Family law has been a significant part of the work we do at Robinson Donovan for more than 20 years. We focus our practice on the four western Massachusetts counties including Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin, and Berkshire counties. Our Family Law Group is actively involved in continuing education programs and community activities. We have a robust practice that continues to grow.
Our attorneys provide compassionate, committed advocacy on behalf of clients experiencing family conflict. Our primary goal is to achieve the best possible outcome for our clients while striving to make an often-difficult process as understandable and manageable as possible.
Issues presented in family law cases are complex and every family is unique. That is why we take a personalized approach to every case. We recognize that every client has individual needs and we work to assist our clients to prioritize and address the needs of their family.
The last thing most families want is to have a stranger determine their future. Litigation is not only emotionally and financially costly, but also allows a judge to make decisions that can impact parents and children for many years. Therefore, we make every effort to assist our clients in resolving their case through negotiation and, to the extent possible, limiting time spent in court. When a negotiated resolution is not possible, we work tirelessly to achieve the best possible outcome in court.
Divorce & Family Law Services
Family law consists of many types of actions impacting families. Our divorce and family law services include:
When spouses decide to divorce, a myriad of questions and worries often enter their minds:
- What will happen with the children?
- Will I be obligated to pay child support, alimony or both?
- Will I receive support and for how long?
- What will we do with the house?
- What happens to my retirement?
- What happens to my business?
We help clients navigate these tough issues. We have experience representing clients in complex divorce actions involving family-owned businesses and sophisticated financial issues. In addition, we have represented divorce clients facing high-conflict custodial disputes. Our attorneys use their experience to advocate for the best possible outcome for clients.
An option for clients who do not wish to get divorced, but who wish to live separately from their spouse and seek a determination of financial support obligations.
Paternity & Custody for Unmarried Parents.
In Massachusetts, if parents are unmarried when a child is born, the mother has sole custody unless and until the child’s father files an action in court to establish his parental rights. If the father has not formally acknowledged paternity of the child, a paternity action is a prerequisite to seeking shared or sole custody or parenting rights. We assist unmarried parents through the process of seeking or defending custody and support requests.
Massachusetts requires that parents financially support their children. The Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines establish the presumptive amount of child support to be paid by a parent. We represent parents both seeking support and those from whom support is sought.
Massachusetts has a statute that provides definitions of the various types of alimony and length of payment that may be available when parties divorce. There are many factors that determine whether and when alimony may be awarded, making this area of family law complex. Recent changes in the tax laws have opened up opportunities to view alimony differently in ongoing matters, as well as to require close scrutiny of the impact that the tax changes will have on future modifications of alimony. Our attorneys can guide clients through the many aspects of alimony law and the ways in which it may impact their family situation.
Life is always changing, and the law recognizes that fact. For example, a parent may enter a parenting plan that works well while the children are young. However, when children are older and family circumstances change, the schedule simply may not work. The court permits a parent to file a complaint for modification when there has been a substantial change in circumstances necessitating a change in the previous judgment.
With few exceptions, judgments related to children are always modifiable, including child support, custody and parenting time. Alimony is modifiable in some cases. We can assist clients in determining whether a modification is available and whether it makes sense in their specific case.
Failing to abide by a court order or judgment has consequences. If a former partner fails to follow a provision of a court order or judgment, clients have the option to file a complaint for contempt. A contempt action allows a litigant to ask the court to enforce the terms of the order or judgment. Failure to follow a court order may result in significant consequences including an order to pay the other litigant’s attorney’s fees and costs. We have experience both pursuing and defending allegations of contempt.
The process of adoption has changed over the last decade with a transition toward more involvement of birth parents in the selection and occasionally post-adoption involvement with the child. In addition to the role of agencies in private adoptions, the Department of Children and Families plays a significant role in the selection of foster and adoptive homes for infants and children when parents’ rights have been terminated through the court system.
Representation for potential adoptive parents is important as there are complicated regulations and state laws that must be addressed to work through the process to complete a successful adoption.
When a child’s parents are unavailable or unable to care for them, a family member or friend can petition the court to be appointed the child’s guardian. A guardian has rights similar to that of the child’s parents. The guardian can make legal, medical and educational decisions for the child. Guardianship petitions can be granted in situations where the parents agree to the appointment of a guardian, or in a contested case where the parties ask the judge to decide whether a guardian should be appointed and if so, to designate the individual who should have that role in the child’s life.
