In Massachusetts, when a parent separates their partner, they may not agree about how they will handle the various circumstances that arise when raising their child. Because of this, either party (or both) parties may ask a Massachusetts judge to write an order asking for custody, which a judge may accept, reject, or modify. It’s important that any parent going through this process understands the parental rights of a custodial versus non-custodial parent.
Let’s say that a father lived and worked in Andover, Massachusetts. A mother and her new husband decided to move from Andover to Rhode Island. The mother had been awarded sole physical custody of their child, Corey. The father, therefore, is a non-custodial parent. He wants to know if he has any rights to his child. He is upset that his visitation will be changed if the mother and her new husband move to Rhode Island, especially because the new move means that he will be over 50 miles away from his son.
In Massachusetts, there are four different types of child custody arrangements. Parents can make their own arrangements, and the judge will determine if the agreement that the parents craft is in the best interest of the child or children.
The first type of custody is “sole legal custody.” This form of child custody gives one parent the right and responsibility to make major decisions about the child, including decisions about education, medical care, religion, and emotional needs. Another type of child custody is “shared legal custody,” meaning that both parents are involved in and responsible for the major decisions about the child. A third form of custody is “sole physical custody,” which means that a child lives with one parent and is subject to reasonable parenting time by the other parent, unless the Massachusetts family court judges decide that parenting time between the child and the parent would not be in the best interest of the child. Parenting time is a form of visitation. The parent with parenting time does not have physical custody of the child. The final form of child custody is “shared physical custody.” This type of child custody gives the child periods of living with each parent, so that the child has frequent and continuous contact with both parents.
Judges in the Commonwealth determine what is in the best interest of the child when they make decisions about custody or parenting time. The court will evaluate: the child’s well-being; how the child is doing in school and in the community; the child’s relationship with the parents and other members of the family; the parents’ history of abuse, drug use, or abandonment; whether one parent has been a primary caregiver in the past; and the child’s preference, depending on the age and maturity of the child.
Applying the laws to the facts above, the father may argue that his son’s move to Rhode Island would be burdensome on him and his rights to parental visitation as the non-custodial parent. Massachusetts courts recognize the adverse effect of the elimination or curtailment of the child’s association with the non-custodial parent. However, the court would likely still hold that the father’s right to see his son with an “alternative visitation arrangement” would not be affected. This is especially true if the parent’s schedule is suitable for the change.
Courts in Massachusetts make decisions such as these based upon the best interest of the child. For Corey mentioned above, the court might believe that his education opportunities and stability opportunities would be expanded with the move. The father’s reasonable parenting time would not need to change, but would only need to adapt in some way.
Parents with sole physical custody have the right to have the child at home with the parent. However, the other parent has the right to parenting time, so long as this parenting time benefits the child as well. If both parents as described above had shared physical custody, then a court may hold that such a move would be detrimental to Corey.
If you have any questions about issues involved in family law, child law, child custody law, or other issues, you should contact a competent family law attorney licensed to practice law in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Our experienced professionals may be able to work on behalf of you. Please contact our offices at your earliest convenience by phone at (866) 995-6663 or complete a contact form on our website. We will return your inquiry with prompt attention.