Under what circumstances do criminal charges apply to a person who willfully or negligently refuses to take care of an immediate family member, such as a spouse, child, or parent? Several Massachusetts statutes are applicable to this question.

 
First, Massachusetts makes it a felony for a party to abandon a spouse or child under the following circumstances:

 
(1) he abandons his spouse or minor child without making reasonable provisions for the support of his spouse or minor child or both of them; or

 
(2) he leaves the commonwealth and goes into another state without making reasonable provisions for the support of his spouse or minor child or both of them; or

(3) he enters the commonwealth from another state without making reasonable provisions for the support of his spouse or minor child, or both of them, domiciled in another state; or

(4) wilfully and while having the financial ability or earning capacity to have complied, he fails to comply with an order or judgment for support…

 
Another Massachusetts statute applies the above circumstances specifically to cases where a party abandons or fails to support a child born out of wedlock. For all of the above, the state provides for criminal penalties, including jail time which may range as high as ten years in state prison under some circumstances. The penalties are laid out in Massachusetts General Laws, chapter 273, section 15A. Of course, other issues also might arise—civil complaints for non-support or contempt, for example, by the other spouse or other parent, as well as actions brought by the Massachusetts Department of Revenue, which has standing to enforce child support orders.

 
Furthermore, Massachusetts has in place a “filial statute,” which makes it a crime for a party to neglect a parent under some circumstances. The law notes: “Any person, over eighteen, who, being possessed of sufficient means, unreasonably neglects or refuses to provide for the support and maintenance of his parent, whether father or mother, residing in the commonwealth, when such parent through misfortune and without fault of his own is destitute of means of sustenance and unable by reason of old age, infirmity, illness to support and maintain himself, shall be punished by a fine of not more than two hundred dollars or by imprisonment for not more than one year, or both.” The statute does make exceptions for adult children whose parent failed to support the child during his or her minority—in other words, one does not have to support a parent who had abandoned him or her during childhood. Also, the statute notes that it is not considered neglect for a party, who is one of two or more children, to provide proper and reasonable contribution towards the support of the parent.

 
If you have any questions about issues of divorce, custody, or support, you may schedule a free consultation with our office. Call 978-225-9030 during regular business hours or complete our contact form online, and we will get back to you at our earliest opportunity.