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If you are considering pursuing sole custody in Norfolk, Massachusetts, there are many issues you should be aware of before you begin the process. A custody proceeding can be an emotionally charged event impacting multiple family members, most notably children, who are at the center of it. Here’s what you need to know as you navigate this challenging path.

Is It Possible to Get Sole Custody in Norfolk?

The Difference Between Legal and Physical Custody in Massachusetts

There are two types of child custody in Massachusetts: legal custody and physical custody. What follows is a discussion of each and the parental responsibilities they carry.

Legal Custody in Norfolk

Legal custody involves which parent is tasked with making significant decisions on behalf of the child. The parent with legal custody has total authority over any decisions affecting the child’s life.

Healthcare and where a child attends school are just two examples of decision-making assigned to the parent with legal custody. Others include what religion the child will practice and how, child care, extracurricular activities, and where the child will attend summer camp.

Judges are inclined to award shared legal custody unless there is an issue with one of the parents. The idea is that two fit parents should be involved in all decisions concerning a child’s life. Legal custody differs from physical custody, which only concerns where a child lives.

Physical Custody in Norfolk

Physical custody refers to how much time a child will spend with each of their parents. How much time physical custody entails can vary. For example, one parent can have almost all the parenting time while the other may see the children very seldomly. Primary physical custody is often used interchangeably with full physical custody and has the same meaning.

Then, there are those parenting plans that fall somewhere in between. Parents who share parenting time equally (have 50/50 custody or something close to it) have what is called shared physical custody.

Some physical custody arrangements can give rise to confusion. Take, for example, the situation where a child spends about two-thirds of the time with one parent. That parent is still usually referred to as the primary care parent and has sole physical custody. Regardless of the time arrangement, physical custody has nothing to do with decision-making “rights.” That forever remains the realm of legal custody.

Primary physical custody carries two significant advantages: it results in more time with the child and increases the odds of a higher child support order. Both are discussed below.

Time With the Child

The parent with primary physical custody spends the majority of time with the child, while the other parent must adhere to scheduled parenting time. This increased time offers the primary caregiver more influence over the children’s upbringing, even in cases of shared legal custody, giving rise to the following question: What exactly is joint legal custody with primary physical custody?

Joint legal custody with primary physical custody describes an arrangement where the parties share the responsibility for major decisions. However, the child still spends most of the time with one of their parents, the parent with primary physical custody.

Child Support

Primary physical custody has financial implications beyond the time spent with a child. To account for extra expenses due to increased parenting time, the parent granted primary physical custody often receives child support from the other parent.

When the breakdown is approximately two-thirds for the primary caregiver versus one-third for the other parent, the primary caregiver usually receives “full guidelines” child support. Conversely, if the parties share physical custody, a different calculation is employed, resulting in a lower support amount given by the higher earner to the lower earner.

Unfortunately, child support can lead to disputes over parenting time, disputes not driven by a genuine desire for more time with the child but by the aim to either receive higher child support or reduce the support obligation. In response, judges strive to uncover the motives behind custody disputes, applying to their ruling what is known as the best interest standard.

Best Interest Standard

A parent’s goal should be to implement a parenting schedule that is in the child’s best interest. Ideally, parenting time is decided first, according to this standard.

When parents cannot agree, a court will intervene. After examining the breakdown in parenting time in the context of both parents’ finances, the court will then put a fair financial arrangement in place.

Factors Norfolk Judges Will Consider in a Bid for Sole Custody

Massachusetts courts base sole custody bids on the following criteria, keeping in mind what is in the best interests of the child.

  • The parent’s history of caretaking.
  • The child’s bond.
  • Both parents’ work schedules.
  • The child’s ties to the area where that parent lives (i.e., school, family, extracurricular activities)
  • The parent’s mental health and whether they have any issues with substance abuse.
  • Where evidence of abuse exists, there will be a presumption of sole custody in favor of the abused parent.

Presumption of sole custody in cases of abuse

Seeking sole legal custody by asserting a partner’s unfitness as a parent isn’t guaranteed success. Personal feelings may differ from the court’s evaluation.

Courts readily grant sole legal custody if a parent is deemed unfit due to drug addiction, alcohol dependence, child neglect, or abuse. However, presenting evidence is crucial to convince the court that the other parent having legal or physical custody isn’t in the child’s best interest. If the court decides one parent poses a risk to the child, the court may award sole legal custody and physical custody to the parent it deems fit.

Preparing for a bid for sole custody

It is necessary to get a court order when seeking sole custody in Norfolk, Massachusetts. A married parent involved in a divorce proceeding can obtain an order through their complaint for divorce. For unmarried parents, filing a complaint for paternity if the father is not on the birth certificate is required, or a complaint for custody, support, and parenting time if the father is on the birth certificate.

Barring safety concerns, courts usually accept parenting plans agreed upon by the parents. There is a caveat: While seeking a bid for sole custody, it is important to be mindful of what you agree to informally. A judge will consider the parenting arrangement between separation and the court hearing as part of their ruling. Absent any agreement, the issue will next be presented to a judge or a mediator if the parties agree to alternative dispute resolution.

If planning a bid for sole custody, consider the following tips to enhance your chances.

  • Maximize your time with your child as much as possible.
  • Participate actively in the child’s daily needs, including feeding/preparing meals, bathing, driving, coordinating/attending medical and dental visits, helping with homework, and getting involved in extracurricular activities as warranted.
  • Create a summary of caretaking responsibilities.
  • Avoid badmouthing the other parent or causing alienation between the child and their other parent, as a court will frown upon this.
  • Maintain a log of significant interactions and events related to the child and the other parent and any other parenting arrangements.
  • If separation seems imminent, seek advice from a Massachusetts family law attorney to strategize, given how the period before court proceedings can significantly influence custody and parenting time decisions.

Find a Norfolk custody lawyer

Fueled by emotion, custody disputes in Massachusetts can be complicated and contentious. Having a Norfolk family law attorney to guide you through a divorce where custody is at stake can help you achieve your desired outcome. Contact us at our office today.

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