The Massachusetts Probate and Family Courts have wide discretion in making child custody orders and thus the results are not predictable with any level of certainty. The courts are guided by a child’s best interest in making an initial custody order. Courts make orders relative to physical custody and legal custody. The parties are encouraged to reach agreements between themselves without court intervention.
Physical and Legal Custody
Custody orders are divided into two types: physical custody and legal custody.
Physical custody addresses the time share that each parent is awarded with a child. A physical custody order generally details exactly when a child will be in the physical custody of each parent. This time may be referred to as “parenting time,” “visitation” or “periods of physical custody.” The parties may agree to an order that defines the custodial time of the non-custodial parent as “reasonable.” Non-specific (reasonable) orders often lead to future conflict or litigation. Physical custody orders may be labeled “sole physical custody” or “joint physical custody.” The label “sole” or “joint” does not determine the percentage of timesharing. A “sole physical custody” order generally means that one parent has significantly more custodial time than the other parent.
Legal custody addresses a parent’s authority to make decisions relative to a child’s health, education and welfare. A parent with “sole legal custody” has the right to make decisions in these areas. “Joint legal custody” is the term used when both parents have the right and responsibility to make decisions relating to these areas. Parents are generally awarded “joint legal custody.”
|Physical Custody||=||Time Sharing|
|Legal Custody||=||Decision Making|
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