About Shared and Joint Custody

When a couple with a child or children divorces in Massachusetts, one of the most important, and impactful in the long-term aspects of the proceedings is the determination of child custody. If one parent is incapable of providing adequate or equal care one former spouse may be awarded primary custody. However, the courts in Massachusetts generally look to the best interests of the child, and in most instances the determination in terms of custody is that shared or joint custody is in the best interests of the child. 

A divorce can be a stressful experience even if uncontested and without children. In our experience when assets and children are involved, working with an experienced local attorney is essential in maintaining your quality of life while mitigating much of the stress of the divorce proceeding. 

Types of Custody in Massachusetts

Prior to moving further into what variations of custody you and your ex-spouse will find most advantageous, it is helpful to consider the two main types of custody in our state: (1) physical custody and (2) legal custody. 

Physical Custody Pertains to the Child’s Residence 

The physical custody of a child is in reference to the place in which he or she will live. Physical custody can be one parent’s primary responsibility, making them the custodial parent, or physical custody for the child may be shared between the parents. Factors that are taken into account when determining the physical custody arrangement of the child include the stability of each parent and their capacity to care for the child, as well as proximity to education and the two residences of the parents. 

If a child will be spending undue time commuting between parents’ homes, or would be too inconveniently far from education, then the court may award one parent primary custody with the best interests of the child in mind. There is no absolute set formula that the court will employ in making this decision, if it has the power to do so. It is helpful for parents to come to an agreement that focuses on the best interests of the child to present to the court. Presenting the court with an agreed upon and reasonable resolution can increase the level of control you have over the outcome of divorce proceedings. 

Legal Custody Refers to Decision-Making Rights Concerning the Child’s Life

Legal custody of a child refers to the right of a parent to contribute to important decisions surrounding the child’s life and development. These decisions include the religion that the child is exposed to, if any, decisions concerning their education, as well as important healthcare decisions. Making sure that your legal custody rights align with your beliefs, preferences, and the best interests of your child is essential to support a positive and sustainable divorce decree. 

The ability to influence important decisions in your child’s life will be of varying importance to different individuals. This is merely a facet in the overall divorce proceeding, and physical custody arrangements often have the greatest influence given the proximity and time spent with and around your child. 

The Best Interests of the Child are the Primary Considerations 

The number one consideration taken into account by the court in determining child custody is the best interests of the child. With both the legal and physical custody aspects of the child in mind, following are the four different types of child custody arrangements in Massachusetts: 

Sole legal custody

In this custody arrangement, one parent has the exclusive right and responsibility to make major decisions concerning the child, particularly in relation to their medical care, religion, education, and emotional development and/or mental health care.

Shared legal custody 

In these setups, both parents are able to be involved in and have responsibility for major decisions concerning their child’s development, including those associated with their medical care, education, and their moral, emotional, and religious development and related instruction. 

Sole physical custody

When there is a sole physical custody situation, then the child lives with one parent for the majority of the time, while the other parent is provided with reasonable parenting time, although the amount of that depends upon what the court determines to be the best interests of the child. 

Shared physical custody 

Through this arrangement the child has frequent and regular contact with both parents, spending time living with each parent on an alternating schedule

Certain Factors Negatively Impact the Right to Custody 

For a child to have a safe and sustainable home environment with either parent, that parent must be capable of providing for the child financially, and they also must be capable of caring for the child. When a parent is incapable of providing adequate care, sole custody is more likely to be awarded to one parent over the other. In situations where there is a history of abuse, the capacity of the abuser to possess custody rights can be complicated, and the negotiation thereof is complex. 

Our Shared Custody Lawyers Can Help Co-Author Your Family’s Next Chapter 

Determining what your custody rights are, and what is in the best interests of your child or children, is an important facet of your divorce. For the benefit of our 35 plus years of experience in Massachusetts divorces, the experienced attorneys at O’Connor Family Law are standing by to review your claim through your initial consultation, so contact us online or give us a call during business hours at 774-703-3755 to learn how we can help.