By: Sally R. Gaglini, Esq.
LEGAL DISCLAIMER: This article is not intended by the author, author's firm and publisher to proffer legal advice regarding the subject matter. Laws and regulations compiled, even upon first publication, may not be complete or up to date. As such, it should not be used or relied upon as a substitute for consultation with competent legal counsel. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult an experienced and specialized attorney.
The Massachusetts Child Performer law is easily confused with state law implemented by the state’s Office of the Attorney General to regulate the times children work in entertainment, theatre or film.
To clarify protections afforded to children and producers who work with them, here are the basic features of both laws. (The words “child” and “minor” are used interchangeably to mean young people under the age of 18 unless otherwise noted.)
If you are a producer who has cast a minor 16 years of age or younger in a production, or if you are a parent whose child has been cast, obtaining a waiver for that child to work and participate is necessary. Let us call this Door #1.
If you are a producer who intends to contract with a minor under the age of 18 in a production, or if you are a parent whose minor child has been required to sign a contract, Massachusetts law may or may not require you to go to court to seek a judge’s approval of that contract. Let us call this Door #2.
Click the link below to start.
BASIC QUESTIONS YOU MAY BE ASKING:
1. Why is Door #1 important?
"The issuance of a waiver is grounded in the Massachusetts Office of the Attorney General’s pronounced commitment to the safety and wellbeing of child actors and performers, compliance with the law, and support for the film and entertainment industries." Although particular Child Labor Laws contain limitations on the number of hours minors up to 16 years of age may work, with an approved waiver from that office, a child may work beyond the time restrictions.
2. How is Door #2 different?
Door #2 and The Massachusetts Child Performer Law differ from the child waiver process. It is rooted in a court process that reviews contracts a minor (under the age of 18) will sign with production companies and others, including its focus on a mandatory set-aside of the child’s earnings. The court decides how much a parent or legal guardian will save for their child in a separate account until the child’s 18th birthday when their child receives it.
With the best interest of the working minor before the court, judges ensure that contracts signed by a working minor are fair and that the term does not exceed three years, with the exception of television contracts, which may extend the term an additional two years to five years. This process assures that a child’s earnings are set aside, typically although not always, by a parent or legal guardian acting as the child’s fiduciary, until the child’s 18th birthday. It is expected, by statute, that those funds shall be protected and suitably invested until then.
ROUTINE QUESTIONS FROM PRODUCERS REGARDING DOOR #2
1. Must I seek to have the parents or guardians of a working minor petition the Massachusetts court?
It depends on the circumstances. There are exceptions in the Massachusetts law that essentially act as “a carve out” of certain young performers whether or not they are working on a union set. Based on the nature of their work, producers contracting with certain performers may or may not be faced with a choice so as long as the child’s participation fits within one of the exceptions. If a production company decides to pass on court protection it would otherwise receive from a judicially approved contract, it risks that the child it casts may lawfully “disaffirm” it. This is a legal term that essentially means that the child may walk away from the contract s/he signed. Consequently, judicial approval of a minor’s contract can be valuable to a production. It takes a working child’s election to walk away from his or her contractual obligations and responsibilities “off the table.”
Consequently, it is up to producers or those similarly positioned to balance its entity’s risks, costs, and benefits when making the decision to embrace the petitioning process for judicial approval of its contract with a working minor. Investment and production dollars are in play and should be carefully weighed against budgetary restrictions and other pressing issues. It is important to think carefully and strategically.
2. Does Massachusetts have a “mail in” court process and procedure like the state of California. procuring the court's judicial approval of a minor contract by mail in lieu of physically being present in court?
3. Does Massachusetts have a blocked currency statute, or Coogan type law in which a mandatory percentage, with or without court intervention, must be set aside?
No. In Massachusetts, the percentage to be set aside is decided by the court, on a case-by–case basis.
4. Based on the answer to question 3, may a parent or legal guardian, nonetheless, set aside their child’s earnings, for safekeeping, until their 18th birthday?
5. Where can I find the Massachusetts Child Performer law online?
6. Where can I find the Massachusetts court petition online?
The court requires a certified copy of the child’s birth certificate to be filed with the petition. Also required is reference to an established trust account for the deposit of the child’s earnings. Uniform Transfers to Minors Act Accounts “U/T/M/A” have been deemed acceptable. The court may, in its discretion, appoint a guardian ad litem for the best interests of the child.
