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- From our offices in historic downtown Methuen, we provide quality representation in family law matters for clients throughout the Merrimack Valley and elsewhere in Massachusetts and New Hampshire without the expense of traveling into Boston.
Our family law attorneys specialize in helping you resolve your complicated legal matters, including:
- Child custody
- Child support
- Paternity establishment
- Domestic violence: including crafting safety plans, restraining orders
Contact An Experienced Family Law Attorney At DiFruscia Law Offices.
We understand the importance of your legal matter and are available 24/7 for your convenience. To discuss your Massachusetts or New Hampshire divorce in confidence with a skilled family law attorney, call DiFruscia Law Offices at 978-687-1777, or toll free at 866-403-1903. We are also available via email at [email protected]. Please note: we offer interpretive services for our Spanish- and Italian-speaking clients.
Frequently Asked Questions.
1. What is “custody”?
Custody is the legal term to describe the relationship between a custodial parent and their child. When a parent is awarded custody, they assume all legal rights and responsibilities for the child, including the right of the parent to make decisions for the child and the duty to care for the child.
2. What types of custody can a court award?
Legal custody: Legal custody means the parent has the legal right to make parenting decisions for the child, such as where they will attend school and what doctors they will see.
Physical custody: Physical custody means the child lives with one parent (the “custodial” parent) with “parenting time” or visitation rights awarded to the other parent.
Joint legal custody: This allows each parent to retain the right to make parenting decisions, including how to address the needs of the children.
Shared physical custody: This gives each parent the right to spend equal amounts of time with the child, with no set primary physical residence to either parent.
3. I have custody of my child, and I want to move to another state. May I do so?
Once the court has issued a parenting plan, the children may not be removed from the state without permission of the court. When ruling on a request to remove children from the state, a court will examine how the move will affect the children and the noncustodial parent, including if the move will result in reduced contact with either parent.
4. My child wants to live with my spouse. Will the court make a custody decision based on this?
No. As a general rule, a judge decides custody. Generally, if the child is of “sufficient maturity and understanding,” the judge may have the child interviewed to determine the child’s wishes. However, both Massachusetts and New Hampshire law allow the judge to decide upon a custody arrangement using a standard of the best interests of the child, rather than solely relying on the child’s wishes.
5. My spouse and I don’t agree on child custody and visitation. How will the court decide these issues?
Custody is generally viewed as allocating specific time with each parent and is decided using a standard of the “best interests” of the child.
6. What happens when a custody or visitation order is violated?
In Massachusetts and New Hampshire, if a court order is violated, a contempt action can be filed against the person who violated the order. However, a court cannot punish a parent who refuses to visit their child on a weekend or particular weeknight.
7. I am a grandparent. May I be awarded custody of my grandchildren?
§ Grandparent rights to custody and visitation vary by state. In both Massachusetts and New Hampshire, the statute is quite restrictive. Upon divorce, a court will make judgments for the care, custody and maintenance of minor children. The court may determine which, if any, of the parties will receive custody, or may award custody to some third person (including grandparents) if it is necessary for the benefit of the child and the existing nuclear family. However, a court cannot take away parental custody without a hearing for termination of those rights.
1. What is child support? Is it different than alimony?
Child support is the legal right of every child to receive financial support from their parents, whether the parents are separated, divorced or were never married. Child support is different from alimony (“spousal support”), because it comprises periodic payments made by the noncustodial parent for the child’s benefit. Unlike alimony, which is awarded for a spouse, the child is the only individual with a legal right to receive financial payments through child support.
2. How does a court decide the amount of child support to be awarded?
The methods used to calculate child support vary from state to state. Many use charts to determine an award based on an individual’s monthly income, gross earnings and tax deductions.
i. Massachusetts guidelines may be found here: http://www.mass.gov/courts/childsupport/child-support-guidelines-chart.pdf.
ii. For New Hampshire’s calculation guidelines, as updated April 2013, click here: http://www.nhbar.org/uploads/pdf/CSGtable.pdf
3. Do custody agreements affect the amount of child support?
Yes. If physical custody is granted to one parent, then the other parent will pay child support. However, custody arrangements vary with each family, so the amount of child support to be awarded is difficult to predict.
4. I do not want to pay child support anymore. Can I relinquish my parental rights?
Generally, no. The courts will only terminate parental rights when there is another person adopting the child or in extreme cases of abuse. As stated, the legal recipient of child support is the child and not the paying parent. Termination of parental rights harms the child by reducing the parents of the child by one, so the parent does not have the option of eliminating child support by terminating parental rights.
1. What is adoption?
Adoption is a legal process that permanently transfers all legal rights and duties from the biological parent(s) to the adoptive parent. The adoptive parent takes the place of the biological parent and assumes all parenting responsibilities and legal rights over the adopted child.
2. Is there an age requirement to be an adoptive parent?
Generally, you must be at least twenty-one years old to become an adoptive parent.
