When parents in Massachusetts divorce, they will need to make decisions regarding how they will care for their child once their marriage has ended. Massachusetts law recognizes four different kinds of child custody arrangements. They are sole legal custody, shared legal custody, sole physical custody and shared physical custody. Parents are free to work out child custody arrangements on their own, so long as the final agreement falls within these statutory definitions of custody. If parents reach a custody agreement out-of-court, it will be reviewed by the court to ensure it is in the best interests of the child.
If a parent has sole legal custody of the child, then that parent alone has the ability to make major life decisions on behalf of the child. This might include where the child goes to school, what doctor the child will see, what religion the child will practice and other decisions regarding the child's emotional development. If the child's parents agree to shared legal custody, then both of them are involved in and have the ability to make such decisions.
If a parent has sole physical custody of the child, then the child will reside with that parent, and the other parent will have reasonable parenting time with the child (unless doing so is not in the child's best interest.) Parenting time in Massachusetts is essentially visitation periods that the parent who does not have sole physical custody of the child has a right to. If the parents agree to shared physical custody, it means that the child will live with one parent for a certain period of time and then with the other parent for a certain period of time. In this manner, the child will have continued and frequent contact with each of his or her parents.
As this shows, there are various types of child custody decisions parents will need to come to an agreement on. Of course, if negotiations fail parents can always turn to the court to make child custody decisions. In either case, it can help for a parent to be represented by an attorney, to ensure they make fair, informed and appropriate choices.