Child support when the other parent has abused you

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Massachusetts Law Reform Institute

In Massachusetts, there are child support laws to make sure that parents who do not live together share the cost of raising their children. The state expects parents who do not live with their children to share in the cost by paying child support. Learn more about child support.

If your child’s other parent has abused you, you might have more concerns or questions about getting child support. If your child's other parent is dangerous and has abused you or your child, you may want to think carefully about filing for child support.

What can the abusive person do if I file for child support?

Filing a child support case could give the other parent a chance to see you in the courtroom or follow you home from the courthouse. Filing for child support might make the abusive person angry. They may be more likely to threaten you or hurt you.

If the other parent is angry about paying child support, they might ask the court for custody, or the right to visit your child, or to make decisions about your child's life. The other parent always has the right to ask for these things, but sometimes parents only ask the court for custody, parenting time or visitation when they have to go to court for child support. If the other parent gets an order from the court saying that they can spend time with your child, it might be hard for you to avoid them.

What can I do to stay safe if I file for child support?

If you do file for child support, there are some things you can do to try to stay safe:

  • You can file a Motion to Impound your address. This asks the court to keep your address secret from the other parent, so they cannot find out where you live by looking at the court papers.

  • If you are working with the Department of Revenue (DOR), legal services, or a private lawyer, tell them about your safety concerns right away. Tell them if you need your address kept secret from the other parent.

  • You can also contact a domestic violence advocate for help with safety planning. Get contact information from the Safelink Domestic Violence hotline.

Are there other reasons I might not want to file for child support?

There may be other reasons you might not want to file for child support.

If you are not married to your child's father, then legally he is not your child’s father unless

  • a court order says he is the father, or
  • the two of you sign a "voluntary acknowledgment" form. This form says that you both agree he is the father.

If you were never married to your child’s father, he does not have any right to custody or parenting time unless there is a court order or signed acknowledgement form. You are the only parent with custody rights and you can decide whether the other parent may see your child.

If you go to court to ask for child support, the court has to first establish that the other parent is legally the father. Then, it will be easier for him to ask for custody or visits with your child. That can mean more contact with you, too. This is important to know if you are scared of the other parent.

It is important to have support for your children. But, if you believe that asking for child support is dangerous, you do not have to go to court to ask for it. Talk to a legal advocate about your options. Call your local legal services office to see if you qualify for free legal advice. Or call a lawyer referral service to try to find a lawyer who will work with you at a price you can afford.

Can I get child support if I am staying in a domestic violence shelter?

Yes. Talk to the staff at your shelter about a safe address you can use for getting mail about child support or getting checks mailed to you. Safety planning is important in choosing how you arrange to receive child support.

How can I ask for child support if I don't feel safe putting my address on court papers?

There are ways to keep your address secret if you ask for child support in a 209A restraining order case or by filing a case in probate and family court. See Protecting your address in 209A case and Protecting your address in Probate Court. This makes it so your address is kept off the court papers. No one, especially the abusive person, can see it.

How does the other parent send me child support if I am staying in a domestic violence shelter or if my address has been kept secret?

The law requires that child support payments can be made through the Department of Revenue (DOR) Child Support Enforcement Division. The other parent sends the child support to DOR. DOR then sends the money to you. Usually this is done electronically through your bank, so you don’t need to worry about getting checks by mail. 

The law also says that child support can be taken right out of the other parent’s paycheck. It comes straight from their employer to the DOR and then to you. Learn more at Getting help with child support from DOR.

Will the DOR keep my address secret?

Yes. The information collected by the DOR is not public. The DOR will take steps to protect your information so you and your family are not more at risk of physical or emotional harm.

The DOR Child Support Application Form includes a place to say if you have safety concerns in Section 5: Safety Issues. Someone from the DOR should call you to talk about your safety concerns and what they can do to keep your information safe.

How do I get child support in my 209A Restraining Order?

You must check the box on the complaint that asks for child support and you must ask the judge to have your order say that child support will be decided at the next hearing. See How do I ask for child support as part of a 209A restraining order case?

If I go to court to get a child support order, can the person who abused me use the court hearing to ask the court for custody or visitation rights?

Yes, but it is important to remember that each person must follow the court rules. The rules require each person to give the other advance notice of what issues they are asking the court to deal with, like child support, custody, or visitation.

The rules require the other person to notify you 7 to 10 days before the hearing about what they are asking the court to decide. If you are at court and hear for the first time that the other parent wants a custody or visitation order, tell the court that you did not know about their request beforehand. The court should not hear the request that day. You do not have to agree to discuss it or talk about it.

If I go to court, do I have to meet face-to-face with the person who abused me?

No, as long as you tell the court staff that there is a history of domestic violence or that you have a restraining order. Usually the court staff will try to mediate your case to see if you can reach an agreement before you see the judge.

There are rules that trying to negotiate an agreement may be inappropriate where there are power differences or intimidation between the parents. Make sure you tell the court staff that you want to meet separately from the abusive person because of the domestic violence.

You will both have to be in the courtroom at the same time. You should tell the staff in the courtroom that your case involves domestic violence so they can keep you separated.


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