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What is a shared custody implementation plan in Massachusetts?

Most civil judges in Massachusetts realize that the issue of child custody in a divorce should be resolved by the parents. The legislature has provided a powerful tool to encourage divorcing parents to give meaningful consideration to child custody issues by requiring the couple to submit to the court a “shared custody implementation plan.”

If the parents are disputing custody, the court can require them to submit a written shared custody implementation plan. The plan must be in writing and submitted either jointly or separately. The plan must set forth how custody will be shared, including, but not limited to, the child’s education, health care, procedures for resolving disputes regarding child-rearing, and a schedule for visitation and custody. The plan must be in writing and submitted to the judge when the trial commences.

At the trial, the court will consider the shared custody implementation plans submitted by the parties. The court has broad discretion to accept either party’s plan, reject both plans or prepare a separate plan that will govern custody of the child. If the court accepts a shared custody implementation drafted by one or both parents, that plan will become part of the court’s final order dissolving the marriage. The court may not reject a joint agreement by the parents unless it also prepares findings stating why the joint plan would not be in the best interests of the child.

Child custody can be one of the most emotionally charged issues in any divorce. Any parent who wants to have a say in child custody decisions in their divorce may wish to consult an experienced divorce family attorney for advice on how to draft a shared custody implementation plan.