It is important for couples who are involved in a child custody dispute to understand that child custody in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is often complicated and that courts typically prefer the parents reach an agreement between themselves.
There are some specific terms that parents should understand regarding custody including:
- Sole legal custody – occurs when one parent is assigned the rights and responsibilities of the child. This parent is responsible for making all decisions that impact the child including decisions involving medical care, educational issues as well as religious training.
- Shared legal custody – in this situation, the parents are encouraged to share responsibility for the child. While many people think this type of custody arrangement has an impact on where the child lives, this is inaccurate. This specific term applies only to matters that impact the child’s welfare.
- Sole physical custody – in some cases, the child lives full-time with one parent and the other parent may be granted visitation rights. This parent has the sole responsibility for the child’s supervision. Only when it is determined it is unwise to have contact with the non-custodial parent would the other parent be denied the right to reasonable visitation.
- Shared physical custody – because it is important for both parents to be involved in the upbringing of the child, in some cases, both parents are awarded physical custody. Under this arrangement, the child lives with both parents at pre-determined times. The times each parent has full responsibility for the child may be modified if it is necessary for the well-being of the child or for the convenience of the parents provided they can agree on these changes.
When a couple is in the midst of a divorce, and the courts have not intervened, the parents are still considered to have joint physical and legal custody of the children of the marriage. In the event the parents were unmarried, until such time a court order is in place, the child shall be in the sole legal and physical custody of the mother.
Fortunately, in many cases, parents are able to reach a mutually agreeable decision regarding their children. However, if for some reason a decision cannot be worked out amicably, a Massachusetts family law and child custody attorney may be able to help. If you have questions regarding a child custody matter, call us directly to discuss your situation.