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‘Shared custody implementation plans’ in Massachusetts

This blog has previously mentioned the difference between types of child custody under Massachusetts family law. There are two important distinctions to remember in custody cases: that between physical and legal custody, and between shared and sole custody. Physical custody determines with whom a child resides, and legal custody has to do with who makes important decisions regarding the child’s life and well-being. Sole custody is where either residence or decision-making capacity rests with one person, while shared custody will give it to two individuals, usually parents, simultaneously.

As parents in Massachusetts might imagine, when both parties to a divorce or child custody matter want to have custody of a child, there may be differences as to how this custody should be arranged. Because of this, when a child custody case comes up in a Massachusetts family court, and either party wishes shared custody, the court may ask the parties for a ‘shared custody implementation plan.’ This plan may be created jointly between the parties, or each party may submit his or her own version.

This plan needs to address the major issues that may come up regarding the child’s upbringing. These can include decision-making authority in the child’s health care, education and other important areas, as well as how future disputes between the parties will be resolved, and what periods of time each will have physical custody of, or visitation with, the child. This should include both day-to-day arrangements as well as holidays and vacation time.

The court will consider the plans submitted to it, but can accept or reject either plan in whole or in part. The court has the authority to institute either plan, modify them, or even issue an order for sole legal and/or physical custody. In making this decision, the court always aims to takes into account the best interests of the child. With this said, however, presenting a reasonable plan to a family law judge, especially if the parties can agree to it, will go a long way to helping parents get a child custody order that they can both live with.