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Altering Your Child Custody Agreement

  • My ex-spouse has asked to pick up our children, of whom we share custody, at a different time from that stated in our custody agreement. I’m fine with the change. Do we need to alter the agreement, or is a verbal agreement enough?

The is almost always going to be “get it in writing.” While you may have the most amicable divorce in the world, you never know what the future may hold. Contracts fill the gaps left when human trust fails.

If this is a one-time, or two-time situation, a verbal agreement might suffice. Of course, without putting it in writing, if you agree to a “quick change,” you may find yourself agreeing to a years-long arrangement without intending to.

Moreover, while it is hard to think about, custody agreements in part to protect children from the threat of parental abduction. Without having a firm time or  day for the hand-off, you might find yourself more anxious for the return of your children than you need to be.

If this is a longer-term change, you should definitely alter the custody agreement. If both parents agree to the change, they can jointly file a petition with the court in a fairly simple process.

Whether you are working out an initial custody agreement or need to modify one that is no longer working for your family, come discuss your individual situation with our skilled family law attorneys.

My Kids Hate the Custody Arrangement – What Can I Do to Change It?

Even in the best of circumstances, divorce can be difficult for children. Children are often resistant to change: adapting to new schedules and surroundings, learning to live with one parent at a time, and getting along with possible new stepsiblings or half-siblings are all big changes, ones which can challenge a child’s developing social skills and coping mechanisms. However, many, if not most, children with divorced parents eventually adapt and thrive, growing into healthy and well-adjusted adults.

There are cases, however, where a child’s discomfort with a custody arrangement goes beyond natural resistance to change, beyond the fairly standard complaints of “I don’t like it here” or “I like dad’s house better.”

Perhaps there is serious, ongoing, and frequent conflict between the child and one of the custodial parents, a conflict that makes living with that parent a deeply anxious situation for the child. Perhaps the conflict is with a stepparent or stepsibling and a child’s grades are dropping as a result of the distress.

Conflict and negative situations are not the only reason to consider modifying a custody agreement, however.

Perhaps, at the other end of the spectrum, a mom can now spend more time with her children because of a promotion that allows her more control over her schedule. Or perhaps a ten-year-old custody agreement no longer works for a fledgling teenager because she prefers to live at her mom’s house as it is considerably closer to her new high school than dad’s, allowing her to participate in more extracurricular activities and sparing her a long commute in rush-hour traffic.

In these cases, it may be in the child’s or children’s best interest to file for a custody modification. If approved by the court, this modified agreement will supersede the original judgement or a preexisting temporary custody order.

In Massachusetts family courts, as in family courts across the country, children’s best interest and well-being are primary concerns. As such, any petition for custody modification must demonstrate that:

  1. Circumstances have substantially changed since the last custody agreement was approved
  2. The change is in the child’s or children’s best interest

When both parents agree to a change in the custody arrangements, they can jointly file for modification. Each parent could benefit from having a lawyer to help set out the details and wording of the petition and its filing. In general, a joint petition for custody modification is a fairly straightforward procedure.

In contrast, when one parent is applying for a custody modification the other does not want, it is highly recommended to have a lawyer. This applies whether you are the parent filing for a change or the parent opposed to a change.

Our partners are experienced family law practitioners. We can help make custody modifications easier on the whole family. Call today to schedule a consultation. We will discuss your family’s unique situation and design a plan to best serve your family’s needs.

What is a ‘gray divorce’ and how is it different from the typical divorce?

A ‘gray divorce’ refers to a split that happens between an older husband and wife, often after many years of marriage. The ‘gray’ in ‘gray divorce’ refers to the color of the divorcing couple’s hair. With more and more couples over fifty, or even over sixty-five, choosing to part ways, the phenomenon has also earned the names of ‘silver splitter’ and ‘diamond divorces.’ While it might be unsettling to think that forty years of marriage is no guarantee for many more, it is necessary to think about the particular issues that arise when senior citizens divorce.

Contrary to what the media would have you believe, gray divorces do not typically come about as part of a man’s midlife crisis. Rather, they are an outgrowth of advancements in medicine and changes in society. With people living longer than ever before, it is getting harder to “grin and bear it” in a lackluster marriage, and people are less tied to ideas of how senior citizens “should” spend their retirement.

With children grown and living on their own, gray divorces do not involve acrimonious custody disputes. However, for well-established couples, there will be extra concern for the division of property and alimony awards. With couples approaching retirement, or already retired, issues of income and savings are critical to both parties’ well-being.

If you or someone you love are involved in a ‘gray divorce’ situation, call our office today to speak with skilled family law attorneys about the best course of action.

How Long Will It Take To Finalize My Divorce in MA?

