One of the main issues facing divorcing and separating parents is to establish a parenting plan when each party provides care and custody for his or her children. There are a number of different parenting plans that can be negotiated or ordered. Under any such plan, the challenge is for one parent to respect the parenting time of the other parent. Often, one parent wants what is called a "right of first refusal." This is when the parent who is not scheduled to have the children is under a contractual right to receive notice from the parent who has the children, but is unable to parent during any specific period of scheduled parenting time. Under those particular circumstances, the parent who is scheduled to be with the children must notify the other parent that he or she is unable to parent for one reason or another and offer the other parent the opportunity to have additional parenting time. This would be in lieu of asking a babysitter, family member or friend to step in and provide childcare during those periods.
Although a "final judgment of divorce" terminates a legal marriage between spouses, all too often, the parties will remain embroiled in litigation for years to come, particularly with respect to issues surrounding the care and custody of their minor children. Even the most well-drafted parenting plan cannot anticipate and preemptively resolve all of the disputes that inevitably arise when raising children, and the failure, inability, or outright refusal of one or both parents to communicate and reach an agreement with respect to these matters (such as whether Susie can get her ears pierced, if Johnny can sign up for football, and which parent should be responsible for picking up the children on a snow-day) can lead to repeated court appearances and thousands of dollars in legal fees. While child-related issues can always been modified upon a material change in circumstances, and some matters genuinely require the court's intervention, many of these "day to day" disputes can be efficiently and cost-effectively resolved by the appointment of a "Parenting Coordinator" ("PC").
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.
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 formation 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.
Signed into law on August 2, 2012 and effective October 31, 2012, Massachusetts now has new legislation applicable to the care and custody of domesticated animals (i.e., the family pet) in connection with abuse prevention/harassment orders, a/k/a restraining orders, issued under M.G.L. c. 209A.