Once a Massachusetts Court has made an order or judgment in a divorce or paternity case it is enforceable by all of the powers of the Court and State for enforcement of judgments. This means that any change must be approved by the Court. Of course minor changes in the parenting plan don’t need court approval. (If the parties swap weekends, as an example, no court involvement is required.) However significant changes, such as anything to with money or finances will need court approval.
There is a trap if the parties don’t change the court order. As an example, assume that the divorce required the Husband to pay $300.00 per week. The ex-spouses agree that the child should spend more time with Father and enter into an agreement for the child to live half of the time with each parent. Because the child is with each parent for an equal amount of time, the parents also agree that the Ex-Husband should stop all child support payments. The Ex-Husband, relying on this agreement, stops the payments. Five years later, the Ex-Wife files a contempt in Probate Court for the five years of unpaid child support. Since the Court never approved the agreement, the original order is still enforceable. The Ex-Husband owes five years worth of support or $78,000.00 plus interest and possibly attorney fees.
This trap can be avoided by the parties seeking Court approval of their agreement. Parties tend to avoid court because they think it will cost a lot of money. However, the Probate and Family Court has a simplified proceedure to approve agreements of this nature and have forms available on their website which the parties can fill out and submit. This procedure is explained in Rule 412 Of The Supplemental Rules Of The Probate And Family Court.
Every person in Massachusetts who agrees to change the financial terms of child support or spousal support should not rely on the agreement. Instead, they should use the simplified proceedure and have a judge approve the changes. Then, they can safely rely on the order of the court. An experienced Massachusetts Family Law Attorney can help parties present their agreement to the Court for approval.