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Child Custody in Massachusetts

Familiarize Yourself with Child Custody Laws in Massachusetts


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Massachusetts uses several criteria to determine child custody. A Massachusetts family court will award custody to a father, a mother or to both parents. Parents who wish to file for child custody in Massachusetts should first become familiar with the custody statutes in this state.

Related: Help our readers by sharing your experience with child custody in Massachusetts.

Sole and Joint Custody for Children Born out of Wedlock

If a Massachusetts family court awards sole custody to an unmarried parent, the court will consider the following factors:

  • Maintaining the relationship between the child and the primary caretaker
  • Where and with whom the child has resided in the previous six months leading up to the custody case
  • Whether one or both parents have an established personal and parental relationship with the child
  • Whether one or both parents have exercised parental responsibility in the best interests of the child

A Massachusetts family court will only award joint custody to parents of children born out of wedlock if:

  • The parents have successfully exercised joint responsibility for the child, and
  • The parents can communicate and plan with each other concerning the child's best interests

Sole and Joint Custody for Children of Divorced Parents

When parents divorce, a Massachusetts family court prefers an award of joint custody of a child, absent any wrongdoing on the part of the parents. A Massachusetts court will make a custody determination based on the child's happiness. A child's happiness is determined by whether the child's current living conditions affect the child's emotional, mental or physical well-being.

Contested Custody Cases

If parents contest child custody in Massachusetts, and one parent seeks shared legal or physical custody, that parent must submit a parenting plan to the family court. The parenting plan should include information on how custody will be shared in the following manner:

  • The child's education
  • The child's health care
  • Procedures for resolving disputes between the parents
  • Periods of time when each parent will have the child visit or live with him/her including vacations and holidays

A court may either order shared custody or reject the child custody plan and award sole legal and physical custody award to either parent.

For more information about child custody in Massachusetts, please contact a qualified attorney in Massachusetts or refer to the Massachusetts Domestic Relations statute.

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