What Is Legal And Physical Custody In Massachusetts?
Legal custody is the right to make important decisions about a child’s life. For instance, it is the right to make decisions on where they are going to go to school, who their doctor is going to be, and what medical treatments they are going to get. Physical custody is who they will actually live with.
What Is The Difference Between Sole Versus Joint Custody In Massachusetts?
In Massachusetts, there is a presumption of joint legal custody. Custody also depends on whether you’re talking about legal or physical custody. Joint custody means that parents have similar rights and similar decision-making rights. That’s a lot easier to accomplish with legal custody. With legal custody, the parent who’s not living with the child is allowed to have input on important decisions. Sole custody would mean that only one parent has the right to make those decisions. That’s uncommon for legal custody unless perhaps there’s wrongdoing or unavailability. By wrongdoing, it does not mean an affair. As much as an affair may upset you, that’s not the kind of thing the judge gives a lot of weight to. Wrongdoing would be something like child abuse or neglect.
In regard to physical custody, it is possible to have joint physical custody. An example of joint physical custody would be a situation in which the child lives with one parent for one week and the other one for one week. That was actually the arrangement my parents had when I was growing up, but it was only possible because my dad had a weird work schedule. Instead of working Monday-Friday, he would work 7 days on and then 7 days off. My brother and I went to live with him during his off-week, and lived with my mom during his work week. That’s an example of a schedule that would work with joint physical custody.
What Are The Factors The Court Looks At In Determining Custody Of A Child In Massachusetts?
When it comes to determining custody of a child, the court will always consider the best interest of the child. That can be anything the judge decides is relevant. For most couples, it’s going to be factors like who’s been the child’s primary caretaker in their life, who does the child have the stronger relationship with, and who’s in a better position to take care of the child in terms of work schedules that determines custody, if either parent has neglected or abused the child, and maybe the child can have an input as to where they want to live depending on their age and maturity. That becomes more relevant as the child gets older. The courts weigh their input more. If a parent has a history of child abuse or neglect, that’s certainly going to be relevant. If they have a criminal record, that’s also relevant. If they indicate something dangerous like having illegal guns in the home, that could be a factor. The judge has a lot of discretion. It’s sort of a common-sense – what does the judge think?
In An Uncontested Divorce, Can The Court Leave The Decision Of Custody Matters To The Parents To Decide?
In an uncontested divorce, parents can decide custody matters. Generally, any settlement of the divorce case has to be agreed to by the judge, but even if it is a contested divorce, if the parents agree and it is fair and reasonable, the judge is going to sign off on it. They do a short colloquy, which basically asks the parents if they actually signed the agreement and if they believe it’s fair and reasonable. It’s making sure that they weren’t coerced into it or that there’s no fraud going on. Even if the parents begrudgingly agree that it’s a fair agreement, the judge will accept it. In fact, that’s how most cases are resolved. Usually, it’s an agreement that neither one is happy with it, but they can live with it.
Is There Ever An Age Where The Child Or Children Will Have Input Into A Custody Decision?
To a certain extent, children always have an input on custody decisions, but they never get to absolutely decide. The judge has to make that decision, although as a practical matter the parents can usually make the decision if they agree. The standard is that the courts consider a child’s preference when the child is mature enough to have a rational opinion. There isn’t a hard standard of what age the child gets to have an opinion, but as they get older, their opinion will carry more weight. For a very young child, it won’t carry much weight, but for a 16- or 17-year-old, it’s going to carry a lot more weight.
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