Armstrong Law, P.C.

Lowell Massachusetts Family Law Blog

How to handle the holidays and child custody

The holidays quickly approaching, and for many people in Massachusetts this is a festive time filled with friends and family. Unfortunately, for many divorced parents this is a time of the year that can be challenging, stressful and depressing. To keep conflicts to a minimum, you and your ex-spouse should discuss the holidays far in advance and make plans that work with everyone's schedules and are fair to the children. This will help ease some of the stress when the holidays do arrive.

According to FindLaw, one of the most important aspects when determining holiday schedules it to put the kids' needs first. This means being flexible and selfless while still meeting your wishes to celebrate with your children. It may take a series of discussions with your ex to determine who gets the kids when and to figure out specific details. 

Grounds for modifying custody in Massachusetts

Like all states, Massachusetts law provides for modifications to custody orders. However, a parent cannot obtain a modification merely because he or she does not like the current order. The state is very deliberate in how it assigns custody the first time around. If one or both parties to an agreement feels as if an arrangement is not working, they must show how it is not working and why the shortfall negatively impacts the child.

According to Mass.gov, the court uses the child's best interests standard when devising a custody schedule. This standard factors in a child's well-being, his or her relationship with both parents and family members, the school district and community in which each parent lives, both parents' history of drug abuse, violence and abandonment, and the child's preferences. The state does not make custody decisions lightly, so when a parent does request modification, it expects to see ample evidence in favor of the change.

Who pays for child's medical expenses after a divorce?

When going through a divorce in Massachusetts, there are a lot of things to consider and decide on. When children are involved, it gets even more complicated. An important consideration is which parent will be responsible for health insurance and medical costs. If you and your spouse cannot come to an agreement, the courts will decide who is responsible as part of the child support order. Typically one parent will provide health insurance coverage, and other medical costs are divided among both parents.

According to WebMD, health insurance coverage can be included as a requirement in the divorce settlement for both the child and the ex-spouse. When offered through an employer this is usually much less expensive than buying insurance on one's own.

The role of stepparents in co-parenting

Divorced parents in Massachusetts have a lot to consider and agree upon in terms of child custody and visitation, child support and co-parenting. If one or both parties remarry, you suddenly have additional "parents" who are part of the picture. While some exes are naturally good at fitting the new spouses into the family dynamic, this is more rare than common. While each family needs to make this new arrangement work in its own way, there are some basic considerations that will make this new parenting situation more harmonious.

WebMD recommends that stepparents be supportive of the children spending alone time with both biological parents. This is one part of looking out for the child's best interests. This being said, the stepparent should also try to spend one-on-one time with the children on a regular basis. Stepparents should also not expect their stepchildren to accept them and bond in the same way as biological children. This may come over time, but it should not be rushed. 

Do you need to re-do your custody agreement for the school year?

If you are divorced and have kids in Massachusetts, sending the kids back to school can throw a wrench into your custody arrangement with your ex-spouse. Even if your custody schedule worked perfectly last school season, there are many reasons why it may not be so great this year. If this is the case, make sure you work together and/or with an attorney to come up with a legal modification plan that works in everyone's best interest.

According to Huffington Post, children's schedules can change dramatically and quickly. They may get more involved in their favorite activities or switch to a new school that is further away. When this occurs, the custody agreement may need to be changed to accommodate their schedules and developmental needs. The agreement should also work with your and your ex's schedules, as it may be easier for one parent to take care of the children during the week.

What about pet custody?

Couples going through a divorce in Massachusetts have a lot of decision making to do. One area of contention among families is who will get the pet(s). If both spouses are close with the family pet, they may fight over who gets custody and wonder if there are visitation rights. As with deciding child custody, emotions can run strongly when it comes to furry friends.

According to the Massachusetts Trial Court Law Libraries, the state treats pets as property, such as a couch or a piece of artwork. A judge can grant ownership to one party or the other based on either what is best for the pet or simply to whom the pet belonged before the marriage.

Do you suspect your spouse is hiding assets?

Couples going through a divorce in Massachusetts have a lot to consider and agree upon. While you may want to believe your spouse is being truthful and straightforward about his or her assets, it is in your best interest to do some extra digging and make sure nothing is being hidden and held back from you.

The Georgia Bar Association recommends that a forensic accountant becomes part of the team to look for hidden property and other assets. These professionals are experts in this technical and specialized area. The accountants apply an advanced methodology to find changes in trends related to financial transactions. They also know how to perform more advanced internet searches and financial analyses of bank statements and tax returns.

Financial problems and child support payments

Parents lose the ability to pay child support for different reasons, such as a health crisis that came out of the blue or a reduction in work hours or the termination of a position altogether. Unfortunately, a parent who is facing financial problems may experience additional hardships if they fall behind on their child support order. For example, they may run the risk of being arrested or face many other complications, from tax refund interception to losing the ability to travel overseas. As a result, you should look into your options if you expect to find yourself out of work and are worried about staying caught up on child support.

If major financial changes have created challenges in your life, you might be able to have your child support order modified. The modification of a child support order can help ensure that you do not fall behind by making it much easier to make your payments on time. Unfortunately, parents who ignore these considerations may fall behind on their obligations and see their life spiral out of control.

Benefits of a postnuptial agreement

Married couples in Massachusetts may have entered into the union without a prenuptial agreement because the thought of separation seemed impossible. However, once the honeymoon stage has passed, one or both spouses may realize it would be beneficial to write up an agreement that defines certain aspects of the marriage. This can be done after the I-Dos have been said, and it is called a postnuptial agreement. 

In many cases, a postnuptial agreement has the same information that is typically found in a prenup, and this can make it much easier in the event the couple decides to separate or divorce. The USA Today talks about how this type of agreement helps couples discuss their finances, each partner's philosophy about money and mutual lifetime goals. The couple should talk about separate and marital property and decide how to manage them and how they would be divided in the event of divorce.

Tips for summer break and child custody

Divorced parents in Massachusetts who are detail-oriented and thorough may have already broached the subject of custody during summer break. However, even the best-laid plans can change. Whether you made initial plans and want to change them, or you are just now considering what to do over the summer, there are some tips to follow so it is a smooth process for everyone.

According to FindLaw, one of the most important things you should do is discuss with your ex about your plans, and do so as much in advance as possible. Most parents are willing to accommodate each other's wishes, but there is a better chance when you bring them up far in advance.

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