Custody and Child Support
The most contentious issues in a divorce are often those involving the children. In many cases, the parties are able to set aside minor differences so that custody and child support can be worked out. But disputes do arise over whether one parent should have primary or sole custody, if one parent should make all the material decisions regarding the child’s welfare, and how much support should be paid. If you are experiencing or anticipate a custody and child support dispute, contact Boston family lawyer Heather M. Ward.
Factors in Determining Custody
If you and your spouse cannot agree on custodial issues, you can try mediation to work out a compromise. Often, the court will appoint a Guardian Ad Litem for the child who will investigate the matter by interviewing the parents, caretakers, teachers, physicians,family members, and anyone else significantly involved in the child’s upbringing. Police and other records may also be reviewed. The GAL or investigator will then present his or her recommendations to the court.
If you do have to litigate the issue, be aware of the factors the court uses in making its determination of whether joint or sole custody should be awarded:
- The mental and physical health of the parties
- The child’s adjustment to school and community
- If a parent has a history of violence, alcohol or drug abuse
- The relationship between that parent and child
- The home environment of each parent
- Recommendations by the GAL and other experts
- Wishes of the child if old and mature enough
It is recommended that you consult with a child custody lawyer when discussing custody with your spouse, especially if this issue is not resolved.
Types of Child Custody
The courts favor joint custody of the children since continuity and having both parents involved in the lives of the children is essential for their well-being, self-esteem, and growth into well-adjusted adults. Custody consists of physical and legal custody and may be sole or joint:
Joint Physical Custody
One parent is usually the custodial or residential parent while the other has visitation rights, which can include having the child on certain holidays or is to accompany the parent for particular events or activities. If joint custody is at issue, a court will examine how the parents interact with another and if they communicate or are reluctant to do so.
Sole Physical Custody
Sole physical custody means that only one parent has full custody of the child while the other may or may not have visitation rights or it may be restricted because of certain issues rendering that parent unfit to have any or full parenting rights. This may include allegations or evidence of abuse, violence, or significant drug or alcohol use that places the child in an unsafe environment and is not in the child’s best interest. In such cases, there may be supervised visits by the non-custodial parent. Sole custody may also be awarded to one parent if the parties are unable or unwilling to interact. In sole custody situations, one parent may have sole physical and legal custody.
In a custody arrangement where the non-custodial parent has visitation rights, the custodial parent cannot simply pack up and leave the state. Relocation does jeopardize the other parent’s visitation rights and the custodial parent will need court permission to move either out-of-state or a significant distance from the other party’s residence.
One or both parents may have legal custody. If joint, this means that regardless of which parent is the custodial one or has sole physical custody, both parents share in the making the decisions that affect the child’s education, health, religious education, and recreational activities. This does require the parents to consult with one another and arrive at mutually agreed decisions pertaining to such issues as where the child goes to school; if or what medical care is needed; which religion to follow or church, mosque or synagogue to attend; and other material matters.
In a joint legal custody arrangement, both parents are entitled to information from doctors and schools regarding the child. There are situations where only one parent has sole physical and legal custody because the court determined the other parent lacked the ability to make fair or reasonable decisions. With sole legal custody, that parent is free to make decisions affecting the child’s welfare without consulting with or receiving input from the other.
Sole legal custody does not affect the other parent’s rights of visitation.
Child support is another issue that both parents should agree to outside of court. Like all states, Massachusetts has a Child Support Guidelines Worksheet that indicates how much one parent should pay the other based on:
- Gross income of both parents
- Number of children in the home
- Special needs considerations such as medical or education
- Basic living expenses
- Caregiving expenses
- Insurance expenses
A court will follow the guidelines in most cases. If you wish to deviate downward, the court must agree that it is reasonable, is sufficient to pay for the needs of the child and is in the child’s best interests.
Support is usually paid by the non-custodial parent to the other; though in joint physical arrangements, the parent with the greater income usually pays support to the other unless that party can demonstrate he or she has substantial expenses, spends more parenting time with the child, and the support payments or the amount according to the guidelines would generate a significant hardship.
Child support lasts until one child reaches the age of 18 or is emancipated. If the recipient parent requests the court, the support can be continued if the 18-year old still relies on the parent. It may continue until the child reaches the age of 23 if the child is in school to that age. Emancipation can occur at a younger age if the child is under 18 and petitions the court. A child support lawyer can counsel you if you wish for child support to continue despite your child attaining the age of 18.
A parent has the obligation to support his or her children. Parents are not relieved of this obligation even if they lose a job, become ill or declare bankruptcy. The parent can, of course, request a modification in the child support order if there has been a material or substantial change in circumstances and he or she is unable to make the payments. Always consult a child support lawyer if you feel modifications are justified.
If you fail to make your child support obligations, this can result in suspension of your driver’s license as well as liens placed on certain of your assets and tax refunds. In some cases, a delinquent parent can be placed in jail.
Consult Boston Attorney Heather M. Ward
An experienced custody and child support lawyer is essential if you want the results your case deserves. Heather M. Ward is a family law lawyer in Boston who represents the interests of either party in dissolution matters and has the experience, empathy and knowledge you want in handing your divorce issues. Call her today at (617) 903-8955 for a consultation.