- Sole legal custody,
- Sole physical custody,
- Joint legal custody, and
- Joint physical custody.
Legal custody, also called decision-making responsibility, has to do with who makes important decisions regarding the child. Decisions about the child’s:
- Physical and mental development,
- Medical treatment, and
- Religious upbringing.
Physical custody, also called residential responsibility, addresses the more day-to-day decisions in the child’s life such as:
- Where the child sleeps,
- Who gets the child ready for school, and
- Who feeds the child.
Sole physical and legal custody is rare. It usually happens when one parent is considered unfit. This can be due to reasons such as:
- Violence on the part of the parent,
- Substance abuse,
- The mental health of the parent,
- A serious criminal record, and
- Abuse of the child.
Such issues can give grounds for full custody.
Sometimes, a Guardian Ad-Litem (GAL) is appointed to help the judge decide child custody issues. The GAL is someone who investigates your particular custody situation and reports back to the court. The judge usually gives the GAL’s information a great deal of weight. Working well with your GAL is crucial to a positive outcome for you.
Sometimes when couples are having trouble deciding on child custody a mediator can help. A mediator is a third party that works with the two parents to try to come to an acceptable compromise. They will meet with each of you separately and together to discuss the situation and get your input. A mediator doesn’t make the decision for you. In this way, you maintain control over the outcome. If you don’t like what the mediator suggests, you don’t have to accept it.
The non-custodial parent is obligated to pay child support. The amount of child support is determined by the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines Worksheet. Several factors are used when determining the amount of child support. The judge may alter the amount slightly if the specific facts of your case warrant.
When the child lives primarily with one parent, the other parent is entitled to reasonable parenting time, also called visitation. A parenting schedule is important so everyone knows where the child will be. If you get along with your ex, a more flexible schedule can be created. If there is hostility between the two of you, a more specific schedule would be in order. A typical parenting schedule includes overnight visits every other weekend and one or two weeknight visits with the parent that does not have primary physical custody/residential responsibility.
Before any divorce filing, married parents automatically have shared physical and legal custody. Where parents were never married, the mother has sole physical and legal custody. A child born during the course of a marriage between a same-sex couple is deemed to be a child of the marriage. Both spouses are lawful parents even though only one spouse is biologically connected to the child.
It’s important that you consult with a Massachusetts child custody lawyer. They know what judges look for in child custody cases and can guide you through this difficult process.