Heading to family court in Massachusetts? Understanding the state's child custody laws will help you get ready. Here's what you need to know about child custody laws in Massachusetts:
Factors Used to Determine Child Custody in Massachusetts
In Massachusetts, child custody determinations are based on the best interests of the child. In other words, the court places a higher priority on what's best for your child than what either you or your ex want or would prefer.
As you prepare for your child custody hearing, consider the following factors used to determine child custody in Massachusetts:
- The court's mission is to do what's best for your child. This means putting your child's needs above everything else, including your wishes or convenience.
- The court will also consider your child's long-term safety and well-being before making a custody ruling.
- Preserving the parent-child relationship — with both parents — is another priority. The court will consider the quality of each of your relationships, as well as who has been the primary caretaker up until this point.
- Consistency is another factor. The court will consider your family's current residential custody arrangement and how any changes could potentially impact your child.
- The state also values collaboration and positive communication between co-parents. The way they see it, the more the two of you can work together, the less they'll have to intervene over time.
Sole Custody vs. Joint Custody in Massachusetts
In general, Massachusetts family courts tend to favor joint custody when doing so is feasible. However, there are circumstances in which the court will consider and even grant sole physical custody. For example, the court will award sole custody when it's in the best interests of the child's emotional, mental or physical well-being.
Before ruling against joint custody, the court may also consider hospital and police records (in cases of abuse or where allegations of abuse are present) as well as character witnesses. In some situations, the court may also require one or both parents to participate in parenting classes, drug or alcohol rehabilitation, or anger management classes.
Contested Child Custody Cases in Massachusetts
Massachusetts child custody laws outline some specific requirements for contested child custody cases. If you cannot reach an agreement with your ex, and one of you wants shared custody, then the parent requesting shared custody needs to submit a parenting plan to the court. The plan should include detailed information about how the two of you will share responsibility for the following:
- Your child's day-to-day care, including an ongoing residential schedule, as well as a schedule for vacations and holidays
- Your child's education
- Your child's physical well-being, including routine and emergency health care
- Plans for resolving any conflicts or scheduling changes
In response, the court may either order shared custody or grant either parent sole physical custody. While it's difficult to anticipate how the judge will rule in your case, demonstrating your willingness to collaborate with your ex can be helpful.
In some situations, family courts in Massachusetts have ruled against parents who disputed shared custody and also refused to work with their ex. No matter what has happened up until this point, remember that the court wants to know that you and your ex can put the past behind you and work well together.
For more information about child custody laws in Massachusetts, contact a qualified attorney in your area or refer to the Massachusetts Domestic Relations statute.
Edited by Jennifer Wolf.