In Massachusetts, several factors are used to determine child custody between two parents seeking divorce or between unmarried couples who cannot come to custody terms following separation. Massachusetts law recognizes four different types of custody:
• Sole legal custody
• Shared legal custody
• Sole physical custody
• Shared physical custody
In the first and third statuses, only one parent has the right and responsibility regarding the child’s welfare, including education, medical care, and emotional, moral and religious development. Shared custody allows both parents to make decisions. Physical custody status goes one step further by determining whether children will live with only one or spend time living with both parents in addition to determining who will be responsible for their welfare.
Prior to a final court ordered decree, state law provides that both parents retain legal and physical custody of children if the couple has been married. If parents were not married, the mother retains legal and physical custody until a court orders otherwise, even if the father recognizes paternity.
Massachusetts courts offer court-connected alternative dispute resolution where an impartial third party works with both parents to resolve custody issues in an attempt to avoid litigation. Conciliation is another court-connected resolution process that Massachusetts couples can utilize in conjunction with their attorneys to resolve custody issues instead of through litigation.
Ultimately, however, custody status is based on the best interests of the child or children involved. Factors considered when awarding custody include emotional ties and relationship with each parent, income and educational levels, child-rearing skills, character and temperament of both the mother and father and motives for seeking custody among others. Other factors such as illness of one parent or whether the mother or father is unfit for custody due to problems such as drug or alcohol abuse, may also come into play.
If you have questions regarding a child custody matter in Massachusetts, we encourage your to call our office and speak with an experienced family law attorney.