FYI: It is customary practice in Massachusetts that courts do not appoint a parent to serve as his or her child’s guardian ad litem.
7. Should a production company that has a parent entity organized under laws of a different state e.g., California or New York, comply with Massachusetts law when working with young talent in Massachusetts?
Unless the law excuses the production company from compliance, the answer is generally yes.
8. Where can I read more about this topic about the Massachusetts Child Performer law?
See: Young Performers at Work: Child Star Survival Guide by clicking this link or pasting it into your browser:
© 2018 Gaglini Law Group LLC
By Sally R. Gaglini
If the sentiment sounds familiar, you are not alone. Working your way through state laws can be a real challenge. Aside from running the legal meter, what can you do?
Here’s a Top 10 List of Suggested Production Tips.
1.) REQUIRE parents to produce their child’s birth certificate. If you are hiring a minor from another country, obtaining this record may take extra time so start early. Some states require certification.
2.) OBTAIN the full residential address of the minor
3.) LEARN the child's state of residency and its age of minority.
4.) DETERMINE if the child's resident state or country has a child performer law that requires Compliance. The answer to this question may SURPRISE you. If you work in the production world, surprises are generally not your friend.
Did you know that Canada passed a Child Performer Law in 2015?
5.) DO NOT PANIC if the answer to Question 4 is YES! Understand what the law requires you to do. In other words, what are your legal obligations as the producer? [If you cannot obtain correct information that is verifiable, dust off your wallet and pay for it. Good legal advice is priceless.]
6.) UNDERSTAND a parent's obligations if the answer to Question 4 is YES. Parents may ask and if you do not know or at least know how to direct them, it may slow down production.
7.) ACT QUICKLY. If you are unsure what is required, ASK A PROFESSIONAL.
Most kids won’t grow out of their minority before production begins.
8.) DECIDE IN ADVANCE if you seek the court’s protection of your production contract signed by the minor and you. If and when the court “Judicially Approves” the contract, it is generally like the child signed the agreement as a grown-up.
9.) PROVIDE copies of contracts including Parent Agreements to those whose signatures you require; offer them fair and reasonable notice in advance of production.
10.) DETERMINE if you will be seeking the court’s protection of a contract signed by your production and the minor. And proceed calmly if the production has already occurred. Depending on the court, post-production contracts may be reviewable.
© 2017 Gaglini Law Group LLC
By Sally R. Gaglini
Every parent makes mistakes; Few are insulated from at least some regret. Hearing about already-made blunders made by parents of talented kids can be very helpful, particularly for those facing the multi-faceted question of whether or not to put their child in front of a commercial camera.
Consider these Five (5) Blunders before you consent to your child’s participation:
1.) Pulling my child out of school for a half-baked dream.
2.) Paying big money to someone I barely know to “make my kid a star”.
3.) Not taking the time to research the entertainment industry for my education.
4.) Allowing my child to “call the shots”.
5.) Assuming that really hard work would come naturally to my child.
© 2017 Gaglini Law Group LLC
By Sally R. Gaglini
My experience underscores how crucial it is for a parent to consider the risks and costs—as well as the benefits—of allowing their child to pursue a performing arts career.
Is Your Child’s Talent Truly Amazing?
Be honest with yourself about their potential. Seek out true expertise to help you make an assessment.
Does Your Child Seek Out and Enjoy Performing?
Your child’s comfort is crucial. He or she must want to be there.
Does Your Child Have the Discipline?
Even if your child has the talent, do they have the discipline to work really hard? Are you able to support the time investment it will take for them to attain mastery? Over time, others do catch up to prodigies, but the time investment may not be reasonable for your child.
How Do I Help My Child Get Started?
Start locally. Pursue artistic endeavors that will offer your child growth, for example, stage and drama camp, after-school programs that foster the arts, and music education and associated performances beyond their school. Explore opportunities close to home, first, to see what they accomplish and if they enjoy it.
Will Your Child Be Able To Handle Rejection?
If your child really wants a particular role and doesn’t get it, will he or she be ok? What happens if this occurs over and over again? How much "time in" will be enough for you to finally say, "let's go home". Will you be willing to change course?
© 2017 Gaglini Law Group LLC