Divorce is a stressful time for almost all couples. When children are involved, the experience can be even more stressful. Figuring out where your child or children will live often transitions into disagreements and arguments, particularly if one or both parents want sole custody of the children or if one parent feels that he or she is not getting fair visitation rights (also known as parenting time).
Massachusetts law concerning child custody and visitation is not very complicated. First of all, if the parents were married, unless a judge has ordered otherwise, both parents temporarily share custody of the child until a permanent decision is made by the court. If the parents are unmarried, the mother has sole custody of the child unless a judge orders otherwise. Permanent custody of the child can be broken up into four types of custody.
Sole legal custody- One parent has the right to make decisions about major issues such as where the child goes to school, what religious instructions the child receives, and when and how the child gets medical care, including psychological counselling.
Shared legal custody- Both parents are equally responsible to make decisions regarding the above-stated major issues in the child’s life.
Sole physical custody- The child lives with one parent; although the other parent will have visitation unless the court determines visitation with that parent is not in the child’s best interest.
Shared physical custody- The child will live with both parents at different times. Although the child might not split time with parents 50/50, physical custody will be shared in such a way as to allow the child to have regular continued contact with both parents.
It is important to note that although one parent might be granted sole physical custody of the child, it does not mean that parent also will be granted sole legal custody of the child. Legal custody can be shared by both parents even when the child physically lives with only one parent.
Even when one parent is granted sole physical custody, in most cases the other parent will have visitation rights. When parents communicate efficiently, they can agree and create a schedule which allows for reasonable visitation between the child and the noncustodial parent. When such agreement cannot be reached between the parents, a judge will make the decision. Visitation rights can be categorized into three types.
Unsupervised visitation- The parent has a right to visit with his or her children without a third-party being present. Depending upon the agreement, the child may stay with Mom or Dad overnight and/or for multiple days at a time, according to a schedule.
Supervised visitation- A third-party stays with the visiting parent during the visit and supervises to make sure the parent acts appropriately. The supervisor may stop the visit at any point if the child’s safety or best interests are in question. This can happen when the parent has alcohol or drug abuse problems, is critical or disparaging of the other parent in the child’s presence or otherwise puts the child’s emotional health or physical safety in question.
No visitation- Although this is not common, when it is in the best interest of the child to have no contact with one of the parents, the parent may not be given any visitation rights. One big reason for that would be if the child has been physically or emotionally abused by the parent and could be traumatized by even seeing the parent in a supervised visitation situation.
No one custody case is going to turn out the same way. A judge will look at each case and decide what actions are in the best interest of the child or children. If you have questions about your child custody or visitation rights in Massachusetts, call our experienced family law attorneys for a consultation.