For married couples with children, obtaining a divorce generally does not end all contact between the parties. Often, it is in the child's best interest for parenting responsibilities to be shared, but splitting responsibilities is not always easy. Knowing the divorce and custody laws in Massachusetts can help parents better understand what factors the court looks at in making decisions and, above all, can help ensure that the welfare of the child is met – particularly in complicated cases of abuse or when one parent relocates.
Overview of Custody
Massachusetts recognizes two types of custody, physical and legal. Physical custody refers to the day-to-day supervision of the child and legal custody refers to the ability to make decisions regarding the welfare of the child, including matters of education, medical treatment, and religion. Both types of custody can be either shared between parents or granted solely to one parent. Massachusetts uses the term "shared" as opposed to "joint" custody, as is common in other states.
How Custody Determinations Are Made
Although the decision to award custody is not based entirely on the desire of the parents, shared custody will generally be granted if it is requested by both parents. If one parent wants sole custody and the other wants shared custody, the matter will go to trial in front of a judge. At trial, both parties must submit a proposed shared custody implementation plan, essentially outlining how each party will share legal and physical custody responsibilities. The court can either accept or reject the plan, depending on what is found to be in the child's best interests. Factors taken into consideration in Massachusetts for custody determinations include whether one parent was abusive or is currently abusive to the other parent or child, how well the parties communicate with each other, each parent's living environment and the parent's personal relationship with the child.
Access to Records
Even in cases where one parent has sole custody, the noncustodial parent is generally allowed to access his or her child's school and medical records. An exception would be if that parent is abusive, or has been denied visitation or access to the records by court order.
Effect of Domestic Violence and Relocation
Although visitation is usually provided to one parent when the other parent is awarded sole physical custody, Massachusetts has special considerations when the non-custodial parent has been abusive to the other parent or child. If domestic violence has been found, the court has the authority to order supervised visitation or deny visitation entirely. If one parent wishes to relocate with the children, a modification of the custody order may be pursued. The parent needs to file a request, and a judge will look at whether the move impacts the welfare of the child and then make a ruling as to whether and how the existing order can be changed to accommodate the move.
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