Same Sex Couples.
Same sex marriage may present unique family law challenges that can be addressed with the assistance of legal counsel. A common occurrence in the context of same sex couples involves second parent adoption to ensure that the custodial rights of both parents will be recognized for all purposes under both state and federal law. There are other issues that may arise should a same sex couple divorce if they lived together for many years prior to marriage. We can assist in reviewing our clients’ individual needs in light of the particular facts that relate to their children and spouses.
In Massachusetts, under very limited circumstances, a grandparent may seek the assistance of the court when a parent or guardian denies them access to their grandchildren. Certain criteria must be met before a court will make such an order. We can assist clients who have questions about whether the facts and circumstances of their case might allow them to seek grandparent visitation, helping them understand the laws and advising them in pursing legal action.
Mediation is an alternative to and/or supplement to litigation, which is often successful in bringing family law disputes to conclusion in a timelier and less expensive manner than litigation. We have the capacity to act as a mediator in all matters that arise in the family law context and have had an active mediation practice for many years.
We also support our clients who have chosen to use mediation to resolve their disputes, both as an advocate for them in mediation sessions or simply as an advisor between sessions that they attend on their own.
Department of Children and Families (DCF) Fair Hearings/Appeals.
Notification that the Department of Children and Families (DCF) is investigating a parent after a complaint of abuse or neglect can raise a host of questions and concerns. We assist parents who become involved with DCF from the time of the initial notification through to the termination of their case.
If DCF makes a finding of abuse or neglect, a parent has the right to appeal that decision and pursue what is referred to as a “fair hearing” in the matter. A fair hearing is an opportunity for the parent to introduce evidence to a neutral hearing officer and present their argument as to why DCF’s finding was incorrect. The hearing occurs outside of the courtroom, typically at the local DCF office.
After a review of the evidence, the hearing officer can uphold or overturn DCF’s decision. If the hearing officer upholds DCF’s decision, a parent can further appeal to the Superior Court.
Massachusetts law recognizes the right of couples to enter into a contractual agreement that establishes limits to the rights each might otherwise be entitled to by virtue of a marriage should the marriage end in divorce or upon the death of either party.
Premarital agreements, also known as prenuptial agreements or antenuptial agreements, must meet certain guidelines so that they will be upheld if challenged including:
- a full and knowing waiver of the rights that are being relinquished;
- a full financial disclosure by each party; and
- a determination that the agreement was fair and reasonable at the time of its execution and remains fair and reasonable at the time of its enforcement.
It is imperative that each party have separate, knowledgeable legal counsel for an agreement to withstand legal scrutiny if it is subject to challenge at the time of divorce or death.
Recent Massachusetts cases have clarified the rights of married couples to enter into valid and binding contracts with each other during the marriage that may limit or otherwise impact their rights to marital property.
Postmarital agreements have many of the same requirements as a premarital agreement, but as the parties have already gained certain rights by virtue of the existing marriage, they are required to meet a higher standard for the agreement to be valid. Among some of the factors that a judge may consider when determining if a postmarital agreement is enforceable are:
- the difference in the outcome under the postmarital agreement from the outcome under current law;
- the impact of the agreement on the children of the parties;
- the motives of the parties; and
- the circumstances which gave rise to the agreement among other additional factors.
As with premarital agreements, it is important that each party have separate counsel for a postmarital agreement to withstand the scrutiny that may be applied so that the intentions of the parties at the time of the execution of the agreement are upheld.
Limited Assistance Representation.
Legal representation can be expensive, and most people are not prepared for the high financial cost. That is why the Massachusetts Probate and Family Courts, in addition to other courts in the Commonwealth, adopted limited assistance representation (LAR). LAR representation allows a client to hire an attorney for parts of their case instead of the entire case. The client and attorney decide together the scope of the attorney’s representation. While LAR is not an appropriate option in all cases, it is an excellent service in many cases where clients cannot afford the cost of full representation.
When a case does not settle for one reason or another, it proceeds to trial. Following a trial and decision by a judge, one or both parties may feel that the judge made an error in ruling on a certain aspect of the case. Both parties can appeal a decision of the probate and family court to a higher court in Massachusetts.
The appeal process is highly technical and involves numerous procedural rules, as well as important timelines that must be met. Our attorneys have considerable experience pursuing and defending cases on appeal. Clients with questions about whether a decision made by the court can be appealed should contact an attorney as soon as possible to avoid missing deadlines.
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