Child Custody Laws in Massachusetts

Many tough decisions must be made after parents decide to separate or divorce, and the decisions having to do with the wellbeing of their child are the most important. Massachusetts child custody laws may differ slightly from those of other states, and having a knowledge of the laws in your state can impact the outcome of your arrangement. Before finalizing your custody arrangement or parenting plan, get to know Massachusetts child custody laws.

Custody arrangements recognized under Massachusetts child custody laws

Massachusetts recognizes both legal and physical custody, and these are granted on a sole or shared basis. Sole legal custody refers to one parent holding the right to make important decisions regarding the child's wellbeing. This includes matters such as education, medical care and religious practices. Shared legal custody refers to both parents having a collective responsibility to make these decisions for their child. While legal custody deals with major decision making for a child, physical custody has more to do with the child's daily routine and care. Sole physical custody refers to a child living full-time with one parent, and that parent is responsible for the child's daily care and supervision. Joint physical custody refers to the child living with both parents for certain periods of time, and therefore, parents share the responsibility of the child's daily care and supervision. 

How marital status can affect a case under Massachusetts child custody laws 

In Massachusetts, whether a child was born to never-married or married parents will influence how a court will view a case. In a never-married parenting situation, the child's mother is granted legal and physical custody right away even if the father's paternity has been formally recognized. A Probate and Family Court may order otherwise, and if so, the case will be evaluated. The court will examen factors such as where the child has lived during the six months prior to the court case, how well the child has bonded with each parent, and whether each parent has been consistently putting the child's best interests in the forefront of decision making. The court will grant joint custody to never-married parents if it has found that each parent has fully met their parental responsibilities, and that they plan to maintain communication regarding the child and the child's best interests. 

In a situation where once married parents are separating or getting divorced, Massachusetts child custody laws call for parents to automatically be granted shared legal and physical custody, unless the court makes written findings that shared custody is not in the best interests of the child. A child's best interests will be determined by looking at several factors such as whether or not the parents are able to communicate well and settle on decisions concerning their child, if there is a history of substance abuse by either parent, and more. If a court finds that it is out of the best interests of the child to be under shared legal and/or physical custody, then one parent will be granted legal and/or physical custody. The non-custodial parent has the right to rebuttal this ruling. 

Once the final child custody arrangement has been determined, co-parents will want to find a method of communication in order to stay up-to-date on the parenting time schedule and events for the child, share vital information that is important to their child's wellbeing, and more. The OurFamilyWizard webiste offers an array of tools that allow parents to stay connected on all of the important matters regarding their family. A shared parenting time calendar, secure family information bank, and parenting expense tracking tools are just a few of the features on the OurFamilyWizard website that to help keep families connected.

This information is not to be considered legal advice. For more information about how Massachusetts courts view factors and how custody is determined, please refer to your attorney. The OurFamilyWizard website is dedicated to provided resources for co-parents in order to make managing their custody agreement easier. Review our Massachusetts resources page for family law resources in your area. For more about how the tools offered by the OurFamilyWizard website can help your family communicate and manage your parenting plan, check out our features page.


NOTE: Many state and federal laws use terms like ‘custody’ when referring to arrangements regarding parenting time and decision-making for a child. While this has been the case for many years, these are not the only terms currently used to refer to these topics.

Today, many family law practitioners and even laws within certain states use terms such as ‘parenting arrangements’ or ‘parenting responsibility,’ among others, when referring to matters surrounding legal and physical child custody. You will find these terms as well as custody used on the OurFamilyWizard website.