Parents typically share responsibility for their children. Some expectant parents negotiate detailed arrangements with each other when they find out they will soon have a baby, and many others fall into a natural routine that involves shared responsibility for their children.
However, not all Massachusetts parents stay together until their children become legal adults. Some divorce, and others who never married may start living separately. Parents will then need to work out (or litigate) a way to share custody of their children. There are four standard custody types acknowledged by the Massachusetts family courts.
Joint physical custody
When parents share physical custody, they are both empowered to exercise authority over their child’s everyday living situation. For many households, joint physical custody is the go-to standard, as judges tend to assume that parents sharing broad responsibility for their children will be what is best for them.
Sole physical custody
While it is not as common as joint physical custody, a judge can decide that they believe it would be best if only one of a child’s parents should be empowered with the authority to make decisions concerning their child’s everyday living situation. The child’s other parent may still be granted extensive parenting time, they just will not have the same legal authority to make certain decisions that the child’s other parent will.
Joint legal custody
Parents need to make important decisions that influence their children’s most basic needs. It is common for judges to expect parents to cooperate about important decisions for their children, including the religion they will observe, the healthcare they will receive and the education that they will obtain.
Sole legal custody
Occasionally, a judge will determine that one parent may not make the best choices on behalf of the children and could seek to limit their input. Granting one parent sole legal custody is an option if there have been disputes between the parents about religion, education or health care that have forced the family to return to court to clarify custody matters.
Those who are hoping to secure sole physical or legal custody typically need supporting documentation if they want to convince a judge that limiting the other parent’s access to and control over the children would be in their best interests. For most parents, accepting the likelihood of shared legal and physical custody can help them adjust to the reality of co-parenting after a divorce or separation in Massachusetts.