Generally, attendance at an approved Parent Education Program is required of all divorcing parents of minor children in Massachusetts. To better understand what such a program has to offer, and to learn about the grieving process in the context of divorce, I chose to attend such a court-approved program, which was held at a local high school (two sessions over a two-week period for about two hours each session).
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").
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.
In many divorce cases, when one party tells the other that the marriage has irretrievably broken down and there is no chance of reconciliation, the other party will voluntarily vacate the marital home. Often the primary caretaker of the minor children remains in the marital home with the minor children, and the other party moves out voluntarily to establish a second household in contemplation of engaging in a parenting plan that is in the best interests of the minor children. But what happens when the other party does not voluntarily vacate? What recourse is available to the requesting party to ask a Judge to intervene and issue to the opposing party orders to vacate the marital home?
The Boston Globe's recent request to the Norfolk County Probate and Family Court to vacate portions of an impoundment order issued during Maureen Sullivan Stemberg's post-divorce action in 1990 against her ex-husband, Tom Stemberg (the founder of Staples), and make public the recorded, sworn testimony given by Mitt Romney during the trial highlights how impoundment works in the context of divorce and family law cases in Massachusetts.