Child Custody Basics

In Massachusetts, the general laws provide, "Upon a judgment for divorce, the court may make such judgment as it considers expedient relative to the care, custody and maintenance of the minor children of the parties and may determine with which of the parents the children or any of them shall remain."  G.L. c. 208 28.

The Probate and Family Court makes most custody decisions in Massachusetts.  Pursuant to G.L. c. 209A, however, the District Court and the Boston Municipal Court can make custody decisions where an abuse prevention order is sought.

 Legal Custody
Legal custody refers to the decisions a parent makes in the upbringing of a child.  Sole legal custody means one parent exercises the right and responsibility of determining the child's welfare with respect to medical care, education, emotional development, religious beliefs, and other major decisions with respect to the child's development.  Shared legal custody means both parents share the continued responsibility of caring for the child's development in these areas.

Physical Custody
The court determines physical custody to settle with whom the child will reside.  Generally, under sole physical custody, the child lives with one parent subject to reasonable visitation privileges by the other parent.  In some cases, however, the court determines that visitation would not be in the best interests of the child.  Shared physical custody means the child resides with each parent for certain periods of time, and both parents share the responsibilities of supervising the child.

Standard for Determining Custody in Massachusetts
In a custody dispute, Massachusetts courts consider what is in the best interests of the child when determining custody.  Two of the many  factors the court weighs in making this determination are whether a parent has been the primary caretaker and whether a parent has provided the child with a stable environment.

The court, however, has wide discretion with respect to the evidence it will hear in making this determination.  For example, in Lobel v. Lobel, the Massachusetts Appeals Court noted, "The decision of which parent will promote a child's best interests is a subject peculiarly within the discretion of the judge.  Discretion allows the judge when determining the best interests of children, to consider the widest range of permissible evidence, including the reports and testimony of a court appointed investigator or G.A.L., evidence of the history of the relationship between the child and each parent, evidence of each parent's present home environment and over-all fitness to further the child's best interests, and the judge's own impressions upon interviewing the child privately in chambers."  Loebel v. Loebel, 77 Mass.App.Ct. 740, 747 (2010).  

Given the wide discretion afforded the trial judge in a custody case, and the high stakes involved, what happens during the trial is key.

For an initial consultation regarding divorce, child custody, support or family law litigation, call The Law Office of Matthew E. Jones, LLC at Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston and  in Marlborough, Massachusetts.  With my knowledge and expertise, I will provide the skills and legal analysis you will need if your custody battle ends up in court.   

The Law Offices of Matthew E. Jones, LLC
(508) 395-0608
mej@mattjones-law.com 




 

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