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Children & Entertainment Contracts

Posted by Stephen McDonough | Oct 03, 2014 | 0 Comments

Does your child long to perform on the stage or big screen?  Or any screen for that matter?  In Massachusetts, an increase in film production over the last few years may provide more opportunities for young stars, but what about the rights of minors when working in the entertainment industry?

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Stories of children in the entertainment industry being exploited are common.  Kids have been killed or seriously injured, taken advantage of financially, and had their educations ignored with few legal protections in place.

Contracts with Minors in the Entertainment Industry

In 1991, Massachusetts passed what is now Mass Gen. Law c. 231 s. 85P1/2 to help protect the interests of children in the entertainment business.  The statute holds that a person responsible for the care, conduct, or custody of a minor child (under age 18) may not employ, use, exhibit, procure consent to the use or exhibition or neglect of a child, or refuse to restrain the child from engaging in a public or private place whether or not an admission fee is charged.

The list of prohibited activities reads like something from Footloose, and include:

  • Singing and dancing
  • Playing a musical instrument
  • Songwriting
  • Rehearsing
  • Producing or recording a phonograph record (gasp!)
  • Modeling
  • Acting
  • Performing in a theatrical or musical performance
  • Appearing in a pageant
  • Rehearsing for or performing in a radio or TV program

It is also an offense for anyone to contract with a child as a child's agent for these activities.

But wait, if all of these activities are against the law, then how can I allow my son or daughter be in a play or perform in a recital?   

Allowed Performances and Exceptions

This law has many exceptions, and then provides a system where the approval of the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court must approve any contracts employing minors in the entertainment business.

Exceptions to the statute cover the routine performances that many school-age children participate in, including:

  • The use, employment, or exhibition of a child in a church, academy, or school
  • Graduation exercises of a school
  • Activities in a private home
  • Performances under the direction and control of a school department
  • Recitals given in conjunction with private instruction
  • Use of a child as an “extra” not during regular school hours
  • The child's time spent in certain performance activities is less than two hours a week and occur at the studios of a regularly licensed broadcasting company

Unless these exceptions apply, then the MA Probate and Family Court must approve contracts for children in show business.  And remember, there is no business like show business. To obtain the court's approval, a Petition must be filed with the court in the county where the child resides, or where the services will be rendered.  If the child does not reside in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the performance will not take place in MA, then contract must be approved in the county where the employer has their principal place of business.

Along with the petition, a certified copy of the child's birth certificate and a copy of the contract must be submitted to the court.  The court may appoint a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) in order to make a report to the court about whether the contract is in the best interest's of the child.    Those of you familiar with issues such as child custody will note that the standard is the same – the best interests of the child.   The involved parties must also appear in court so the judge may ask questions before approving the contract.

Stephen McDonough is a Medfield, MA family law attorney and mediator, and owner of Next Phase Legal LLC.  For more info please call (508) 359-4043.  Next Phase Legal LLC: Massachusetts divorce, divorce mediation, family law, modifications, contempt actions, probate administration in the Medfield, Westood, Walpole, Norfolk, Canton, Millis, Medway, Norwood, Wayland, Weston, Wrentham, Sharon, Dedham, and Franklin areas.

About the Author

Stephen McDonough

Stephen works closely with clients facing divorce or other family conflict. He is a certified mediator through the Massachusetts Council on Family Mediation, a designation that only about 11% of mediators have obtained. In addition to providing mediation services, Stephen regularly appears in...

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