Research published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this year found that nearly one in four first-born babies, or 22 percent, are born to unmarried parents living together. A growing cultural acceptance of having children out-of-wedlock has contributed to the dramatic jump in this statistic; the number of children born to unwed couples has nearly doubled since 2002.
Often we hear about the best interests legal standard that Judges in the Probate and Family Courts apply to make important decisions affecting the lives of minor children. Custody determinations and appropriate parenting plans are based on this guiding principle. Contrary to common belief, the "best interests" standard is gender-blind. M.G.L. Chapter 208, Section 31 provides that in determining the question of custody "the rights of the parents shall . . . be held to be equal." In deciding issues involving custody, the overriding concern of the Probate and Family Court Justice assigned to the case must be the promotion of the best interests of the children and their general welfare, not the gender, feelings or wishes of a particular parent.
The Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) is the state agency that receives and responds to reports of abuse and neglect of children. Following a report of child abuse or neglect, DCF's investigation is documented with records that likely contain information concerning sensitive and personal issues. In deciding issues involving the care and custody of children, the Court may seek information/documents from DCF. In order to do so, the Court must abide by specific rules regarding Department of Children and Families Records in the Family Court.