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:
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