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Understanding the Massachusetts child custody process

On Behalf of | Oct 7, 2020 | Divorce

Child custody concerns can be worrisome for divorcing parents. This is especially true in the case of a contentious split, when peaceful coparenting might seem impossible. 

In Massachusetts, laws about parenting time ensure that both parents can maintain a relationship with their children. 

Physical and legal custody

Legal custody allows parents to make major decisions on the child’s behalf. Courts can order either sole or shared legal custody but typically default to shared if that arrangement serves the child’s best interests. 

Physical custody describes the child’s primary residence. Parents can share physical custody or one parent can have sole physical custody while the other has generous parenting time. 

Factors that determine custody

Massachusetts law defaults to temporary shared legal custody when a married parent files for divorce. Temporary sole legal custody is only available in cases with clear proof of parental neglect, abuse or inability to care for the child. 

When parents cannot agree on a schedule for shared physical custody, the court will make a determination. Typically, one parent has primary physical custody while the other has legal visitation. In making this determination, the judge will consider: 

  • The child’s preference if he or she is old enough to appear in court 
  • How parents have shared child care responsibilities in the past 
  • Whether either parent has a history of abandonment, substance use or abuse 
  • The child’s existing relationship with the parents, siblings and extended family 
  • The child’s adjustment to home and school along with his or her general well-being 

Divorcing couples can also seek mediation to negotiate a fair custody agreement.