posted by Eric Schutzbank
Divorce is rarely easy, and even less so when it comes to custody and parenting arrangements for children. In Massachusetts, the top priority of the courts is to determine if arrangements are “in the best interests of the children”, but that may not always be as straightforward as it seems. This is not the time to try and do it yourself. Instead, seek competent legal representation and hire an attorney who can ensure that you have a parenting plan that you are comfortable with and is able to meet the necessary legal requirements.
Massachusetts recognizes shared legal custody, sole legal custody, shared physical custody and sole physical custody. When a couple files for divorce, both parents are presumed to be granted temporary shared legal custody. This allows both parents to have equal responsibility (and rights) concerning major decisions like medical care, education and religious development. Legal custody does not cover the day-to-day decisions such as what to have for dinner or what time to go to bed. During what can be contentious times, differing ideas about the schooling or religious upbringing of children can surface. Having an attorney can ensure that these discussions and decisions remain on track and comply with the law.
In cases of where temporary shared legal custody may not be best for the child, such as in cases of abuse or neglect, the court has to consider “all relevant facts”. Lawyers can advocate for the best interests of your child by presenting evidence of past instances or patterns of abuse.
When it comes to parenting arrangements, most parents will need to establish a schedule. This is in everyone’s best interests as it can clearly define where the child will be on which days and which times. It often also details who is responsible for transportation for parenting exchanges or to and from school or other activities. Here too, a lawyer can help ensure the schedule is fair and expectations are reasonable for both parties.
In some instances, the court may agree to language that references “reasonable parenting time” where arrangements remain flexible and parents work them out among themselves. This requires an extraordinary amount of amicability and communication between parents though. If things go wrong, or one parent fails to hold up their end of the bargain, the lack of a fixed schedule to refer to can be more than frustrating, it can result in extra legal expenses and more time in Court.
Don’t leave matters of child custody and parenting time to chance. Hire a knowledgeable family law attorney to make sure your rights and responsibilities are clearly defined and protected.