Attorney Answer:

The divorce process can oftentimes prove to be a long and drawn out process especially when it is filed as a contested divorce under Massachusetts’ contested divorce statute. Delay in the process is common when there are highly contested issues regarding child custody, child support, alimony, and/or division of the marital assets etc. When parties cannot come to an agreement on these issues, the process is set on track by the court and can sometimes take longer than a year or more to resolve as there are typically multiple court hearings that parties must attend as well as extensive discovery procedures that must be completed prior to trial.

On the other hand, finalizing a divorce is usually much timelier and more cost efficient when filed under Massachusetts’ uncontested divorce statute. The reason for a more time efficient result is because it is much easier to schedule an uncontested hearing as all of the other required formalities are usually completed prior to or simultaneous with filing of the uncontested petition. Thus, an uncontested divorce can oftentimes be finalized in just a few months of filing for divorce.

Can I just stop paying support to my ex-spouse?

Additional Info: I recently lost my job and can no longer pay my weekly child support obligation. Can I just stop paying support to my ex-spouse?

Attorney Answer:

NO! You are obligated to follow the exact terms of all Court Orders. If there has been a material change in circumstances and you are no longer able to comply with any term of a Court Order you cannot simply just stop abiding by said term. You must file a modification action with the appropriate Court seeking a modification of the order based on a change in circumstances. In doing so you must be able to show that there has been a material change in circumstances since the order went into effect.

What can I do to make her abide by the Court Order?

Additional Info: My wife and I are in the process of divorcing. We have gone to Court and a Temporary Order was issued regarding the care and custody of our children but she refuses to follow the order now. What can I do to make her abide by the Court Order?

Attorney Answer:

When one Party refuses to abide by the terms of a Temporary Order or Final Judgment of the Court, the method to enforce any such order is by means of filing a contempt action. By doing so you are asking the Court to compel the non-complying party to comply with the terms of what has previously been ordered and or adjudged. In order to prevail on a contempt action, the moving party must prove a clear and unequivocal violation of a Court Order. Short of proving said standard a Judge cannot rule in your favor.

Married for 22 years and contemplating divorce

Additional Info: My Husband and I have been married for 22 years. I am contemplating divorce. He says if I leave he’s keeping every thing including the house. Can he really do that?

Attorney Answer:

In long term marriages, typically speaking the Court’s intent is to equalize the parties.

While there are a number of factors the Court will consider under the Massachusetts Divorce Statute including the length of the marriage and each party’s respective contribution to the marital estate, as a general starting point in a long term marriage the Court will look to equalize each person and divide the marital estate accordingly. The reason for this philosophy is that while one party may have earned significantly more than the other over the course of the marriage, usually the lower earning spouse’s contributions involved caring for the children and running the household. The Court recognizes such contribution as significant for purposes of dividing the marital estate.

In addition, if the house is considered a “Marital Asset” it too will be subject to division. If one party refuses to cooperate in dividing the property, whether by means of sale or transfer, the Court will rule on said issue and ultimately make the final determination.

Will child support change?

Additional Information: 

My ex-wife and I have been divorced for 3 years.  If I get remarried, does that effect my current child support payments?  I heard that my new wife’s income may count towards total household income and I would have to pay more.

Attorney Answer:

Contributions from other household members towards the expenses that you list on your financial statement should also be listed on your financial statement. However, your new spouse’s income should not be included for purposes of calculating the child support guidelines which are used to determine the amount of child support that you can expect pay.

 

 

How does the new alimony law in MA affect my situation?

Additional Info: I am getting a divorce. My wife is a neurological surgeon and has her own private practice in Methuen, MA so she makes significantly more money than I do. I know I will be entitled to alimony but could you please tell me how the new alimony law in MA and what I may receive?

Attorney Answer:

The MA Alimony Reform Act of 2011 provided some clarity to an area that has been historically uncertain for litigants and practitioners alike. Previously, in a longer term marriage there were no term limits on the amount of time a person could expect to pay or receive alimony. Today, in the wake of approval by the legislature of the Alimony Reform Act in Massachusetts, the length of time an alimony award is to go for is very certain as it is based on a formula defined by the total number of months of the marriage. In addition, the act also specifies that the amount of an alimony order should generally not exceed the recipient’s need or 30%-35% of the difference between the parties’ gross incomes established at the time of the order being issued.

Visitation schedule for teen age daughter

Additional info: I have been divorced for 10 years and live with my 16 year-old daughter in Andover, MA. She doesn’t want to visit her dad 1 1/2 hrs away every other weekend. She’s a teenager and has a busy sports schedule and social life. What rights does my daughter have and what legal responsibilities do I have regarding the matter?

Attorney Answer:

This is a common issue that often arises as a child grows older. It is vital to remember that the child is still a child, and does not have the authority to make the decisions regarding parenting time or otherwise. As equally important to remember, when there is a Court order in effect, a party could be subject to the possibility of Contempt proceedings if they are not in compliance with said Court Order. In this case, if the child ceases visiting with her Father, he could seek intervention from the Court and Mother would be faced with impending litigation.

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