On April 7, 2010, the Chief Justice of the Probate and Family Courts in Massachusetts, Paula M. Carey, signed Standing Order 1-10: Special Procedures for Cases Involving Children. That order sets out the details for a pilot program in the Hampshire Division of the Probate and Family Court. The pilot program is intended to provide special services and requirements related to the resolution of child-related issues in any case involving children (such as Divorce, Separate Support, Paternity, Support/Custody/Visitation, Modification, Contempt, Guardianship and Termination of Parental Rights cases).
The order requires, among other things, that attorneys and parents/care-givers attempt to solve parenting related problems before seeking the assistance of the court, and to conduct themselves in a way that recognizes the unique issues involved in child-related cases.
More specifically, the order requires that parties and their attorneys participate in an "Introductory Meeting", no later than 45 days after the filing of Answer and/or prior to any Motion hearing. Essentially, the court is requiring a 4-way (similar to that required prior to a Pre-Trial) to try and force parties to work out parenting issues prior to presenting them to the Court.
The order also encourages people to seek the assistance of other professionals as necessary to assist in the proper development of parenting and care-giver plans.
These requirements will increase initial attorney's fees and costs to clients. The benefits to the children, however, could be substantial by focusing early on how a court case (such as a divorce case) affects the children, and trying to address these issues early.
For further information on this program, its origins and its goals readThe Origins of a Child Focused Family Court Model. written by Gail L. Perlman, the First Justice of the Hampshire Division of the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court. The article is available on page 3 of the Spring 2010 issue of the Family Mediation Quarterly.