When going through a divorce with children, child custody issues are front and center.
Decisions made by the parents involve questions such as:
- Will parents share joint custody?
- Will one parent have sole custody and another visitation rights?
- How will visitation schedules/transportation be arranged?
- Will visitation be supervised?
- Is there a chance one parent will not have visitation rights?
While the parents have a lot of decisions to make when it comes to how the child custody and visitation rights will be carried out, the decisions made by the judge handling the child custody case in Massachusetts are governed by the best interests of the child.
The following information from DivorceNet.com covers the Massachusetts law surrounding child custody and visitation based on the child’s best interests.
Child Custody in Massachusetts: The Best Interests of the Child
The Best Interests Standard
A judge making a custody determination in a Massachusetts divorce case will be guided by the best interests of the children involved. This means that custody decisions are based only on the needs of the children and neither parent begins with any greater right to custody than the other. Massachusetts law does not list specific factors to be considered in determining a child’s best interests, allowing judges a great deal of discretion in making decisions. The law does provide, however, that the children’s welfare and happiness are the main concerns, and that a court must take into account any adverse effects a child’s present or past living conditions may have had on the child’s physical, mental, moral, or emotional health.
Custody and Visitation Options
Legal custody refers to a parent’s authority to participate in major decisions regarding a child’s education, health care, and emotional, moral, or religious development. Physical custody refers to the time that a child is residing with or is under the care and supervision of a parent. Joint physical custody does not necessarily require an equal division of time between parents, so any parenting schedule that works for the family could be considered appropriate and be approved by the judge.
A Massachusetts court will order temporary joint legal custody at the beginning of a divorce case unless the facts demonstrate that this would not be in a child’s best interests. Some facts that would support a temporary award of sole legal custody rather than joint legal custody would be one parent’s abandonment of the child or abuse of alcohol or drugs, or the inability of the parents to cooperate with each other in matters affecting the child.
With the exception of the initial temporary award of shared legal custody, there is no presumption in favor of joint legal or physical custody. There is however, a presumption against awarding sole or joint legal or physical custody to an abusive parent. A parent is considered to be abusive if the parent has repeatedly caused, attempted to cause, or made serious threats of causing, bodily injury to either the child or the other parent. A single instance of such behavior is sufficient if the actual or threatened injury is serious or if there has been a sexual assault.
When a judge finds that a parent has been abusive, an order of visitation will include whatever provisions are necessary to ensure the safety of the child or of the other parent. A court may require that an abusive parent’s visitation be supervised or may impose conditions for the parent prior to visitation, such as entering mental health counseling or a drug treatment, violence prevention, or parenting skills program.
If parents are able to agree upon permanent custody arrangements, they can make their own parenting plan. A court will generally adopt such a plan unless it is contrary to a child’s best interests. If either parent seeks permanent joint legal or physical custody and the other parent objects, each parent must submit a parenting plan to the court. The proposed plans must include a residential or visitation schedule, including a holiday and vacation schedule or a method for implementing such a schedule; provisions indicating how the parents will make decisions regarding the child’s education and health care; and provisions describing how parents plan to resolve any future disputes. The court may accept or modify a plan submitted by one parent or by both parents jointly, or may reject the submitted plans and order a different parenting arrangement.
There will be several questions that arise during the divorce stages, and beyond, pertaining to child custody. While there are general child custody laws that need to be in place for every state, the judge’s decisions will largely depend on the specific circumstances of each child custody case.
It’s difficult to understand every in and out of Massachusetts family court proceedings, especially when it involves child custody issues. If you have questions about how your child custody case will affect child support, contact the family law attorneys at Revelli & Luzzo in Worcester, MA for your free consultation and legal guidance.