Child Custody in Massachusetts
Its Not Just About Where the Child Lives.
Stand Up for Your Rights While Keeping Your Child Out of the Cross-Fire.
• Though it is true that women are far more likely to be awarded custody, they are also far more likely to ask for it in the first place.
• Men who seek custody frequently get it if they are the primary caretakers, or at least, get a joint physical custody arrangement.
• Half of all American children will witness the breakup of a parent’s marriage of these children, close to half will also see the breakup of a parent’s second marriage.
•Children who are caught in the middle of a custody dispute are more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression and do poorly in school.
Custody…What is the Likely Outcome for Me?
When children are involved, one of the most important aspects to any divorce is the determination of child custody and support. Although every family is unique, many situations are similar and all must reconcile such questions as where and with whom the children will live? Who will make important decisions about their lives? How will their financial needs be met? What parenting time will they have with each of the two parents?
Hopefully, the parents can communicate, and with the assistance of counsel, weigh these questions together and try to reach the best possible arrangement for the children. If not, then the custody issue must be presented to the Court. Whether the matter must be determined by a Judge or not, both parents must constantly convey love and reassurance to their child during the process and make a conscientious effort to keep the children completely unexposed to any disagreements that they may be having.
TYPES OF CUSTODY
• Legal Custody
Legal custody has to do with who makes the major decisions about issues such as education, health, medical care, emotional development and religion. In most cases, divorcing parents share legal custody and both contribute to decisions concerning the minor children. In situations when one parent has sole legal custody it is usually the result of a complete inability of the parties to communicate effectively with each other on any level. However, it is important to note that even a parent with sole legal custody can’t take the children from Massachusetts permanently without the prior permission of the other parent or court. Physical custody refers to the time the child spends with each parent.
• Physical Custody
Generally, one of the parents is awarded sole physical custody of the children (judges will try to keep siblings together). This means that the children will live with the “custodial parent”, who is in charge of making day to day decisions concerning the child. The “noncustodial parent” is granted visiting rights, which might mean that the child spends several hours, weekends or some vacation time with that parent. Supervised visitation may be ordered if there is any concern over the child’s safety.
Less common, however gaining in popularity, is joint physical custody, in which children spend considerable periods of time, perhaps several weeks or months of each year, alternately with each parent. When both parents reside in the same town and want physical custody, a joint physical custody arrangement is an option.
Child custody laws in Massachusetts focus on the best interests of the child and who can best meet those intests. Thus, the Court seeks to provide the best and least disruptive living arrangements for the children of a divorce while considering the importance of a child’s continuing relationship with both parents. Contrary to popular belief, the law in Massachusetts does not grant preference to one parent over another based on gender.
Some important factors that will be weighed are:
• the child’s well being;adjustment to family, school, and community
• relationship with the parents
• history of abuse, drugs or abandonment
• which parent has been the primary care-giver
What If I’m Facing a Custody Battle?
In Massachusetts, the Court appoints a “Guardian Ad Litem,” (GAL) in hotly contested custody cases or cases where the facts are difficult to ascertain. A GAL is usually an attorney with family law experience or a mental health professional who is in charge of evaluating the child’s situation and making recommendations to the Court as to the best possible arrangement for the child. As part of the evaluation, a GAL will meet with each parent and observe their interaction with the child. In some situations a GAL may speak with other family members or third parties as part of their investigation. Be prepared to give your views on child discipline, and truthfully state your strong and weak points as a parent (and what you are doing to correct the latter).Be prepared also to answer specific questions about your role in your child’s life. Do you Cook for them? Help your children prepare for school or bed? Wash their clothes? Meet with teachers? Take them out? Where? What about doctor’s and dentist’s appointments? Do you go to their school and sports events? Plan their birthday parties? Know their friends? Read to them? Spend time with them? These are roles of the primary caregiver, and they carry a great deal of weight in the custody decision.Whatever the custody decision is, remember that you are both parents and will always have an impact in your child’s life. As such, your role, whether custodial or noncustodial, is to provide your children with unconditional love, support and reassurance throughout the divorce process. At Wright & Associates, we are committed to making sure that your rights as a parent are protected, the litigation goes as efficiently as possible and the child’s best interests are well-served.