3. How is adoption different from being a foster parent?
Being a foster parent means a child is placed in your home as a state-certified caregiver. Unlike adoption, foster care means that although the child is physically living in your residence, the state retains all legal rights over the child.
4. Are there minimum income requirements to be an adoptive parent?
While there are no specific minimum income requirements, you must be able to support the adopted child on your current income. This includes the financial resources necessary to pay for nutrition, health care, education, and other essentials such as clothing, housing, and social needs.
5. How long will it take for my child’s adoption to be legalized by the courts?
By law, a child must reside in your home for at least six months before an adoption can be legalized. However, it is usual to wait at least a year from the time of placement until the adoption is legalized.
1. What is “paternity”?
Establishing paternity means determining the identity of the legal father of the child. Once paternity is established, a child gains legal rights and privileges, such as the right to receive child support.
2. Why is it important to establish paternity?
Benefits of establishing paternity include:
- Giving the child rights to inheritance
- Access to the father’s medical and life insurance benefits
- Eligibility for social security and veteran’s benefits
- Allowing the child to develop a relationship with the father
- Giving the child identity and connection to family
3. What is the process?
If a woman is pregnant and married, then the father is presumed to be her husband if the child is born in wedlock. This is called the Mansfield Rule. Paternity can also be established in other ways:
- Both (unmarried) parents sign a paternity acknowledgment form, or
- Either parent may ask a court to order paternity tests
- It is always beneficial to contact a family law attorney before signing any legally binding documents.
4. What are paternity tests? How are they paid for?
Paternity tests are used to determine whether a man is the biological father of a child. The test is usually done by a blood test to determine a man’s “likelihood of being the father.” When a man is accused of being the father of a child in a paternity action, this blood test is a matter of right. Courts may agree to a DNA or “swab” test in substitution of the blood draw test.
If the test shows the man is the father, then he may be required to pay the fees for the test.
5. What if the parents are already living together, does paternity really need to be established?
Yes. A child has no legal father until paternity is established, even if both parents are living with the child.
6. Will the child have to take the father’s last name?
Generally, the mother can decide what the child’s last name will be. Parents may change a child’s legal name by filing forms with the town clerk or going to court.
7. How long after the child is born can someone establish paternity for them?
Paternity may be established at any time in a child’s life.
8. What if the mother or father is married to someone else once the child is born?
This is the Mansfield Rule: Whomever a woman is married to when a child is born is presumed to be the father. A man may establish paternity at any time, even if he is married to someone else.
9. What if either parent is under 18 years old?
Parents of any age can have paternity testing and establish paternity for their child.
10. Does the noncustodial parent have to pay child support once paternity is established?
The noncustodial parent is responsible for his or her child even if they are still in school or has no job. As stated, when determining a support order, the judge will look at the noncustodial parent’s income and other circumstances to decide the amount to be paid.
11. What if I am not sure I am the father? What options do I have to dispute the results?
If you are not sure you are the father of a child, you should not complete any paternity forms. Instead, you can file a complaint in the Probate and Family Court and ask a judge to order paternity tests for you. It is best to contact a family law attorney to assist you in the process.
1. What is domestic abuse?
Domestic abuse is a pattern of physical, mental, emotional, and/or sexual abuse behavior asserted by one partner in an intimate relationship onto another.
2. Are there warning signs of domestic violence?
It is not always easy to characterize your partner’s behaviors as “domestic abuse.” Despite this, there are some warning signs indicating potential future or present abuse, including:
i. Excessive jealousy or dependence on the part of your partner
ii. Feeling afraid for your life or the lives of your children
iii. Your partner bragging about the use of violence to solve problems in the relationship
iv. Your partner needing to know where you are and check up on you at all times of the day
v. Being hit, choked, dragged, etc., for angering your partner
vi. Your partner using excessive drugs or alcohol and pressuring you to do the same
vii. Your partner threatening to call deportation authorities if you are an immigrant
3. What steps can I take to protect myself from my abuser?
If you are in an abusive relationship, it is imperative to protect yourself and your children. First, collect important documents, if possible, and relocate to a safe place. Next, consult with an attorney to discuss your legal options for continued safety from your abuser.
4. What can an attorney do to help me separate myself from my abuser?
An attorney can connect you with local services, such as:
- Support groups and women’s shelters
- Individual counseling
- Services for your children
- Restraining order
A restraining order can direct an abuser to stop violent, abusive, or threatening behavior, or to leave and stay away from your home or workplace.
It is important to note that obtaining a restraining order does not mean the abuser will be arrested. Consult with an attorney to facilitate the process and ensure your continued safety.
5. What should I take with me if I leave my abusive household?
- Social Security cards
- Birth certificates
- ATM/Debit/Credit cards
- Money, bank records
- Car registrations
- Divorce/custody agreements
- Green cards/visas
- Tax returns
- Business records
- Change of clothes
- Essential toiletries
- Children’s toys
DISCLAIMER: This does not constitute legal advice and nothing herein establishes an attorney-client relationship. Each case is different and unique. Please note that a small fact can change the above-expressed opinions, along with any current changes in the law.