January 2009 Newsletter


Meet the Staff
Susan Castleton Ryan, Esq.

Susan RyanMy name is Susan Castleton Ryan. I have eighteen years experience as a family law attorney, as I was admitted to the Massachusetts Bar in December 1991.  In 1993 I was admitted to the MA District Bar, and in 1995 I was admitted to practice in  the Supreme Court of the United States.  Since 1993 I have maintained my law practice in Abington, MA.  I grew up in Rockland, where my father maintained his medical practice for more than forty years prior to his retirement.  After graduating from law school, I knew I wanted to open my office in the Abington/Rockland area as well.  I also knew my practice would concentrate on domestic relations, with an emphasis on divorce, paternity, custody issues, and similar cases.  For many years I was an early childhood teacher in the Newton Public Schools, and I also worked as a real estate salesperson.  These experiences have been invaluable in my practice throughout the years.  My practice now concentrates on all aspects of domestic relations, as well as the probate and administration of estates.  I appear before judges in Plymouth and Norfolk Counties on a regular basis, but I have had cases in most of the probate courts within the Commonwealth.
My goal is to provide each and every client with personal and attentive legal representation. I recognize that proceedings in the probate court are always emotional, and can be overwhelming as well.  Many times I am able to assist clients to find solutions to difficult problems without court intervention.  However, if there is a need to bring the matter to the court's attention, I am always ready and prepared to present motions and/or present a client's case at trial.

I have an outstanding support staff experienced in domestic relations matters. I urge you to learn about them as well. We work as a team, and are committed to assisting each client, providing each one with the individual attention he/she deserves.  Clients are warmly welcomed at the office, and know their questions and concerns will be promptly and adequately addressed in my absence.

I am a member of the Executive Board of the Plymouth County Bar Association, where I serve as Co-Chair of the Education Committee, and Co-Chair of the Social Committee.  The Education Committee presents several educational seminars for attorneys in the South Shore area, including the yearly Probate Court Judges' Roundtable, which I helped implement in 2000.  The Roundtables provide a valuable opportunity for attorneys to interact with the judges about a variety of topics that affect litigants on a daily basis.

Paula Gallagher, Office Manager/Legal Assistant

Paula GallagherMy name is Paula Gallagher.  I have been working at the Law Office of Susan Castleton Ryan, P.C. since April 2002 when I started as a Legal Assistant to Attorney Ryan.  Over the years, as the office has grown, I have taken on several administrative responsibilities and have assumed the role of Office Manager.  As the Office Manager, I handle the client billing and oversee the day to day operations of the office.  I also continue to work closely with Attorney Ryan on several of our cases as a legal assistant.  I thoroughly enjoy working with the clients on a daily basis, helping them to reach a resolution to their issues.  As we begin the new year, I look forward to continuing to assist all of our clients with their legal issues.

