Special Circumstances in Massachusetts Custody

You may already have a unique situation going into your custody case, or you could find yourself facing unforeseen circumstances later on. Either way, consult with an attorney if your case involves any of the following.

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History of crime, violence or substance abuse

Parents with a history of criminal activity, domestic violence or substance abuse often don't receive legal or physical custody.

They may receive parenting time, typically in the form of supervised visitation if the issue is ongoing or they haven't shown commitment to finding help. If the parent shows improvement, such as by participating in a rehab program, the judge may allow the child to spend more time with them.

In extreme cases, a parent who has continually put their child in danger could lose all custodial rights. Parents who make false allegations could lose custody themselves or face other legal repercussions.

Parental alienation

Parental alienation occurs when one parent attempts to harm their child's relationship with the other parent through false claims and manipulation.

If alienation is suspected or alleged, your judge will likely assign a parenting evaluator or guardian ad litem (GAL) to the case.

A parent who alienates their child from the other parent could lose some or all of their custodial rights. The affected parent and the child may need to attend reunification therapy to rebuild their relationship.

Undocumented parents

A parent's immigration status alone does not determine custody. However, it may factor in when the judge is making their final judgment.

If a parent facing deportation wants custody, they need to prove that they are the child's main caretaker and that it's in the child's best interests to leave the country with them. Parents who have already been removed from the country need to argue their case remotely.

As undocumented legal status can also complicate child support, as undocumented parents may have a hard time proving their income. Self-employed parents may find it easier to prove their earnings.

Military duty

Massachusetts courts will not issue a final judgment on any custody matter while one parent is deployed for military duty.

However, parents can agree on temporary orders during deployment, and parents who already have final orders can agree on temporary adjustments, like an update to how the deployed parent can communicate with their child. If parents don't agree, the judge can decide on temporary orders proposed by either parent.

Ideally, though, parents in the military should specify in their parenting plan how they'll handle deployment, before the issue arises.

A parent who needs to serve documents to someone deployed or living at a military base should speak with an attorney to find out how.

Foreign languages

Court business is conducted in English.

The Massachusetts Office of Court Interpreter Services has interpreters for Arabic, Cantonese, French, Italian, Mandarin, Russian and Spanish, among many other languages. To request an interpreter, contact your court.

If an interpreter for your language is not immediately available, you can use LanguageLine, which provides interpreters over the phone. This is only used for interviews, short proceedings and communicating with court staff.

Be aware that friends and family cannot interpret for you in the courtroom, though they can help you outside of it.

Addressing special situations in your parenting plan

Your parenting plan should be unique to your family and reflect your specific needs.

If a lawyer or mediator is writing your plan, it's important you share with them any circumstances the plan should address.

If you're writing your own plan, you have the flexibility to include what you want. But — the plan needs to follow a format the judge will understand and use airtight language that leaves no room for interpretation.

The Custody X Change parenting plan template walks you through common provisions, while letting you enter as many custom provisions as you want. It's a sure way to get a plan that's tailored to your family and meets court standards for formatting and language.

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