When you and your spouse have children together, the decision to divorce can become even more difficult. Understanding how child custody works in Massachusetts may give you the peace-of-mind you need to move forward with ending your marriage. 

Before filing for divorce, review the factors state courts use to determine a fair child custody arrangement. 

Physical vs. legal custody 

Massachusetts makes separate determinations for physical and legal custody. With shared physical custody, the child spends roughly equal time living with both parents. With sole physical custody, the child has a primary residence with one parent and typically has significant visitation with the other parent. Legal custody is the right of each parent to make important decisions for the child, such as where he or she will attend school and church. Like physical custody, legal custody can be sole or shared in Massachusetts. 

The custody process 

Before your divorce hearing, you and your spouse can work together to create a custody agreement that suits your family. This document, called a parenting plan, should outline a specific visitation or custody schedule. You can also simply allow for “reasonable visitation.” Parents should also indicate who will transport the child to and from visits with the other parent. 

You can present this plan to the judge for review and approval. When you cannot agree with your child’s other parent on a fair arrangement, the court will decide depending on factors that serve your child’s best interest. 

From the time of separation until the divorce becomes final, the parents must automatically abide by a temporary shared physical and legal custody order. While this order is in place, both you and your spouse have an equal right to time with your child. 

In general, Massachusetts presumes that shared physical custody and an ongoing relationship with both parents is best for the child. However, one parent may receive sole custody in the presence of neglectful, violent or abusive behavior by the other parent. Sometimes, the court will award supervised visitation in this situation.