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What is the best evidence to win a child custody case in MA?

- DONALD B.

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To win a custody case in Massachusetts, it is of the utmost importance to focus on the child’s “best interests,” the standard judges use to decide with which parent a child will live and for what percentage of time. Many factors go into determining child custody, underscoring the importance of presenting compelling evidence to the court to support your bid. If you are pursuing child custody in Massachusetts, here’s what you need to know.

Types of Evidence in Massachusetts Child Custody Cases

There are various types of evidence used in child custody cases. The types include evidence of what is in the best interests of the child, documentation and records, and expert testimony. An examination of each of the three types of evidence in Massachusetts child custody cases follows.

1. Evidence of What Is in the Best Interests of the Child

Massachusetts courts will weigh numerous factors to determine child custody based on what is in the best interests of the child. Generally speaking, those factors will focus on each parent’s ability to care for the child, i.e., their capacity to create a stable and supportive home environment, considering the parent’s income, stability of employment, and housing situation.

Generally speaking, courts will also consider the child’s emotional and physical needs, education, and development. Examples of best-interest factors include the following: 

The history of parental responsibilities.

If you were the parent who woke up each morning, prepared your children’s school lunches, and drove your kids to school on your way to work, say so. It could make a difference as to how much time a court will award you in a custody bid.

The child’s bond with each parent.

Unless you tell them, a judge will not know if you read to your child each night before bed or gave them their bath. Though a child’s bond with their parent can never be quantified, there are ways to illustrate it to someone like a judge who doesn’t know you or your child.

The child’s medical and mental health needs.

If your child was diagnosed with Celiac disease, for example, or experiences frequent episodes of anxiety, and you are the parent who manages the child’s needs most, the court will need to know as they figure out custody. 

The child’s school and community connections.

Has the child attended school in the same school district since they were born? Do they have a tight-knit group of friends that, if they were separated from them, would disrupt their lives? If they do, this could affect where the child lives. 

The child’s routine.

Preserving a child’s routine is prioritized by family court judges. Therefore, a parent looking to change the routine must explain why such a disruption is warranted.    

The parenting arrangement between parents who are already separated.

Evidence of an existing parenting arrangement, also known as a parenting plan, is particularly relevant if it has been in place for a significant period of time. A court will want to know why there is a request to deviate from the status quo.

The child’s relationship with extended family and friends.

Does the child have a special relationship with grandparents who live nearby? An aunt? An uncle? A court will consider these relationships before making any decision that could disrupt them. 

The child’s preference.

A child can have a say in custody matters, but only in certain circumstances. Whether a court is interested in the child’s preference for custody will depend on the child’s maturity, which usually coincides with the child being closer to age 14. 

Each parent’s work schedules and other commitments.

Suppose one parent often travels for work while one rarely travels. In that case, a court, all other things being equal, will lean toward a custody arrangement that provides the child with the most interaction with their parent rather than a caregiver.

Each parent’s willingness to foster the child’s relationship with their other parent.

Massachusetts courts frown heavily upon parental alienation. If one parent is hell-bent on undermining the child’s other parent, a court will consider that behavior in its ruling. 

The custody of other children in the family. 

In deciding custody, Massachusetts courts will consider the custody of other children in the family as it relates to the child whose custody is being deliberated. Courts generally don’t like separating siblings unless there is a good reason. 

The overall physical and mental health of each parent.

Mental health and substance abuse are common issues that affect custody. Courts will consider the parent’s history with drugs or alcohol, including their success in recovery. 

Any incidents of domestic violence, emotional abuse, criminal activity, and history of restraining orders.

Courts will prioritize the physical and emotional safety of the child and will factor in the history of any incidents endangering it.

2. Documentation and Records

The importance of thorough documentation cannot be understated. Even if you don’t think you will ever have to rely on the records you create, create and keep them up to date anyway. If you don’t need them, consider it skill-building for life and consider yourself lucky. That said, here is a list of the records you should keep in the event of a custody dispute:  

Communication records.

The best way to keep records is to put all communications in writing. Email is best, then text. Beyond that, create an organization system that makes it easy to file your digital correspondence. Printing can become tedious and difficult to keep up with. The idea is to develop a system of record keeping that’s workable and easily able to be referenced should you need to. 

Evidence of involvement in the child’s life.

If you volunteer to be a class parent or chaperone a school trip, write it down. Do you take your kids to the park every Saturday at 10? Make a note of it. Having a date book can help in this regard, in addition to the calendar on your smartphone, which could be subject to glitches. There are also parenting apps that can help you record where you were on a specific day and at a specific time.

Collaborative parenting efforts.

Keep in mind that you are not only recording “problems.” You are recording the good stuff, too, those moments when you and your spouse are model co-parents, or at least OK ones. If your relationship with your co-parent deteriorates for whatever reason, you will have those communications to rely on to demonstrate your willingness and ability to get along with your ex.

More formal evidence of joint decision-making, such as your parenting plan, should be within easy reach to refer to. It should also be available for a judge to see if necessary.

3. Expert Testimony

In addition to your own record-keeping, expert testimony is often relied on as evidence in custody cases. There are numerous experts whose testimony may prove valuable in a custody hearing, including that from a mental health professional, a parenting coordinator, and a guardian ad litem (GAL).

A lawyer skilled and experienced in Massachusetts custody cases will use these types of evidence to support your objectives while keeping the child’s best interests as the priority. It is essential to have counsel and not just rely on expert testimony, as a custody lawyer will understand its potential impact and how to navigate it using specific legal strategies and arguments.

Find a Massachusetts child custody lawyer.

Custody disputes can be highly stressful and emotional events for parents and their children, who are at the heart of them. That is why finding a Massachusetts custody lawyer who is well-versed in handling high-conflict divorces where custody is at stake is critical.

At Farias Family Law, our dedicated team of Massachusetts custody lawyers has vast knowledge of custody laws, and we can help you resolve custody issues at any stage of the divorce process or after it. It is not uncommon for custody issues to arise post-judgment. Call us today.

 

 

 

 

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