On September 20th, 2023, the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court introduced a pivotal standing order, known as 3-23, aimed at promoting the best interests of minor children in cases involving custody or parenting time of unmarried and married parents. The order mandates the attendance of a court-approved co-parenting education course, “Two Families Now.”
This 4-hour online course is designed to strengthen parenting skills, enhance co-parent communication, reduce conflict, and underscore the detrimental impact of parental discord on children. Effective November 1st, 2023, this order supersedes previous orders and plays a vital role in divorce and custody proceedings. In this guide, we will provide a comprehensive overview of the standing order, its implications, and its potential impact on co-parenting in Massachusetts.
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I. The Court-Approved Co-Parenting Education Provider
Two Families Now is the court-endorsed co-parenting education course for both married and unmarried parents appearing before the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court. This 4-hour course is accessible online, allowing parents to participate at their convenience using a computer, tablet, or smartphone.
II. Mandatory Attendance
The standing order stipulates mandatory attendance at the “Two Families Now” course for parents involved in specific case types that address custody or parenting time of minor children. These case types include annulment, divorce, complaints to establish custody or parenting time (including paternity), and post-judgment litigation involving custody and parenting time.
The presumption is that custody and parenting time are disputed unless a written agreement is filed with the court. A pamphlet outlining the course and a copy of the standing order must be provided to the plaintiff or their attorney upon filing a relevant case type. This information must also be served to the defendant or the party authorized to receive such documents.
III. Voluntary Attendance and Fee Waiver
While mandatory attendance is required in specific cases, parents can also voluntarily attend the co-parenting education course, even if it’s not court-ordered. If parents wish to participate voluntarily but face financial constraints, they have the option to request a fee waiver. An “Affidavit of Indigency and Request for Waiver, Substitution or State Payment of Fees and Costs” must be submitted to the court to seek a fee waiver.
IV. Court Order and Completion
Once a relevant case is filed, a court order is issued for parents to attend the co-parenting education course. The order should be complied with within 45 days, and the Certificate of Completion must be filed within 14 days after completing the course. Failure to fulfill this requirement may result in court-imposed sanctions. Based on this, no trial will be held until the court receives a Certificate of Completion for each parent or waives the requirement.
V. Automatic and Discretionary Waivers
Attendance at the “Two Families Now” course may be automatically waived if a written agreement on parenting time and custody issues is filed with the court within 60 days of summons service. Alternatively, a discretionary court waiver may be granted for good cause upon request by one or both parents. This process requires filing a motion and notifying the other parent.
VI. Cost and Fee Waiver
The cost to attend “Two Families Now” is $49.00 per parent, which provides access to the course for 30 days. Each parent must pay this fee, unless a fee waiver is granted by the court based on financial need.
VII. Privacy and Non-Discoverable Information
The information and documents submitted or used during the “Two Families Now” co-parenting course are deemed non-discoverable and are protected from disclosure.
VIII. Parent Satisfaction Evaluation
Parents who complete the “Two Families Now” course are encouraged to participate in the Parent Satisfaction Evaluation offered at the course’s conclusion. This feedback assists the Probate and Family Court in monitoring parental satisfaction and course effectiveness.
Get Legal Help from Massachusetts’ Top Family Law Attorney to Ensure Compliance with the New Order
The Massachusetts Probate and Family Court’s Standing Order 3-23 marks a significant step toward improving the co-parenting experience for families involved in custody and parenting time disputes. By promoting effective communication and reducing conflict, this order aims to safeguard the well-being of children in divorce and custody cases.
Compliance with this order is essential for parents, and the availability of both automatic and discretionary waivers ensures flexibility and fairness within the system. As Massachusetts enters a new era of family law proceedings, this standing order underscores the importance of enhancing parenting skills and fostering positive co-parenting relationships.
If you are at a crossroads in your family law matter in Massachusetts, you need legal guidance from an experienced legal ally who can navigate the complexities of your case with dedication, skills, and resources. With a profound commitment to achieving the best possible outcomes for his clients, Massachusetts family law attorney Jay Davis of Davis Law Group offers compassionate support and a keen legal acumen to help you through this challenging time.
Let Jay Davis be your advocate, your counselor, and your partner in finding solutions that prioritize your family’s well-being. Don’t face complex family law issues alone — reach out to Jay Davis today, and pave the way for a brighter future for you and your loved ones. Contact us today at 617-221-3548 or fill out this online contact form to schedule your free consultation.
James H. (Jay) Davis III
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