A mother cradling her baby in chair with a blurred image of a crib in the background. With light blue text stating information for mothers to her right.
Unmarried mothers in Massachusetts are presumed to be the legal and physical custodian of a child without going to court. However, without an agreement or court order there is no automatic parenting plan or child support.

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.

How do I pay 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 do I get Child Support?

Child Support is typically paid by the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent for the support of the child. To obtain a court order for child support you can request that DOR file a case on your behalf, or you can file a Complaint to establish support in the court yourself (or with the assistance of an attorney).

Child Support is then typically 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.

How much time should the Father spend with our child?

Every family is different so every case requires your attorney to listen and learn about your specific family. There aren’t specific guidelines on custody and parenting time.

However, the Court does try to recognize that their are certain developmental stages that each child goes through, and that it is important for both parents to be involved in the child’s life for their development to be complete. At each stage, a child’s needs are different.

In an effort to recognize at least some generalities in these differences, a committee of mental health practitioners, family law lawyers and Judges was formed. They wrote a very useful guide to shared parenting called Planning for Shared Parenting: A Guide for Parents Living Apart. Our firm recommends that any parent involved in a custody case read this brochure and use it as a starting point for thinking about and discussing how their child’s unique needs can be met by a well-thought out and tailored Parenting Plan, and how that Parenting Plan will have to change as the child grows older.

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.

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.  This is often what is referred to as “full custody”.  However, 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 if my child is older. Can I get past Child Support?

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 an Unmarried Parents case there is no such presumption and 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.

How do I get a paternity test?

If the presumed father denies that he is the father of the child, then DOR can perform a paternity test if you request DOR services. This usually takes 6-8 weeks, and can be required by the court if the presumed father refuses to participate.

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

What if I was married but my child is not my Husband’s?

In Massachusetts there is a presumption that a child born to a married woman (or who 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.

Usually a DNA test will be performed to confirm that the Husband is not the Father and then the court action can proceed similar to any other action.

Click here to learn more about mediation.