When facing a divorce, your primary concern if you have minor children is where they will live. How will you share time fairly with their other parent and participate in important decisions?
Before filing a petition to end your marriage, ease your worries by learning more about the child custody process in Massachusetts.
Important custody definitions
Parents should understand the difference between legal and physical custody. Physical custody refers to the home where the child lives most of the time, while legal custody is the right to make decisions that affect the child’s life.
Massachusetts courts may award either sole or shared legal and physical custody. When one parent has sole physical custody, the other parent will receive significant visitation unless such an arrangement would harm the child’s best interests.
Factors influencing custody
Massachusetts family courts ask parents who are divorcing to present a parenting plan to the court. This plan should include a custody or visitation schedule, or you can opt to provide reasonable visitation rather than exact dates and times. The plan should also provide information about transportation to and from the parents’ residences.
If parents cannot come to terms on a single custody agreement, the judge will make a decision that serves the child’s best interests. Factors that contribute to this decision include:
- The child’s preference in combination with other factors depending on his or her age and maturity
- Who has served as the child’s primary caregiver
- The existing relationship between the child and the parent along with other family members
- The child’s current adjustment to school and community
- The child’s overall physical and mental health and well-being
Both parents have an equal right to shared custody and visitation unless they have a history of abandonment, neglect or abuse. Otherwise, the law strives to retain ongoing, regular contact between the child and both the mother and father. Sometimes, the court may recommend supervised parenting time. You can file a motion for a temporary custody order while your divorce case is in process.