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Understanding Massachusetts shared custody

Massachusetts society is most concerned about children when parents divorce, and rightly so. The impacts are lifelong and affect what kinds of relationships children later develop with other people. One of the most important decisions in any divorce is which parent gets custody and which one pays child support. If parents cannot reach an agreement on their own, a family court will decide what is in the best interests of the child. The court can award sole legal custody to one parent or shared legal custody to both. In extreme cases, when neither parent is deemed fit, a court can even give custody to a third person.

In sole custody, one parent has the right to make all major decisions on behalf of his or her child. In shared custody, both parents have equal rights in making all important decisions regarding their child's welfare. Shared physical custody makes it easier for a child to maintain healthy relationships with both parents because of frequent contact with them.

Unless there is a charge of misconduct by either parent, both parents usually are granted equal custody rights. Custody orders can be contested, however, and either parent can seek shared physical or legal custody. In these cases, a parent needs to submit a child custody plan to the court that contains details about the child's education and healthcare needs, as well as desired time-sharing, visitation or decision-making rights. The court can accept the plan as is, modify it or reject it and award sole custody to one parent.

Even if a court awards shared custody to parents, child-support orders remain in effect. In case of sole custodies, the noncustodial parent will continue to have access to all information and records regarding the child's education and health care, unless the court finds reason to order otherwise.

Source: MALegislature.gov, "Custody of Children; Shared Custody Plans," accessed on April 16, 2015

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Claudette-Jean Girard, Attorney at Law
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