Courts in Massachusetts generally presume the happiness and welfare of children is best preserved when they maintain a relationship with both parents. However, that does not mean courts favor joint custody arrangements. In fact, Mass. Gen. Law ch. 208, §31 specifically states that there is no presumption in favor of shared custody.
If you know that your former partner is not in a position to provide safe and appropriate custody arrangements for your child, then you should talk to your divorce attorney about seeking sole custody.
What is Sole Custody?
Massachusetts law recognizes two types of custody–legal custody and
physical custody. Sole custody refers to a situation where one parent holds custody on their own (as opposed to joint or shared custody where both parents share the rights and obligations of custody.)
- Sole legal custody allows one parent to make decisions on behalf of the child pertaining to all aspects of the child’s life like religion, education, and medical choices.
- Sole physical custody permits the child to live primarily with one parent, usually having visitation with the other.
Courts in Massachusetts strive to find solutions that are in the best interests of the child. Although judges are not supposed to favor joint legal custody and physical custody, in many cases they appear to do just that. Often a parent in Massachusetts must be deemed unfit for the other parent to win sole custody.
Parental Fitness in Massachusetts
The state of Massachusetts considers multiple factors in determining parent fitness; some of these metrics are described in Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 210, §3(c).
When a parent fails to fulfill their basic parental responsibility, they may be deemed unfit, and this can enable the other parent to obtain sole custody.
Here are a few ways that parents can gain sole custody in Massachusetts:
- The other parent has demonstrated a history of physical abuse
Domestic violence is harmful to all involved parties and detrimental to a family unit. If one parent has caused bodily injury to another family member or threatened imminent harm, they could be deemed unfit, and the other parent could get sole custody.
- The other parent has a history of substance abuse
The abuse of alcohol or drugs prohibits a parent from providing a safe environment for their child. A history of substance abuse could adversely impact that individual’s ability to parent. As a result, the other parent could receive sole custody.
- The other parent has neglected their childcare responsibilities
When a parent willingly neglects their responsibilities and financial obligations pertaining to their child, a court may opt to remove custody. A parent who fails to provide adequate care for their child or pay required child support could be deemed unfit. In such an instance, the other parent would likely receive sole custody.
- The mental health of the other parent prevents them from caring for the child
If one parent’s mental health issues prevent them from effectively parenting, their parental rights may be in jeopardy because they could be deemed unfit. The other parent could receive sole custody, although if the parent receives treatment for mental illness, they could later petition the court for a change in custody.
Contact a Massachusetts Attorney to Explore Your Options
If you want sole custody and need to know your rights as a parent, talk to an experienced family law attorney at Koiles Pratt Family Law Group. Our attorneys can help you promote the best interest of your children in accordance with Massachusetts state law.