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What happens when I go to the Probation Office?

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Created July, 2020

What happens at the Probation Office?

You and the other parent meet with a probation officer to talk about the issues in your case like physical and legal custody, parenting time, and child support. This meeting is sometimes called “dispute resolution”

The probation officer:

  • Gathers information from both of you.
  • Tries to help you make an agreement.
  • Writes down the things you agree on. Sometimes this agreement is called a “stipulation”. Only sign an agreement if you understand it and you actually agree.
  • Reports to the judge what they learned about your case. And
  • Makes recommendations to the judge, if the judge asks for them.

Important

  • The probation officer is not a judge. They do not decide your case or make an order.
  • Nothing you say to a probation officer is confidential. The probation officer can tell the judge everything that you or the other parent say.
  • The probation officer in family court is not like a probation officer in the criminal court. They do not follow up to make sure you obey court orders, like a temporary custody order or a child support order.

What if I do not feel safe meeting with the probation officer and the other parent together?

Be prepared to tell the probation officer:

  • If you have a restraining order. If you have an order, the probation officer must speak with each of you separately.
  • If you do not feel safe in a meeting with the other parent, even if the probation officer is there.
  • If you are afraid the other parent will intimidate you when you meet, even if the probation officer is there.
  • That you want to be interviewed apart from the other parent.
  • Why it is important for you not to be forced to be close to the other parent when you are telling the probation officer about the facts of your case or when you are trying to make an agreement, and
  • That you need to be as safe and feel as safe in a meeting with a probation officer as you would if you were in the courtroom.

What happens if we sign an agreement?

If you and the other parent sign an agreement, it means you are asking the judge to make your agreement into a court order.

Sometimes, you will go into the courtroom and the judge:

  • talks to both parents about the agreement,
  • May ask you questions about the agreement and
  • Will ask each of you if you understand the agreement and signed it voluntarily.

Other times, the judge will make the agreement into an order without talking to you.

The judge will only make the agreement into an order if they believe that you understand the agreement and signed it voluntarily.

Sometimes the order will be temporary, like a temporary custody order, and it will be in effect until the next hearing.

Other times, your agreement will be for a final judgment, and the case will be over. If you are not sure if the agreement is for a temporary order or a final judgment - make sure you ask before you sign it.

The judge will only make the agreement into an order if they believe that you understand the agreement and signed it voluntarily.

Do not sign an agreement unless you actually agree

Only sign an agreement if you

  • understand it,
  • can do the things you agree to, and
  • are signing voluntarily.

What happens if we do not sign an agreement?

If you do not sign an agreement or if you sign an agreement that does not cover all the issues in your case, the probation officer will report to the judge. They will report what you have not agreed on and what each of you wants the judge to order. They may put their report in writing. If they do, you should get to read it.

Sometimes the probation officer makes recommendations to the judge.

What if I do not understand enough English to talk with a probation officer about my case and make an agreement?

Tell the probation officer if you need an interpreter.

It is important to understand what the probation officer, the other parent, and their lawyer say, and that they understand what you say.

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