backgrounds in law, mental health, finance, and/or business. The mediators’ role is to guide participants through the relevant issues, and facilitate the discussion of realistic solutions through brainstorming, experience, and attentive listening.
Mediation is a method often chosen by divorcing couples who wish to maintain an amicable relationship with each other throughout the process and avoid the hostility and expense which often accompany litigation. The mediator guides participants through the issues that will be included in the divorce agreement so that when the mediation is complete, participants will have the information they need to finalize their divorce.
If unmarried parents have children (whether or not they are living together), parenting, and support of the children can raise important and complicated issues. An experienced family mediator can help you come to decisions about the practical considerations of raising children out-of-wedlock without resorting to litigation. Mediation for unmarried parents can assist with decisions regarding: Child Support, Parenting Plan, and Establishing Paternity.
What Is a Parenting Plan?
A Parenting Plan is a written plan outlining: the responsibilities of each parent for the children, where the children will primarily reside and when they will be with each parent. The Parenting Plan provides a framework through which parents come to agreement about their expectations of each other in relation to their respective responsibilities for the children and is developed with the best interest of the child(ren) as the foundation.
Parenting Plans may certainly be developed solely by the parents, or parents may find it beneficial to use the assistance of a mediator in the development of the plan.
For more information about parenting plans, see the Model Parenting Plans released by the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court Department at the following website: https://www.mass.gov/files/documents/2016/08/wk/parentingplan.pdf
The state of New Hampshire offered a useful Parenting Plan format that can serve as a model for parents wishing to print out as a guide to develop a plan for themselves.
What Is a Guardian Ad Litem?
A GAL is a mental health professional or an attorney who may be appointed in cases that raise questions about: • a child’s best interests as related to custody and visitation; • advantages or disadvantages of removing a child from the Commonwealth; • changes in circumstances that might warrant modification of a judgment; • existence of a de facto parent-child relationship; • parental fitness as related to termination of parental rights or guardianship; • paternity of a minor child; or • other matters implicating the rights and interests of a minor child.
The court, not the GAL, decides legal issues and ultimately makes credibility determinations and factual findings when facts are in dispute. The GAL avoids providing legal conclusions or legal analysis and addresses only those areas specified by the Court. If the GAL sees a need to broaden the scope of the evaluation, the GAL seeks authority from the Court. After conducting the evaluation and writing a report, the GAL shall be available for trial and for possible deposition. The GAL in all cases is an impartial investigator, evaluator and reporter. The GAL shall not provide legal, mental health, parent coordination, mediation or other professional services to any party or the child during the evaluation or pendency of the case. The GAL, however, may provide information to the parties, the court, and counsel about community resources available to the parties, such as but not limited to substance abuse treatment programs.
What Is a Parenting Coordinator?
“Parenting coordination” is a child-focused process in which the parties work with a parenting coordinator in an effort to reduce the effects or potential effects of conflict on the child or children involved in the parenting plan. A “Parenting Coordinator” pursuant to Standing Order 1-17 of the Chief Justice is a court-appointed, third-party provider of parenting coordination services.
A Parenting coordinator may: (a) assist the parties in amicably resolving disputes and in reaching agreements about the implementation of and compliance with the order regarding the child or children in their care…: (b) educate the parties about making and implementing decisions that are in the best interest of the child or children; (c) assist the parties in developing guidelines for appropriate communication between them; (d) suggest resources to assist the parties; and (e) assist the parties, where appropriate, in identifying and addressing patterns of behavior and in developing parenting strategies to manage and reduce opportunities for conflict in order to reduce the impact of any conflict upon their child or children.
Links for Families & Stepfamilies:
PLANNING FOR SHARED PARENTING PAMPHLET
CO-PARENTING COMMUNICATION GUIDE
FAQs PLANNING FOR PARENTING TIME
PARENTS HELPING PARENTS OF MASSACHUSETTS
UP TO PARENTS
PRACTICE GUIDES FOR FAMILY COIURT DECISION-MAKING IN DOMESTIC ABUSE-RELATED CHILD CUSTODY MATTERS (Battered Women’s Justice Project)
Children Related Links:
PLANNING FOR SHARED PARENTING PAMPHLET
FAQs PLANNING FOR PARENTING TIME
CO-PARENTING COMMUNICATION GUIDE
PRACTICE GUIDES FOR FAMILY COURT DECISION-MAKING IN DOMESTIC ABUSE-RELATED CHILD CUSTODY MATTERS (Battered Women’s Justice Project)
Online Support Tools: