Posted by Attorney Bruce Watson –
Divorce can be a stressful time. When children are involved, the experience can be even harder. Figuring out where the child or children will live often transitions into disagreements and arguments, particularly if both parents want sole custody of the children or if one parent feels like he or she is not getting fair visitation rights.
Massachusetts law concerning child custody and visitation is pretty clear-cut. First of all, if the parents were married, unless a judge has said otherwise, both parents temporarily share custody of the child until a permanent decision is made by the court. If the parents are unmarried, the mother has sole custody of the child unless a judge says otherwise. Permanent custody of the child can be broken up into four types of custody.
Sole legal custody– One parent has the right to make decisions about major issues such as where the child goes to school, what religious instructions the child receives, and when and how the child gets medical care.
Shared legal custody– Both parents are equally responsible to make decisions regarding things such as the above mentioned major issues in the child’s life.
Sole physical custody– The child lives with one parent although the other parent will have visitation unless the court determines visitation with that parent is not in the child’s best interest.
Shared physical custody– The child will live with both parents at different times. Although the child might not split time with parents 50/50, physical custody will be shared in such a way as to allow the child to have regular continued contact with both parents.
It is important to note that although one parent might be granted sole physical custody of the child, that does not mean that parent will also be granted sole legal custody of the child. Legal custody can be shared by both parents even when the child physically lives with only one parent.
Even when one parent is granted sole physical custody, most of the time, the other parent will have visitation rights. When parents communicate efficiently, they can create a schedule which allows for reasonable visitation between the child and the noncustodial parent. When this argument cannot be reached between the parents, a judge will make the decision. Visitation rights fall under one of three areas.
Unsupervised visitation– The parent has a right to visit with his or her children without a third-party being present. Depending upon the agreement, the child may stay with mom or dad overnight and even for multiple days at a time.
Supervised visitation– A third-party stays with the visiting parent during the visit and supervises to make sure the parent acts appropriately. The supervisor may stop the visit at any point if the child’s safety is in question. This generally happens when the parent has problems such, alcohol or drug abuse, which may put the child’s safety in question.
No visitation– Although this is rare, when it is in the best interest of the child to have no contact with one of the parents, the parent may not be given any visitation rights. Reasons for this might be if the child has been abused by the parent and could be traumatized by even seeing the parent in a supervised visitation situation.
No one custody case is going to turn out the same way. A judge will look at each case and decide what actions are in the best interest of the child or children. If you have questions about your child custody or visitation rights in Massachusetts, call our experienced family law attorneys for a consultation.