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Leonardo Angiulo: Exactly What Happens After She Has Your Baby

Monday, January 07, 2013

 

So I was watching TV the other day and I saw a report that Mr. Kanye West is having a baby with Ms. Kim Kardashian. Now, ordinarily, I wouldn't have spent much time dwelling on this. Since starting this column, however, I have spent time thinking about all kinds of things that I wouldn't otherwise. And after much thought, I've decided their situation could be the basis for a bar exam question.

After compounding information gathered during extensive research on internet search engines and gossip blogs, the hypothetical would read like this: What if a socialite has a child with a musician. After birth, the musician lives in New York while the socialite lives in Los Angeles. Further, that musician leads a professional life that extends his business interests across major cities throughout the United States and Europe and requires regular amounts of international travel. The Socialite takes a trip to Boston, stops in Worcester for dinner on Shrewsbury Street and decides she never wants to leave so buys a house on the west side of the city. Discuss.

First, what state will have jurisdiction over any custody dispute that arises? No matter what happened previously, the Probate Court of Worcester County will have jurisdiction over the case after six months of residency in the Commonwealth by the child. If there was a previous judgment from another state, that order may be recorded with the court and it may enforced here by filing a contempt action. Further, if either the musician or the socialite wishes to change the terms of the order they could file a modification here.

Now one issue that is often the subject of complaints for modification and contempt is child support. Specifically, the amount that must be paid is often at the heart of disputes between separated parents. The amount that a parent is obligated to pay is supposed to be decided by the guidelines issued by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. A custodial parent would file a complaint for support and request the court issue an order requiring the non-custodial parent to make regular payments consistent with the guidelines. If a non-custodial parent fails to pay what they are obligated to they may, after some time, be the defendant in a contempt for willfully disregarding their court order. Similarly, if a person subject to a support order has had a material change in their income, they would want to file a complaint for modification so they would have to pay consistent with the guidelines for their actual income rather than what they previously made.

It is possible for people to represent themselves in probate cases. I will say, however, that retaining counsel is usually worth it because knowing the law is a prerequisite to getting the best possible result. There is a great deal of inaccurate information in popular culture on the subject of child support. Take, as an example, the words of Mr. Kanye West's song entitled Gold Digger: “eighteen years/eighteen years/she got one of your kids/got you for eighteen years.” These lyrics underestimate the amount of time a support order can last. In actuality, legal obligations can extend into the early twenties and may even include contributions to post-secondary education costs.

Exactly which parent will have physical custody, and which will have visitation, will be the result of a court's order after considering the best interests of the child. At the center of this decision is the question of which parent can provide the most stable home environment. In our hypothetical, if the musician is often on the road and is regularly focused on performances and recording he would not necessarily have the time to provide individual care for a child. The socialite, on the other hand, would probably argue that she is less transient and has sources of income that do not require her to leave the home to work. In such a situation, a court may find the best interests of the child to be to reside in Worcester with a regular visitation schedule for the musician. This of course, may be subject to individual facts of a case involving any concerns for the health or safety of the child presented by either party.

It is often very easy to become a parent. Sometimes, however, the results can be unexpectedly expensive. As Mr. West states in his previously identified song: “you will see him on TV/any given Sunday/win the Superbowl/and drive off in a Hyundai.” 

 

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