How Can I Get Sole Custody in Massachusetts?
If you are contemplating sole custody in the state of Massachusetts, there are many things you need to be aware of before you begin the process. A custody proceeding can be an emotionally-charged event that will affect multiple people including the child. This article will explain to you some of the details of sole custody and all the specifics involved when you file for sole custody in the state of Massachusetts.
Types of Sole Custody
When it comes to requesting sole custody of a child, there are two types, legal custody, and physical custody. When you are awarded legal custody of your child you have been given absolute and complete authority over any decisions affecting your child’s life. These decisions can range from child care, religion, school, healthcare and more. Absent significant issues with one of the parents, courts are inclined to order shared legal custody – they want both parents involved in major decision-making for the child whenever possible. When the court system awards sole physical custody of the child that simply means that the child will live primarily with one parent, and usually have visitation with the other.
You may feel that you want to approach the courts and request sole legal custody of your child because you feel that your partner is an unfit parent. The way you feel about your partner and the way that the court system views them may actually be different. Most courts will not hesitate to give one parent sole legal custody if they deem that the other is unfit because of a drug addiction, alcohol dependency or has committed child neglect or abuse.
You are in a very emotionally charged position at the start of a divorce or custody proceeding, and your anger towards the other parent for reasons not child-related should not be the underlying reason that you are seeking sole legal custody. If you are awarded sole legal custody of your child, all major decision in the child’s life are made by you, and the other parent has no right to intervene or even weigh in. The courts will consider the other parent’s behavior, and you must show evidence that the legal custody with the other parent is not in the child's best interest. For example, a history of violent behavior, drug or alcohol abuse, or placing your child in a dangerous living situation are all important factors. If the other parent has exhibited these types of behaviors in the past and presents a risk to the child, the court may grant you sole legal and physical custody of the child.
You must remember that the court system strives to make decisions that are in the best interest of the child. As mentioned above, the court system in recent years has trended toward providing joint legal and when feasible even joint physical custody in order to allow the child to spend significant time with both parents. In the past, the father was generally limited to a few days or weekends, but courts have been making more gender-neutral decisions and have been giving fathers more and more time. The courts feel that if the parents are fit, the child needs to develop a strong bond with both parents, regardless of what happens to the marriage. If the court feels however that one parent exhibits any of the destructive behaviors that can place the child in a dangerous situation, they will certainly order sole legal and physical custody if it’s in the best interest of the child.
You have to be sure that the reason you are seeking sole custody of your child is that it will benefit the child. If you try to petition the court because you are angry that your partner was cheating on you, or you want out of the marriage and want to make your partner suffer, or if you simply dislike your partner, the court system will not look favorably upon you and your request. Before you place yourself in a position to have the court system reject your request – and lose your credibility – it is highly recommended that you seek professional help from a qualified Massachusetts family law attorney.
Because sole custody rights are decided by the courts, they have the discretion to make arrangements and orders as they deem fit. The courts may award one parent sole legal custody and order both to share physical custody. The court may also order shared legal and physical custody. If you already have an order in place, you have the right to petition the court for a change in the arrangement if you feel it’s in the best interest of the child.
To get sole custody in Massachusetts,
you can file with the court if you are either going through a divorce or if the child is born out of wedlock. The court system in Massachusetts must be petitioned if you are to gain sole custody. In addition to the reasons you feel your partner is unfit or a danger to the child, you must be prepared to present to the court why you should be the sole custodian of the child. Why it’s in the child’s best interest to be only with you and/or having only you making the major decisions.
Once, with the help of your family law lawyer, you have all the documentation and evidence organized that will help you prove your partner is unfit to be with the child, a complaint can be filed. You are trying to convince a court system that you can provide a safe and comfortable environment for your child, and that you can provide financially for your child or at least ensure her basic needs are met. Make sure you get copies of your pay stubs, your insurance and any pre-paid college planning you may have set up. This goes a long way in proving to the court you are the competent parent.
You also need to document all the reasons you feel your partner is not able to be with your child. Police reports documenting physical abuse, job history or unemployment history, as well as many types of documents showing alcohol or drug abuse issues. You may need to subpoena witnesses and documents to court at some point to offer evidence. Generally, a complaint must be filed to ask the court for a visitation order. Also, if you are in the middle of your divorce, you can file a motion with the court for a temporary order on that issue.
This is a very serious matter that will affect both parents and children for the rest of their lives. It is highly recommended you seek professional help from a qualified Massachusetts family law attorney. The attorney is extremely familiar with all the intricacies of sole custody in Massachusetts and will be in a position to advise you on the proper way to proceed in the matter so you can put yourself in the best position possible to be awarded sole custody of your child.