Massachusetts Child Custody Basics

Divorce can significantly impact the children involved; it’s up to the parents and the courts to minimize disruption and make the transition for them as smooth as possible. Ideally, parents should work together to coordinate care and visitation of the children. However, the conflict of divorce sometimes causes disagreements between the parents that have to be resolved by the court. Whether by agreement of the parents or a judicial decision, the court must do what’s in the “best interests” of the child.

Best Interest Factors:

1. age, sex, and stage of development of the child
2. child’s present adjustment to the home, school, & community
3. interactions and interrelationships between child and parents, siblings, extended family members, and others who significantly impact child’s life
4. preference of a mature child and wishes and motivations of potential custodians
5. mental & psychosocial health and status of child and parents
6. comparison of economic, physical, and emotional environments of potential custodians, including their educational backgrounds, employment, and proposed child-care plans
7. impact of parent’s religious teachings on child
8. judge’s own impressions upon interviewing the child
9. alcohol or drug abuse by the parent; and
10. history of domestic violence and its effect on the child.

Different Types of Child Custody in Massachusetts

Sole Legal Custody:

One parent makes all major decisions regarding children’s education, emotional and medical care, and religion.

Shared Legal Custody:

Both parents make all major decisions regarding children’s education, emotional and medical care, and religion. Shared legal custody is usually awarded unless there is a significant issue with one of the parents.

Sole Physical Custody:

Child lives with and is under the supervision of one parent, with reasonable visitation for the other parent, unless it’s not in the child’s best interest. Sole physical custody is usually awarded to the parent that’s been the child’s primary caretaker because shared physical custody is usually more disruptive.

Shared Physical Custody:

Child has periods of living with and being under the supervision of each parent. Court may order this if it’s in the child’s best interest – if it works well for the family and isn’t disruptive for the child.

** if visitation is not agreed upon by the parents, the court will order a suitable visitation schedule. If there are safety concerns, supervised visitation may be ordered.

Temporary Orders in Massachusetts

Because divorce can cause upheaval and uncertainty, at the request of either of the parties, the court will make custody and visitation orders, which are to be followed while the case is pending. The temporary orders are usually a good indication of what the judge will ultimately order for the final judgment.

Parent Education Program

All divorcing parents that have minor children must complete a certified parenting education course, which essentially teaches parents how to guide children through the divorce process and help them with adjusting to life after divorce.

Restraining Orders

If there is an issue of abuse, a parent can go to either District, Superior, or Probate Court on behalf of the child to obtain a restraining order against the other parent. However, once Probate Court becomes involved, its orders supersede those of other courts.

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