How is Child Custody Determined in Massachusetts?

Every issue decided during divorce proceedings can impact your life, but child custody ranks among the most important.

The court’s custody decisions will be based on the unique circumstances of your family. Below, we discuss the critical factors Massachusetts courts typically consider when determining physical and legal custody of a child. 

Legal custody is the right to make decisions about the child’s education and other aspects of upbringing. Physical custody refers to the child’s living arrangements. Both types of custody may be shared between parents or held solely by one parent.

“Best Interest of the Child” Standard

In Massachusetts, courts consider what is “in the best interest of the child” when making decisions about custody and parenting time. While this may sound straightforward, it can be quite complicated because the “best interest of the child” standard can be open to broad interpretation.

The court is not simply tasked with assessing which party will be the most suitable parent. The judge must focus on the impact on the child and attempt to create the best outcome for the child. This is why every child custody case is completely unique.

Parents’ Rights with Regard to Custody

According to Massachusetts law, both parents have equal rights unless certain types of misconduct are alleged. For that reason, most custody arrangements will provide each parent with a fair amount of access to the child, whether through custody or visitation, which is known as “parenting time.” 

Judges may assign primary physical custody to one parent and secondary physical custody to the other. Legal custody is often shared. While the judge may grant one parent sole custody over both legal and physical matters, this usually occurs only if a judge has exceptional concerns about the other parent.

Courts Closely Consider the Needs of the Child

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has made every effort to put children first in divorce proceedings, and courts will strongly consider many factors related to the child’s needs when assigning custody. 

When assessing a child’s needs, the court will review details such as:

  • The child’s daily routine
  • Community ties (sports, church, clubs, etc.)
  • School schedule
  • Mental or physical health concerns
  • Half-siblings or extended family
  • The child’s preference (depending on age)

As you can see, many of those factors are closely connected with the child’s physical location. This is of particular concern if one parent plans to relocate after the divorce. 

While the child’s needs will strongly influence the judge’s decision, they are not the only considerations.

Additional Factors Used to Determine Child Custody in Massachusetts

In determining what is in the best interest of the child, the judge will also assess each parent’s ability to provide. Of course, if a parent has a history of abuse, neglect, or drug use, that can weigh heavily in the consideration. Additionally, the court will analyze each parent’s:

  • History of caring for the child
  • Work schedule and job demands
  • Physical and mental health
  • Home environment and financial standing
  • Demeanor towards the former spouse and other family members

An experienced child custody attorney could help demonstrate that these and other factors weigh in their client’s favor. When a parent can show how they will provide the child with a positive home environment while minimizing disruptions to the child’s daily life in the days following a divorce, they increase the chances of gaining the court’s acceptance of the desired custody arrangements. 

Expert Child Custody Attorneys in Salem, MA

If you are struggling with child custody concerns in Massachusetts, an experienced Massachusetts child custody attorney at Koiles Pratt Family Law Group could fight for your rights and help you reach your goals. To get started with a fully confidential consultation, contact us or call us at 978-744-7774.

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