Understanding child custody laws in Massachusetts
Massachusetts courts recognize two separate and distinct types of child custody.
Legal custody refers to the right to make decisions about the minor child's life and upbringing, typically covering four main considerations:
- Medical care
- Extracurricular activities
- Religious upbringing
In Massachusetts, the norm is for the court to assign joint legal custody unless there is a compelling reason as to why one parent should not be involved in the legal decision-making for the child.
Physical custody refers to where the child actually resides. In most cases, one parent becomes the primary custodial parent and the other becomes the secondary custodial parent, although joint physical custody arrangements are increasing in popularity.
When one parent has physical custody, the other parent typically has parenting time, formally called visitation, on a set schedule. A court will typically deny visitation altogether only in cases where there is a compelling reason, such as a history of abuse, why the child should not see a particular parent. Supervised visitation is another option in situations where the visiting parent has a problem that suggests potential danger to the child, such as alcohol or drug abuse.
How Massachusetts courts make custody decisions
The general standard used by judges in Massachusetts family court is called the "best interests of the child." In other words, the court's main priority is the child's needs, not the parents' needs. Some factors that come into play when deciding custody matters are:
- The child's physical, mental, moral and emotional health.
- The health of the child's relationship with each parent.
- Which parent has been the primary caregiver during the course of the marriage.
- Any history of abuse or misconduct.
Massachusetts courts generally approach a child's statement of preference for one parent or the other with caution. Judges understand that a child's preference may be the product of undue influence on a parent's part or immature values on the child's part. However, for older children, the stated preference is generally given greater weight.
Note that child custody and child support are two separate (though related) matters. For example, a parent cannot refuse to allow the other parent visitation because of a failure to pay child support, nor withhold child support because of a failure to allow visitation.
How an experienced child support attorney can help
Because of the complex standards and presumptions used by family court judges, navigating a child custody dispute can be exceptionally tricky. That's why it's so important to have an attorney on your side who knows the law and the courts - and one who is willing to get to know you and your family. The Law Office of Brittany J. Smith is dedicated to working with you, in negotiations, mediation and trial, to find the right custody solution for your family and build your legal case for that solution.
If you are presently going through a divorce, need adjustments to an existing custody arrangement, or even if you were never married to the other parent, Brittany J. Smith and her legal team can help. Contact us online or call (413) 781-7170 to speak with attorney Smith today.