Barbara J. Katzenberg, Attorney at Law
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Worcester MA Divorce Law Blog

How does stepparent adoption work?

With divorce rates being relatively high in Massachusetts and the United States in general, blended families resulting from remarriage are becoming the new norm. Being a stepparent is not always the easiest of things. It takes time to build a relationship with one's stepchildren and not having any legal claim to those children can make certain situations complicated -- such as when dealing with a medical emergency or handling problems that may arise at school, among a number of other issues that commonly come up when raising kids. Stepparent adoption can help bring a blended family closer together and give stepparents the legal rights they need to manage problems that come up with their spouses' children.

How does stepparent adoption work? It can either be a relatively easy process or it can get quite complicated. It all depends on the noncustodial parent's feelings on the matter. If there are no objections, the adoption process can be completed fairly quickly. If the other parent does object to the adoption request, finalizing an adoption can be difficult.

When mental health can affect child custody

Numerous adults in Massachusetts suffer from mental illness. Such issues range in severity from minor depression to a total loss of reality. When a person's mental state limits his or her ability to care for him or herself, there is a need to question if he or she has the ability to care for his or her own children. This issue may be brought up during the divorce process if one spouse believes the other spouse's mental health status should affect the final child custody arrangement.

Millions of Americans live with mental illness and are able to live productive lives. They go to work, they socialize, they have families and they take care of their children -- among other things. Medication and talk therapy are extremely helpful to numerous individuals. Unfortunately, it is believed that the fear of losing one's children prevents some people from seeking the help that they need.

Child support adjustment may follow income increase

The minimum wage in Massachusetts was recently increased to $12 an hour. It is expected to continually increase up to $15 an hour by the year 2024. The goal is to give the people of Massachusetts a livable wage, but with this change in income level will also come an increase in expenses. One's child support obligation, for example, may increase.

According to a recent report, 840,000 individuals are expected to receive pay raises with the new minimum wage increase. Obviously, minimum wage earners are excited about the change, but business owners are worried about how this will impact their ability to hire, their customers and their bottom lines. The truth is, more than 840,000 workers may receive pay raises as employers will be pressured to increase the wages of their other hourly employees as well. Employers will need to make adjustments in their businesses to make up for the cost.

New year, new parenting plans

The new year is just about here. How are your parenting plans looking? Will they continue to work as is or do you think changes are needed? If you think a child custody modification would serve your family's best interests, now is a good time for parents in Massachusetts to start the modification process.

When initially setting up a parenting plan, the hope is that it will work long term. The simple truth is that they do not for a lot of families. There is nothing wrong with that. Life throws everyone curveballs; you do what you can and make adjustments when necessary.

Domestic violence and child support matters

Many men and women in Massachusetts are in toxic relationships. Leaving a situation where domestic violence is an issue is not an easy thing to do. Victims often feel they are not worthy of anything better -- that is not true. Freeing oneself from an abusive relationship, though difficult to do, can be the best thing for oneself and one's children. However, there may be some child support issues that need to be addressed for safety reasons that are not an issue in cases where domestic violence is not a problem.

When leaving an abusive spouse or partner, for one's safety and the safety of one's children, it is good to not share the details of one's new living arrangements. No one wants to worry about an abusive ex showing up at their door. Unfortunately, when collecting child support, it is necessary to supply one's new address to the state. This makes the information readily available to one's ex.

Dealing with a post-divorce dispute? Try mediation

After the weeks, months or even years of working out a divorce agreement, you would think that you would not have to revisit it. The terms have been set and that is it, right? Well, what happens if you have a post-divorce dispute that needs resolution -- such as over custody or support? Yes, it happens and no, you may not have to go to court over it. In Massachusetts, you are allowed to try mediation.

The simple truth of the matter is, certain aspects of a divorce settlement are not set in stone. Under certain circumstances some things may be adjusted. Some people think litigation is the only way to address post-divorce conflicts, but that just is not true.

Paying child support when exes still live together

When a couple is ending their marriage, it is usually expected that one or both parties will move out of the shared residence and into their own places. However, in Massachusetts and elsewhere, more divorced couples are choosing to continue living together -- for their children or financial reasons. This type of living arrangement can bring up some questions, though, such as, is paying child support necessary?

In the state of Massachusetts, both parents are expected to provide for their children. Generally, the non-custodial parent or higher-earning parent is the one who has to provide the other with child support payments. This does not change if a former couple continues to reside in the same residence.

What types of alimony does Massachusetts allow?

Every state has different spousal support laws. This week, this column will address the different types of alimony recognized by the state of Massachusetts. This is not something that is applicable in every divorce case, but for those who do qualify for spousal support, it can drastically improve their post-divorce financial situations.

So, what types of alimony are there? Massachusetts recognized four different types of alimony. These are:

  • General term
  • Rehabilitative
  • Reimbursement
  • Transitional

Child support and the out-of-state parent

It is not uncommon for Massachusetts residents to move out of state following divorce. They may need to move for work or other personal reasons. At the end of the day, it does not matter why they move; what matters is that they continue meeting any of their court-ordered obligations -- such as child support -- after they do relocate.

Court orders do not change just because a person moves out of state. The Uniform Interstate Family Support Act allows all states to enforce family law orders, regardless of what state they originated in. Those who want to change their orders of support would need to file official modification requests in court or work out a new agreement with their former spouses. An experienced Massachusetts-based attorney can help those living out of state who wish to seek child support adjustments of Massachusetts family court orders.

Divorce mediation Q and A

When figuring out how to approach one's divorce, it is easy to get overwhelmed at the options that are actually out there. There is more than one way to divorce. For Massachusetts residents who are looking for a nontraditional route, divorce mediation may be the answer. This week's column will address some common questions about the mediation process.

Question number one is: Is mediation really an economical choice? Litigation can be very expensive. If a couple can avoid going to court by being willing to negotiate the terms of their divorce, yes, mediation can save them money in the long run.

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