Claudette-Jean Girard, Attorney at Law
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I provide experienced legal guidance in family law, divorce and special education law. I represent parents and families throughout western Massachusetts.

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Important child custody terms in Massachusetts

It might seem unnecessary to explain certain terms regarding child custody to parents in Massachusetts who share a child; most might seem self-explanatory. But when planning to deal with the situation, misunderstanding terms can be problematic. Of course, it is imperative that the children's best interests are the focal point. In many circumstances, however, there are visitation rights at stake. Knowing these terms can help with the process and avoid confusion.

Sole legal custody means that one parent will be responsible for making all the important decisions in the child's life. This includes religious observance, medical treatment, education, emotional and moral issues. Shared legal custody means that both parents will be responsible and involved in the child's care. This will include decisions linked to the above-listed factors. Sole physical custody means that a child will live with one parent and be supervised by that parent. There will be visitation rights for the other parent unless it is decided that it is not in the best interests of the child.

Shared physical custody means that the child will live with both parents for certain junctures. This is meant to ensure that the child will be in contact with both of them. Unless there is misconduct on the part of one of the parents, the parents are to be treated equally, with the child's welfare the most important point. The court will take into account how previous living conditions affected the child's development. Naturally, other issues can come into play when the decisions on custody and visitation are made. If, for example, there are allegations or proof of drug or alcohol use, neglect, abandonment or other issues, it can mean that a parent will not be granted shared legal custody.

Even if the parents have reached an agreement on their own without the court, the court still has the right to decide otherwise if the agreement is not in the child's best interests. These terms are imperative when it comes to child custody. Those who are concerned about this or are in disagreement with the other parent may find it helpful to discuss the matter with a legal professional experienced in helping clients with child custody orders.

Source:, "General Laws," accessed on Dec. 28, 2015

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