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Family Law/ Domestic Violence

MLRI’s Family Law Unit advocates for judicial, administrative, and legislative policies that make the lives of low income parents, victims of domestic violence, and their children safer and more physically, emotionally and financially stable.  MLRI family law advocates also support local legal aid programs by providing technical assistance and leadership for the Family Law Task Force.  The Family Law Unit advances reforms that improve the way courts handle family law and domestic violence cases, defends Massachusetts’ “best interest of the child” policy, and informs victims of domestic violence and low income parents about their rights.

Protecting Victims of Domestic Violence by Improving how Courts Handle Child Custody, Visitation and Financial Issues - MLRI:

  • Supports legal services and battered women’s shelter attorneys and advocates statewide, through coordination of a statewide coalition, technical assistance, advice, and
    training, to ensure the most effective advocacy on behalf of survivors of domestic violence involved in Probate and Family Court cases.
  • Provides leadership to effectively address tactics used in court against domestic violence survivors which impede their ability to protect their children.
  • Worked with the Probate and Family Court to develop a screening protocol to identify domestic violence cases in the Probate and Family Court.  This protocol which was
    implemented on a pilot basis, revealed that 74% of the custody and visitation cases screened displayed red flags for the presence of domestic violence.  This project has helped the Massachusetts court develop better practices for handling cases where domestic violence is an issue in order to craft custody and visitation plans which keep children and their parents safe.
  • Is working with other legal services programs to develop a manual for family law attorneys to most effectively represent immigrants, particularly those who have experienced domestic violence, in the Probate and
    Family Courts. 

Promoting Legislation to Ensure Courts Protect Children & Families by Putting the Bests Interests of Children First - MLRI has:

  • Successfully opposed legislation that would force children into living approximately equally with both parents without considering whether such arrangements are in the best interests of the particular child.
  • Successfully opposed legislation that would force custodial parents who have moved out of Massachusetts to return to Massachusetts to re-litigate custody disputes upon demand by the non-custodial parent. Forcing the parent to travel back to Massachusetts when this state no
    longer has a connection to, or information about, the child would endanger custodial parents and children who have survived domestic violence, be unaffordable to low income parents, and would disrupt the lives of the children at issue.  
  • Successfully opposed legislation that would have made it too difficult for custodial parents to move with their children to another state, even when move was in good faith and in the child’s best interest.

Helping Victims of Domestic Violence and Low Income Parents Know Their Rights – MLRI:

  • In collaboration with the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court, created on online tool that assists clients in filling out forms for the establishment, enforcement and modification of child support orders through an interactive
    client interview. MLRI and its partners also developed accompanying online videos and written information.  This tool, which enables self-represented litigants to more easily and accurately present their cases, are an important means of addressing the legal needs of the vast majority of people who are unable to get representation through free legal services.  These online tools are being adopted by courts nationwide.  
  • Helps the court system to develop readable and usable forms.
  • Creates and posts timely and accurate legal information about family law and domestic violence on MassLegalHelp.org.