Unmarried fathers in Massachusetts are not provided with any legal custody rights without going to court. However, a child support obligation can begin to accrue upon the birth of the child even if the father is unaware of their existence or not involved in the child’s life.

At Skylark we work with unmarried parents and their families to resolve disputes over support and parenting time as amicably, quickly and cost-effectively as possible. We encourage families to try collaborative Law or mediation to resolve disputes keeping long-term relationships as the highest priority.

To learn how we can help read below or if you would like more information please do not hesitate to call us at 508.655.5980 or e-mail us.

What if I’m not the father?

If the mother or DOR has filed a complaint seeking child support from the father, and the father disputes paternity, then the father can file a Motion requesting that the court order a DNA test. Usually DOR can perform this test for free and it takes 6-8 weeks. If required by the court, the mother must participate in order to collect child support.

You can also obtain a private test which is usually faster but will likely cost approximately $600.

It is important to note that if the father is on the birth certificate he may not be able to dispute paternity except in limited circumstances.

Who fills out the Birth Certificate?

The Birth Certificate is completed with information provided by the mother of the baby. If she is unmarried, then she can request the father’s name be included. In order to include the father’s name he must sign a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity and then his name will appear on the birth certificate.

Signing a Voluntary Acknowledgement has significant legal ramifications. Even if a father is not the biological father, signing the Voluntary Acknowledgement could make him the legal father, with both the rights and obligations of being the father. It is recommended that you have a DNA test completed before signing the Voluntary Acknowledgement.

Who pays for our child’s expenses?

There are many expenses involved in raising a child, starting with the costs of pregnancy and continuing all the way through college. When unmarried parents can’t agree on how they will divide their child’s expenses, then the court can make certain orders regarding support.

The court can order parents to pay child support, extracurricular activities, health insurance, uninsured medical costs, birthing and pregnancy costs, and even education and college expenses.

Before going to court, we encourage parents to try mediation, which offers a safe, neutral place to reach long-lasting agreements about support and more.

How is Child Support calculated?

Child Support is calculated using a formula called the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines. The formula is presumptive, and Judges can only vary from the formula in specific circumstances. You should consult an attorney to discuss what facts in your case might warrant a variation from the formula.

To view the formula and calculate your Child Support view our Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines Calculator.

When does Child Support end?

In Massachusetts, child support can continue until the child is twenty-three (23). Except for the absolute maximum of age twenty-three (23), child support does not end upon a specific age but rather when the child becomes “emancipated.” Emancipation in Massachusetts is defined in M.G.L. ch. 208 s. 28.

In basic terms child support in Massachusetts stops when the child turns age:

  • 18, unless the child is still principally dependent on the custodial parent (i.e. the child is no longer principally dependent if they’ve moved out of the home, except for college, is employed full time, is married, of has joined the military);
  • 21, unless the child is enrolled in a full-time undergraduate college program;
  • 23, no matter what.
What happens if I want full custody of our child?

Unmarried mothers in Massachusetts are presumed to be the sole legal and physical custodian of a child without going to court. If the father requests it, the court can order that either party have sole legal or physical custody or that the parties share legal or physical custody depending on your specific circumstances.

Before going to court, we encourage parents to try mediation, which offers a safe, neutral place to reach long-lasting agreements about parenting time, custody and more.

What is a Parenting Plan?

A Parenting Plan is a comprehensive agreement which sets out both the time that children will spend with each parent as well as the rights and obligations of each parent to the children and the other parent during their parenting time. It can include a holiday visitation schedule, pick-up and drop-off locations, and even agreements relating to what will happen if one of the children becomes ill.

Parenting Plans can be made specific in instances where it is necessary to prevent future conflict, and they can be made flexible so that you and the other parent can make agreements outside of the parenting plan in unforeseen circumstances.

You should ask your attorney to see a sample of their Parenting Plan and to explain what each provision of the plan is for.

In addition, using a calendar to visualize proposed parenting plans can be helpful in figuring out what will work best for your family. For that purpose we have created the Parenting Plan Worksheet. You can use the Parenting Plan Worksheet to visualize typical parenting plans, including those recommended by the Massachusetts Model Parenting Plans, or create your own custom plan.

The mother is requesting past child support. Can she do that?

In a Divorce case, a custodial parent cannot receive any child support for time prior to the filing and service of the Complaint. This is because there is a presumption that the parents lived together and shared income until the case was filed.

In a Paternity case there is no such presumption and DOR or a custodial parent can request child support arrears dating all the way back to the birth of the child. There are a number of factors that the Court can consider in determining the amount of and the appropriateness of a child support arrearage and you should consult with an attorney to discuss these factors, especially since this can often be a very significant amount of money.

What if the mother was married to someone else when she had my child?

In Massachusetts there is a presumption that a child born of a woman who is married or was married in the last three hundred days before the child’s birth is the child of that woman’s husband. This is a legal presumption and can be rebutted by evidence.

If you are filing an Complaint for Custody, Support and Parenting Time and the mother was married at the time of the child’s birth or in the last three hundred days before the child’s birth, then the Court requires that you use a different form and include the Husband as a Defendant in the action. Usually a DNA test will be performed to confirm that the Husband is not the Father and then the action can proceed similar to any other action.

Is Child Support tax deductible?

Child Support is not taxable income to the recipient, and is NOT tax deductible to the payor. However, in some instances the person paying child support may be able to take the child tax exemptions for the children.

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