Rachel Stauff, Paralegal

Rachel StauffMy name is Rachel Stauff, and I am a paralegal in the Law Office of Susan C. Ryan, P.C.  I have worked in the office since 2003 helping to serve our clients on many levels.  My role in the office includes not only drafting documents and assisting Attorney Ryan, but I also am a lead contact for our clients.  I consider this role extremely important and enjoy the time I devote to each client addressing their concerns and questions to the best of my ability.
I am looking forward to continuing assisting our clients with the challenges they face as we begin the New Year.
Last month's newsletter provided information on the new Child Support Guidelines that went into effect in Massachusetts on January 1, 2009.  These guidelines apply to children in any matters that are before the Probate Court, including divorce, separate support, or paternity matters.  While many people consider it that parents are obligated to support their children only from the time of their birth until the child reaches the age of 18, that is not necessarily so.  Unless there is specific language within a divorce agreement and/or a divorce judgment, a non-custodial parent's obligation for child support does not automatically terminate at age 18, if the child remains domiciled with the mother and continues to be principally dependant upon him/her for support.  If an unemancipated child, that is one who is no longer a minor having reached the age of 18, and is attending a school of higher learning, such as a college, university, or other course of education, the child support would continue until age 23.  Under no circumstances would the court order child support continue after the age of 23, or once a child has completed his/her four-year college education.
However, many children graduate from high school, and may not enroll in a four year, full time college program.  If that is the case, and the child is not enrolled full-time in a college program, child support may continue to the age of 21 if the child remains domiciled with the custodial parent and remains principally dependant upon the custodial parent.  This presents many interesting scenarios, and the courts would make a determination as to whether a child is "principally dependant" on a case by case basis.  In the event that either a paternity action, separate support, or divorce matter has proceeded to judgment, it may be necessary to file a Complaint for Modification with respect to whether or not the child support should continue.  Massachusetts General Law Chapter 208, Section 28, authorizes, but does not require the courts to continue to order the continued payment of "maintenance, support, and education" of a child between the ages of 18 and 21.  This statute has been interpreted as requiring a non-custodial parent to continue to pay the child support to age 21.
If the reason a child remains principally dependant on a parent is due to enrollment in an educational program, the judge has the authority to extend the support payments until the child is 23 years old.  The court may inquire into the direct financial contributions by the parties, but may also take into account the parties' resources, the indirect financial obligations incurred by the custodial parent, as well as relevant non-economic factors, such as the parents' involvement with the child's care and well-being.  Pursuant to relevant statutes, and case law, child support orders under paternity actions would continue to either age 21, or 23 years old, just as they would in a divorce or separate support action.
In some cases, the parties may agree to joint physical and joint legal custody.  In cases where joint custody has been awarded to both parents in such a proceeding, the courts will generally apply the Child Support Guidelines to determine the correct amount of child support.  While there may be a "joint" physical custodial arrangement, if there is an economic disparity, there will be a child support order.  The issue of whether or not child support will apply in a joint physical custody case, is determined on a case by case basis.
Child support may be ordered in paternity actions, but the paternity statute under M.G.L. Chapter 209c allows for retroactive child support to the date of birth.  The fact that the father of an illegitimate child may not have known about the child's birth until many years later, does not relieve him of his support obligation.  Thus, he may be ordered to pay for child support retroactive to the date of birth, although equitable considerations may affect the amount of retroactive support ordered, if the fathers have been unaware of their birth and existence.
It is important to note that a financially able parent may be required to continue to pay child support for an adult child who is mentally or physically incapacitated and incapable of self-support for so long as the child remains incapacitated.  At the age of 18, the parents of an adult child who is mentally or physically incapacitated and incapable of self support may file the appropriate paperwork to obtain a guardianship over that child. 
Finally, attaining the age of 18, 21, or 23 are not the only times when emancipation may occur.  The language contained within any prior agreements and/or judgments may contain specific language as to when emancipation is deemed to have occurred.  These include, but are not limited to the following:
1.         Upon the eighteenth birthday of the Child, or upon graduation from High School, whichever occurs later, provided the child does not plan immediate enrollment commencing in an institution of higher learning; or
2.         If the child enrolls full time in an institution of higher learning upon graduation from High School, then until the first to occur of the following:  attaining the age of 23, or her earlier completion, termination, or abandonment of a full-time course of study at an accredited post-high school educational institution consisting of up to four academic years of study; or
3.         Once the child is no longer residing with the custodial parent, other than living away during attendance at an institution of higher education;
4.         Upon marriage of the child;
5.         Upon entry into military service of the Untied States, the Peace Corps or the like, provided that upon discharge from such service, emancipation shall be determined in accordance with other applicable provisions of this section;
6.         Upon the death of the child;
7.         Upon obtaining full time employment;
8.         In the event that the Child becomes disabled physically or mentally, prior to the age of 23, as determined by a medical diagnosis, and the child is unable to support himself, the child shall not be deemed emancipated notwithstanding the prior definitions set forth in this exhibit, and child support shall continue uninterrupted until such time as the child is no longer disabled, or the age of 23, whichever is sooner.

Issue: 2

scales of justice

In This Issue
Meet the Staff
Child Support and Emancipation

Rockland High School Students Need Donations for Trip to Inauguration


Five Rockland High School students will experience the thrill of a lifetime, when they attend the Presidential Inauguration of Barack Obama. According to teacher Kristen Walsh, who will accompany the students: 


Five juniors and seniors from Rockland High School will be jostling for space on the parade route to be part of the moment.  The students, Jessica Rayberg, Elise Soper, Staci Davidson, Kayla Doyle, and Krystal Cowing, won the opportunity after writing essays describing how the nation and world will change as a result of Obama's election. They will be blogging live on the Internet for The Patriot Ledger, as well as taking video and writing a story about their experiences.  They will be compiling a time capsule for the school, and writing about it in the Veritas, the school's newspaper, to share their experiences with their classmates.

Our office donated monies toward this very worthwhile and exciting trip.  We are happy to sponsor these students, and hope that others will consider making a donation as well.  To make a donation please call (617) 529-4409 .  Make your donations payable to the Rockland Athletic Boosters. Experience the inauguration, and Washington D.C. through the students' stories in the Quincy Patriot Ledger.

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What to Expect Your First Day in Court
Susan C. Ryan, Esq.
Law Office of Susan Castleton Ryan, PC
(781) 982-8850

This newsletter is designed to keep you up-to-date with changes in the law.  For help with these or any other legal issues, please call our firm today.
The information in this newsletter is intended solely for your information .  It does not constitute legal advice, and it should not be relied on without a discussion of your specific situation with an attorney.