Child Custody in Massachusetts

Child custody is one of the most emotional issues in a divorce or family law case. Similar to legal custody, Massachusetts law breaks physical custody into two categories. The first is sole physical custody. The second is shared physical custody.  For many going through a divorce or custody case, physical custody is the most important issue. Physical custody determines where the child is and when. The issue is subject to the judge’s broad discretion. So, a skilled lawyer must develop a thoughtful strategy. Like all issues in the case, the parties will either agree about physical custody or the judge will make a decision at trial. Either way, the parties must each develop a proposed physical custody plan, sometimes referred to as a parenting plan.

If the case goes to trial, the judge will review each party and/or lawyer’s proposal. Then, the judge will either adopt one of the proposals or develop a third option, often taking from each of the two proposals. Ultimately, either you will come to an agreement with the other parent or the court will make a determination. Regardless of how it happens, the determination should be based on the best interests of the child.  The natural issue then is that each parent tends to have a different, conflicting idea as to what is in the child’s best interest.

 

What’s Best for the Child?

During child custody cases, it is natural for the stress levels of each party to rise. Stress may be high because of a debate between the parties. Further, the testimony and evidence before the court, if necessary, may lead to increased tension. A parent’s feeling of what is best for a child is a very subjective thing. There may have been many instances of disagreement of what’s best for a child while the relationship was still intact. Now the debate goes on within the scope of what may be a contentious, emotional litigation.

child custodyOne of the most difficult challenges for professionals involved in a child custody dispute is that the parties have an incredibly deeper understanding of the details of the parenting of the child than the professionals or the judge ever will. Because professionals or the judge are involved in your case for only a short window, it’s simply not possible for them to have the same depth of understanding. It’s the lawyer’s job to boil down the facts to those the judge will consider in making his or her determination.  The best divorce lawyers focus clients on what’s most important on day one of the representation, setting forth a litigation and general strategy on how to maximize the likelihood of obtaining an optimal result.

 

What Matters in My Case?

While there are clear facts relevant to a child custody determination, such as who has historically cared for the child, the work schedules of each parent, and whether there has been any abuse, neglect, or abandonment, families are really very unique.  Unless you are a lawyer practicing law in the area of divorce and family law, you likely not aware of all the relevant issues.  I would encourage you to take steps beyond internet research and schedule a consultation with a competent divorce lawyer. Ideally, this step can be taken long before the divorce would need to be filed.  Sometimes that’s not possible, but speaking with an expert is always helpful, especially when it’s free.