What Are My Rights As a Father or Mother In Divorce and Child Custody Cases in Massachusetts?

The end of a relationship can be a confusing and overwhelming time, especially when children are involved.  One of parents’ biggest concerns is understanding their rights regarding child custody and parenting time. 

In Massachusetts, the law prioritizes the “best interests of the child” in all custody decisions.  Whether you are a father or a mother, this blog post will give you a general overview of your parental rights in a Massachusetts divorce or child custody case.

Types of Custody Arrangements in Massachusetts

Custody can be a bit confusing because Massachusetts recognizes two types of custody along with two types of custody arrangements. Legal custody involves making decisions about a child’s upbringing, while physical custody focuses on the child’s living arrangements. 

  • Sole legal custody: In rare cases, one parent may be awarded sole legal custody, which gives them the legal right to make all major decisions about the child’s upbringing, including healthcare, education, and religion. 
  • Shared legal custody: This is more common, and it allows both parents an equal voice in decisions that affect the child’s life.
  • Sole physical custody: When one parent has sole physical custody, the child spends the majority of time living with that parent and the other parent usually has visitation rights, referred to as parenting time.  
  • Shared physical custody: In a shared physical custody arrangement, the child alternates staying with each parent for a period of time. 

It is possible for parents to share legal custody but for one parent to be granted sole physical custody to maintain stability in a child’s life. 

Factors Considered in Determining Custody

Massachusetts courts use a number of factors to determine what custody arrangement is best for the child. These factors include:

  • The child’s age and development: The court will consider the child’s needs at different stages of life. For example, a very young child may benefit from spending more time with the primary caregiver, while an older child might thrive in a more balanced arrangement.
  • The relationship between the child and each parent: The court will assess the child’s emotional ties to each parent. They will consider how much time the child spends with each parent, how comfortable the child feels with each parent, and the quality of the parent-child relationships.
  • Parenting ability: The court will evaluate each parent’s ability to provide a safe and nurturing environment for the child, including factors like stability, lifestyle, discipline, and ability to meet the child’s physical and emotional needs.
  • The history of domestic violence: If there is a history of domestic violence, the court will prioritize the child’s safety. A parent with a history of violence may not be allowed to have unsupervised visits with the child or could be denied parenting time altogether.
  • The wishes of the parents: The court will consider the parents’ custody preferences, but these are not the deciding factor. Unreasonable demands or attempts to use the child as a bargaining chip will not be looked upon favorably.
  • The child’s wishes: The court may consider the child’s preferences, particularly if the child is mature enough to express their opinion in a thoughtful way. The court will consider the child’s age and reasoning ability when weighing their wishes.

Protecting Your Parental Rights

If you are facing a divorce or child custody case, it’s important to understand your rights and take steps to protect your interests. Here are some things you can do:

  • Gather information: Document your involvement in your child’s life. Collect things like school records, pictures of you participating in activities with your child, receipts for childcare expenses, and documentation of doctor appointments you’ve attended. This can help establish your role as a parent and caregiver.
  • Seek legal counsel: An experienced Massachusetts family law attorney can advise you of your rights, advocate for your interests in court, and help you develop a parenting plan that prioritizes your child’s well-being. 
  • Focus on communication: Even during a difficult divorce, try to maintain civil communication with your co-parent. This will benefit your child and make the custody process smoother. If communication is difficult, consider mediation or counseling to help you establish a more productive working relationship.

Developing a Parenting Plan

Massachusetts courts encourage parents to develop a parenting plan that outlines the specifics of custody and parenting time.  A well-crafted parenting plan can help reduce conflict and ensure both parents are actively involved in their child’s life.  Here are some key elements of a parenting plan:

  • Physical custody schedule: This will outline how much time the child will spend with each parent. The schedule can be very detailed or more flexible depending on the ages and needs of the child and the parents’ work schedules.
  • Decision-making authority: The plan will specify how major decisions regarding the child’s upbringing will be made. Will parents have joint legal custody and share decisions, or will one parent have primary decision-making authority?
  • Communication guidelines: The plan can establish clear communication protocols to help parents avoid misunderstandings and disagreements. This might include preferred methods of communication, response times, and how to handle disagreements.
  • Holiday and vacation schedule: The plan should outline how holidays and vacations will be handled. This can be a complex issue, so it’s important to be as specific as possible to avoid future conflicts. The plan might include alternating holidays and vacations year-to-year or dividing specific holidays based on family traditions.
  • Travel with the child: If one parent wants to travel with the child outside of their designated parenting time, the plan can specify how permission will be obtained and address any concerns about out-of-state travel.

We’re Here to Help

The Reade Law Firm, PC understands the challenges parents face when they live apart. We are dedicated to helping Massachusetts parents protect their rights and reach fair custody agreements that prioritize the best interests of their children.  We’ll work closely with you to understand your goals, develop a parenting plan that reflects your family’s unique needs, and advocate for your interests in court if necessary.

Contact us online or call us at (978) 767-8383 to schedule a confidential consultation. We’re here to help you move forward and build a positive future for your family.