Child custody in Massachusetts is an important and complicated issue for divorcing parents and, also, for unmarried parents. There are many sources giving advice for parents how to decrease the potentially negative effects of divorce or parental separation on children. The fact remains, however, and statistical data shows that, unfortunately, divorce or parental litigation negatively impacts many children.
The Types of Custody in Massachusetts
There are two types of child custody in Massachusetts: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody refers to the decision-making relevant to the major decisions in the child’s life, such as education, medical care and religious upbringing. Physical custody refers to where the child actually resides (as opposed to visiting). As set forth in Massachusetts General Laws, c. 208, §31, the statutory definitions of different types of custody are as follows:
- “Sole Legal Custody” refers to custodial arrangement where one parent has sole responsibility to make major decisions regarding the child’s welfare including matters of education, medical care and emotional, moral and religious development.
- “Shared Legal Custody” indicates that both parents have continued mutual responsibility and involvement in major decisions regarding the child’s welfare including matters of education, medical care and emotional, moral and religious development. All such decisions must be made jointly.
- “Sole Physical Custody” reflects an arrangement where a child resides primarily (or – sometimes – exclusively) with one parent, subject to reasonable parenting time with the other parent, unless the court determines that such visitation would not be in the best interest of the child.
- “Shared Physical Custody” is a parenting arrangement when a child is residing on equal, or approximately equal, basis with each of his or her parents; provided, however, that physical custody is shared by the parents in such a way as to assure the child’s frequent and continued contact with both of them.
Important Things to Remember If Custody of Becomes an Issue
- If the parents are married to one another, both legal and physical custody is considered shared until and unless a court orders otherwise.
- Children Hear and See Everything You Do. They mimic you. Set a Good Example for Them. It is important to remember that, even during the times when emotions are running high, such as divorce or separation, you must – “must”, not “may” – set a good example for your children. Do not use bad language or disrespect the other parent; do not “let the steam out” in front of them, even to another person, even if you think they cannot hear you (they can!); do not blame the other parent – no matter how much he/she is to blame; anyone around you to do any of the above either – not your parents and not your friends. By doing any of it or allowing another person to, you let your children know that you hate part of them, which is the other parent; you are reducing their self-worth and confidence; you are damaging them for life; you are damaging their relationships for life – including those with you and the other parent. There is plethora of scientific studies (and – common sense) that will tell you so.
- Separating or Divorcing Each Other, but Parents Forever. You may be divorcing your spouse or separating from your partner, but you two are bound forever as parents of your children. The sooner both of you realize it, the better it will be for you and – most importantly – for your children. Continuously remind yourself that you and the other parent will have to attend the same birthdays, graduations, weddings, religious celebrations, and (regardless how much you hate that idea right now) have the same grandchildren! You pick each other to be the parents of your children and it is now your responsibility to be the best parents you can be – because that’s what your kids deserve!
- Encourage (Yes – Encourage!) and Foster the Relationship with the Other Parent. As a parent, it is your responsibility to foster and nourish the children’s love and respect for the other parent. During these difficult and emotional times, you should be able to ensure them that – no matter what happens – you both will be there for them in happiness, in sadness, in the time of joy and in the time of need.
- Shared Custody May Be the Answer. There have been scientific studies that support that the children who are in the shared custody arrangements fare better overall than their counterparts in a sole custody arrangements.
Resources for Child Custody in Massachusetts
Is Divorce Bad for Children?
The Top 5 Mistakes Divorced Parents Make
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