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Custody And Visitation Options

When couples with children divorce or break up, one of the most pressing questions on everyone’s mind is often where the children will live and how their relationships with their parents will be affected.

In some cases, parents are able to resolve these questions outside of court and come up with a schedule and parenting plan that meets the needs of everyone involved. However, when parents do not agree on matters of child custody and visitation, they must go to family court and have the disagreement settled by a judge. In these situations, it can be helpful for parents to understand the options that are available and how judges approach these issues in court.

Types of child custody arrangements in Massachusetts

While the details of each case may vary, Massachusetts law provides that child custody arrangements fall into four main types:

  • Sole legal custody: With sole legal custody, one parent has the authority to make important decisions about the children’s welfare and upbringing, such as where they will attend school and what kinds of medical care they will receive.
  • Shared legal custody: With shared legal custody, both parents share responsibility for making major decisions about education, medical care and other issues affecting the children’s welfare.
  • Sole physical custody: With sole physical custody, the children live with one parent and spend time with the other parent according to a visitation schedule.
  • Shared physical custody: With shared physical custody, the children spend alternating periods living with each parent.

When judges in Massachusetts family court make decisions about child custody and visitation, they are required to base their decisions on what they determine to be in the best interests of the children involved. This means that judges base their decisions on the children’s needs rather than the needs of the parents and will award custody in the manner that they think will be best for the children.

Visitation for non-custodial parents

When one parent receives sole physical custody, the court will generally grant visitation rights to the other parent unless it believes that visitation would not be in the children’s best interest. For instance, this may occur if there is a history of abuse by the non-custodial parent.

Depending on the circumstances, a judge may or may not create a fixed visitation schedule. If the parents are able to communicate and negotiate well with one another, the judge may simply grant “reasonable visitation” to the non-custodial parent, allowing the parents to work out the details of the visitation schedule as they see fit. On the other hand, if the parents are unable to communicate well, the court will provide a fixed schedule to minimize the need for constant contact and negotiation between the parents.

For more information about child custody and visitation in Massachusetts, contact a knowledgeable divorce and family law attorney.