Child Custody Lawyer Fall RiverLegal Matters Regarding Your Child Custody Cases
Massachusetts law distinguishes between two types of child custody: physical and legal. Legal custody is the right to participate in the major decisions that need to be made in a child’s life such as health care, education and religious development. Physical custody is the time that is spent in the home of a parent and under their care. In rare cases a court will award sole legal custody to one parent, but the norm is “joint” or “shared” legal custody with both parents making decisions. In most cases one parent has primary physical custody, with the children residing that parent most of the time, but shared physical custody is becoming more common. Shared physical custody doesn’t mean that it must be exactly 50/50 and the court is likely to approve of any arrangement they believe meets the family’s needs.
The Best Interests Of The Child
If you and your spouse can’t come to an agreement about child custody, the court will make a decision based on the best interests of the child. The judge will consider the following factors when making this decision:
- The ability of each parent to provide for the needs of the child such as food, clothing, shelter and other necessities;
- The child’s school record;
- The child’s relationship with the parent;
- Whether a parent has a history of child neglect or domestic abuse;
- The ability and willingness of a parent to foster a quality relationship with the child’s other parent;
- The moral fitness of each parent;
- The parent’s physical health;
- Mental health issues of a parent that may impede their ability to parent appropriately;
- And other factors that a judge believes is relevant to what’s in the best interest of the child.
Parenting Time and Visitation
Most of the time, it’s in the child’s best interest to have as strong a relationship as possible with both parents. This means that even if the court awards sole custody to one parent, the goal remains to create a parenting time schedule that maximizes the amount of time the child spends with the other parent. The court will approve any reasonable schedule that suits the family, but the most common scenario is alternating weekend overnights, a mid-week dinner, split school breaks, alternating holidays and shared summer vacations. A parenting time schedule mandates the minimum amount of time that the non-custodial parent is provided, but it is generally OK to provide extra time. It is also customary for non-custodial parents to attend school plays, have access to medical and school records and to participate with children in extracurricular activities such as athletics and sports. In cases where a parent has been found to be abusive, the court may order that this parent’s time be supervised by another responsible adult and/or that the parent attend treatment drug/alcohol treatment, anger management classes or a parenting skills program. An experienced Massachusetts family court attorney can help you develop a plan that works well for your family.
Modifying A Custody Or Parenting Time Order
You can request that the court modify a custody order if you can show that there’s been a material and substantial change in circumstances since the last order and that a modification is in the best interest of the child. For example, if you’re a custodial parent that was living two hours away from your children when the parenting order was made, but now live just minutes away, it’s likely a judge would agree to increase your parenting time.
If you believe that sole custody would be best for your children due to your spouse’s history of abuse/neglect of the children or problems with drugs and/or alcohol you will need to request this from the court if the other parent won’t agree. In order to be successful, you must present evidence to back up your claims that will convince the court. It’s important to consider this action carefully to make sure that your goal is in the best interests of the children rather than due to anger at your spouse for cheating or other indiscretions by your spouse during the marriage. Custody trials are emotionally taxing and can negatively impact children. They are a last resort for spouses that cannot resolve these issues.