Father’s Rights – Guide to Winning Child Custody in Massachuetts
This page is designed to assist fathers in Massachusetts with navigating the legal process involving child custody and visitation in order to achieve success in their case. The family court can be a scary place for dads across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, but with some simple mantras to keep in mind you will feel much more comfortable in the courtroom. The guide teaches you those simple mantras to keep in mind while in court and preparing for court. Often, months of planning should be initiated before a case is filed.
In Massachusetts, the rights of fathers depend significantly whether you are married and have a child born in the marriage or whether you have a child out of wedlock. We discuss the rights of fathers that are married and unmarried, as well as provide tips for all dads for every parenting case.
Tips for all fathers in Massachusetts
There are some general “rules” or thoughts that should be implemented by all dads that are splitting with their child’s mother.
- Be involved: Fathers that work and have little to no relationship with their children often find it difficult to establish that the child has a significant bond with that parent. It is important to strike a work/life balance that enables you to spend as much time as possible with your child.
- Make yourself available in the evening to have dinner with your child and put them to bed. Spend as much time with your child as you can on the weekends.
- Keep a journal and photographs of the times you spend with your children.
- Don’t disparage the child’s mother to the child.
- Attend as many doctor, dentist, counseling and other appointments as you can.
- Stay away from writing down anything that can be later construed against you. For example, don’t send emails or text messages to the mother that may be construed negatively.
- Be careful what you post on social media. Many divorce/custody lawyers often scour the internet for posts made by parents on Facebook, Twitter, etc. to use against that party in court. For example, if you post pictures of yourself getting drunk or using drugs you should anticipate those photos being used against you in court. Ask your friends to refrain from posting those types of pictures.
Married Father’s Guide to Winning Custody
Married dads generally have an easier time in court establishing the fact that they are bonded with their children, and there is one very important reason why that is typically the case: Married parents almost always live together during the marital relationship. While one parent may be the breadwinner and the other parent may be the stay at home parent (which is usually the mother), the law views the parents as equals.
Notwithstanding the concept that married fathers are given more “credibility” initially in court than unmarried fathers, it is often the case that fathers receive less than equal parenting time with their children. Why is that? Here are the reasons that many fathers do not receive equal footing with parenting time:
- Often the mother doesn’t work and exclusively cares for young children. The court is always reluctant to push parents (man or woman) back into the workforce right away when the parties have very young children. The court also considers childcare costs of forcing a parent of very young children to work.
- Fathers often fail to fight for parenting time and custody in order to just “get the case over with”. This is a terrible mistake because Massachusetts makes it difficult to modify parenting plans. You will have to show a substantial and material change of circumstances to change a custody order, and the process is very long.
- Many men focus on working rather than parenting. Many guys work long hours to maintain the income they earned over the course of the last few years, which takes time away from children.
Married dads should approach a divorce or custody proceeding with the following thoughts in mind:
- If possible, obtain a flexible schedule to allow you to spend more time with your child, take them to their doctor visits, and spend “fun” time with them.
- Keep a journal of the time you spend with your child.
- Help with homework as much as possible.
- If you know a divorce is imminent, encourage your wife to start working. Keep your requests in writing to establish that you wanted your wife to work before the divorce case was ever filed.
For more information about divorce proceedings in Massachusetts, click here.
Unmarried Father’s Guide to Winning Custody
Unfortunately, unwed fathers have a more challenging battle to establish their relationship with a child than married fathers. However, there are a lot of ways to create a positive and established bond between an unmarried father and a child. This guide teaches the unmarried dad how to prepare for court and an impending custody situation. Often, it would be helpful for unwed fathers to read this guide before having a child with a woman even if the relationship between the father and mother is strong.
Here are some ways that unwed fathers can start preparing for a parenting plan and custody battle in court, which begins before the child is even born:
- When the child is born, make sure you are listed as the child’s father on the birth certificate. This creates a rebuttable presumption that you are the father.
- Be involved in the child’s life beginning at the child’s birth. Go to the hospital.
- Even if you are broken up with your child’s mother and are no longer in a relationship, make sure that you maintain a strong and healthy relationship with the mother. This doesn’t mean giving in to whatever the mother wants, but it doesn’t help to butt heads and have an adversarial relationship with your child’s mother.
- Track your involvement in writing. Keep a written and photographic journal.
- Go to your child’s doctor and other professional appointments.
- Involve yourself in your child’s school. Contact the school and get on the mailing list. Regularly contact your child’s teachers.
There are a variety of statutory factors under Chapter 209C that the family court will weigh when looking into what parenting plan to implement for a child. The law says that the child of unwed parents belongs in the custody of the mother, so fathers will need to file an action for custody if the mother is not allowing parenting time. Keep these statutory factors in mind when preparing your documents and testimony for court. Highlight your involvement in these particular factors, which are found in Chapter 209C, Section 10:
- The court will only award joint custody if the parents have successfully exercised joint responsibility for the child prior to the filing of a court case.
- The court will only award joint custody if the parents have the ability to communicate and plan with each other concerning the child.
- If a father is unfit or unavailable to parent a child, or relinquishes the care of the child, the mother will be awarded custody.
- The court will consider the history of abuse, if any.
- The court’s primary function is the establish a parenting plan that fits a child’s best interests. This is a somewhat vague term that gives a lot of power to the family court judge. It is important that a father makes sure he appears “credible” to the judge in the case. Don’t lie about anything. Everyone has “bad facts” about them but it doesn’t make you a bad father today. Admit when you were wrong and show how you’ve changed your life for the betterment of yourself and your child.
Child Support for Unmarried Fathers
One of the most unique and challenging laws in the entire statutory structure of the Massachusetts General Laws deals with the fact that unmarried fathers can be ordered to pay child support arrears for children born out of wedlock going back to the birth of the child.
This concept shocks most fathers because a dad can be ordered to pay child support “arrears” for father
What is the relevance of this law to you as an unwed father? You must immediately begin planning for paying child support to the child’s mother, start saving money in the amount that would be paid for child support, or marry the mother. While we suggest marrying the mother somewhat in jest, the law presumes that married fathers financially support their children during marriage because the parents live together, and there would be no retroactive order for support while the parents are married and living together.
For more information about child custody and parenting time, contact our office today. We offer a free, private consultation to discuss the facts of your case and to discuss how we can help. While we cannot provide legal advice during these initial meetings before a client hires our firm, we can discuss your options and the procedures involved.
NOTE from Wilkinson & Finkbeiner, LLP:
While we use the phrase “winning” custody on this page, the determination of parenting plans for children is not something we believe is “won” or “lost”. Children benefit from having both parents involved in their life as much as possible, unless there is some reason why one parent should not have parenting time such as when the child will suffer some detriment with that parent. We counsel our clients to have “success” in establishing and maintaining an active role in their child’s life for the long term.