How Child Custody Works in Massachusetts


Concerns about child custody are at the forefront for parents facing divorce. How will you share parenting time with your former spouse? Where will your children live?

Understanding the child custody process in Massachusetts may provide some peace of mind as you struggle with these uncertainties.

Types of child custody

Massachusetts recognizes four types of child custody arrangements:

  • Sole physical custody: Children mostly live with one parent and have substantial parenting time (visitation) with the other parent, unless the judge rules that visitation would not be in the child’s best interest
  • Shared physical custody: Children alternate between living with each parent
  • Shared legal custody: Both parents contribute to major decisions about the child’s upbringing, including medical care, education and religion
  • Sole legal custody: One parent has the legal power to make these decisions independently on behalf of the child

Factors in custody determinations

In Massachusetts, the court encourages divorcing spouses to create a child custody plan before their court hearing. The judge will ensure that these parenting plans are in the child’s best interest.

When parents are unable to agree on custody issues, the judge will make a custody ruling. In the absence of issues such as abuse, neglect or abandonment, the court gives equal weight to both parents and strives for an arrangement that best supports the child’s happiness and welfare, including regular contact with both parents.

Aspects of a shared parenting plan

Your parenting plan lays the groundwork for a successful co-parenting relationship. It should include a specific visitation or custody schedule depending on whether you agree on sole or shared physical custody. In some cases, parents opt to omit a schedule and agree on “reasonable visitation.” You should also indicate which parent is responsible for transporting the child at the beginning and end of visitation periods.

While it can be difficult to agree with your former spouse about these issues amidst a contentious divorce, you will have to collaborate as parents until your children become adults. Set the stage for a harmonious partnership by striving to create a fair custody plan that provides the support and love your children need during this time of transition.