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What the “best interests of the child” means in Massachusetts

Custody and visitation issues are the part of a divorce that every parent dreads. That anxiety you feel can be compounded by not knowing what to expect as you move forward.

Here are a few things you should know:

You can craft an agreement that will suit both of you

If the judge has to make the decision, the odds are good that you’ll come away with a cookie-cutter custody and visitation schedule that doesn’t necessarily match up with either of your lives. It’s always better if parents try to put aside their differences and craft an agreement that, with the children in mind, meets everyone’s needs.

If you can’t, a judge will use the “best interests of the child” standard

If your spouse isn’t listening to reason and is determined to fight over custody, the judge will ultimately decide the case using the “best interests” standard. This is a somewhat subjective process, but the judge may consider things like:

  • A child’s age and gender
  • Any patterns of domestic abuse by either parent toward the other
  • Evidence of drug use, addiction or alcoholism by either parent
  • Evidence of emotional abuse or physical abuse toward the child
  • The child’s level of adjustment at school or in the community
  • The child’s relationship with others in the household
  • The stability of the home environment each parent can provide
  • Any special needs the child may have
  • Any cultural or religious considerations that are appropriate
  • The physical health of all the parties involved
  • The mental health of both parents
  • In some cases, the wishes of the child

Although this is, no doubt, a scary time for you and your children, experienced legal assistance can often calm your fears and help you understand your custody options. You may even feel empowered once you better understand how the process works.