When a couple decides they can no longer be in a relationship, whether they are married or not, having to untangle the life they have built together can be a long and difficult process. This process is only compounded when there is a child or multiple children that the couple share, and the two individuals need to determine how custody of the child or children should be handled. Each state has its own way of handling child custody issues, but generally it always makes decisions in the child’s best interest.
Parenting Plans and Child Custody in Massachusetts
Many child psychologists agree that having both parents involved in children’s lives is an important part of their emotional and mental upbringing. Since this is the case, Massachusetts family court often allows the parents to come up with a parenting plan on their own if they can agree to a permanent custody arrangement. Once this plan has been created, it is reviewed by the judge and, unless it is contrary to the child’s best interest, it will be adopted as legally binding.
Should either of the parents seek permanent joint physical or legal custody and the other parent does not agree to it, each parent needs to present their own parenting plan to the family court system. The plans that are submitted must contain both a residential and visitation schedule for the child, which also includes a vacation and holiday schedule, as well as how the proposed plan will be implemented and how the parents will handle making decisions about the child’s upbringing.
Based on the parenting plans that are submitted by both parents, the family court judge has the option to either adopt one of the plans, deny both plans or create a combined plan based on the needs and desires of the parents. Again, the most important aspect of custody cases in the state of Massachusetts is the well-being of the child, so whatever decision is made by the judge will be based on the living situation that is best for the child affected by the decision.
What Determines “Best Interests of the Child” in Massachusetts
When the family court judge needs to make a decision regarding child custody, he or she will use the best interests of the child involved to help guide the decision. Generally, this means that any decisions about child custody are based on the needs of the children at the center of the case. Additionally, when making his or her evaluation, it is important to keep in mind that the judge will not view either parent as having more of a right to custody than the other parent.
Under Massachusetts law, there is no set list of standards that the judge must adhere to when determining the best interests of the child, which means there is a great deal of discretion when it comes to making his or her decision. The law does, however, outline that the child’s well-being and happiness should be held to the highest standards and that the judge must take any adverse effects to the child’s welfare into account when making a final custody decision.
Custody and Visitation Options in Massachusetts
There are two types of custody that come into question when making a child custody decision in the state of Massachusetts. First, physical custody refers to the amount of time the child spends residing with and under the care of one of the parents. Legal custody refers to the parents’ rights and authority to make important decisions about the child’s upbringing, including important medical, education and social decisions that could have a major impact on the children involved.
Joint physical custody is an option for Massachusetts family court judges, but this does not always mean that the parents will share time with their children in a 50/50 manner – one parent may have more time having custody of the child based on how the custody agreement is laid out to work with the parents’ and child’s overall schedules. In some cases, temporary joint custody of the child will be granted during the beginning of proceedings unless there is evidence that spending time with one of the parents would not be in the child’s best interests.
Although temporary joint custody is awarded at the beginning of the proceedings, it is important to keep in mind that Massachusetts has no preference for joint custody over sole custody or vice versa. All child custody cases are taken on an individual basis and evaluated on their own, without any presumptions. With that being said, there is a presumption against awarding any type of custody to a parent who has been proven to be abusive to either the other parent, the children, or other family members.
Child Custody Modification in Massachusetts
In some cases, there is a need for modifications to a set custody arrangement to be made. When both parents agree to the proposed modification, it is generally very easy to have the judge approve the change as long as it is in the best interest of the child involved. Should one parent request a modification and the other parent not agree, the judge needs to make the decision as to whether or not the modification to the child custody agreement is sufficient enough to be approved.
The parent making the modification request is tasked with proving why the change is needed. Often times they need to prove to the judge that the modification is needed in order to maintain a proper upbringing for the children involved and possible improve on their current situation. Often times, modifications are requested due to a change in circumstances, such as the parent having a new job or the child having a new school schedule and the like.
Child Custody and Relocation in Massachusetts
Relocation requests are often hard for judges to determine, especially since these requests occur when one parent has custody of the children and the other parent has visitation. Again, the parent making the request carries the burden of proof in order to have the relocation approved, especially if the other parent is trying to bar the request. Some of the factors that the judge will use when determining a relocation judgement in a custody case will include, but are not limited to:
- Why the request for relocation is being made
- What benefits the children will see from the relocation, such as
- Better job opportunities for the parent
- Better educational opportunities for the child or children
- Better living environment for the child or children
- Closer proximity to family members who are important in the children’s lives
- Why the other parent is protesting the requested relocation
- The ages and genders of the children who will be moved/affected by the relocation
- The dynamics of the relationship between the children and both of the parents
- What alternative communication methods are available for the non-custodial parent to use to keep in touch with the children and the cost of these alternatives
- What the custodial parent’s plan is to have the children be able to visit with the non-custodial parent regularly