Massachusetts Parenting Plans and Custody Agreements
This article covers custody agreements in Massachusetts and gives guidelines on creating an effective parenting plan for Massachusetts courts.
You can write up your own parenting plan (on your own or with the other parent) or you can work with an attorney or legal professional and have them create it. If you don't want to pay the high cost of an attorney, and want to easily make your own agreement, you can use the Custody X Change software.
Custody X Change is software that creates professional parenting plan documents and parenting schedules.
The laws pertaining to child custody can be found in the Massachusetts General Laws, Title III-Domestic Relations, Chapter 208-Divorce.
The law provides definitions for many of the terms used in court documents and also dictates what the court requires and expects to be included in a parenting plan / custody agreement.
By designing a parenting plan in accordance with the law and following a few basic steps to create an organized and comprehensive document, you will significantly increase the likeliness of a favorable outcome in your case.
The various types of custody are defined in the Massachusetts General Laws (Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 208, § 31):
- Sole legal custody means only one parent has the rights and responsibilities to make important decisions about the child's educational needs, medical, dental, and mental healthcare needs, religious upbringing, moral development, and other significant decisions in the child's life.
- Shared legal custody means both parents are mutually involved and responsible for making the major decisions regarding the child.
- Sole physical custody means the child shall primarily reside and be under the supervision of one parent, while having reasonable visitation with the other, unless the court finds that visitation with the other parent would not be in the child's best interest.
- Shared physical custody means the child shall reside with each parent for periods of time in a manner that assures the child frequent and ongoing contact with both parents.
Provided there aren't any extenuating circumstances that would be harmful or detrimental to the health, well-being, and happiness of the child, the court considers parents sharing joint legal custody and joint physical custody are considered to be in the child's best interests and awards custody accordingly.
It is the position of Massachusetts that a child benefits greatly from having both parents actively involved in his or her life.
As long as there is no evidence of wrongdoing, such as domestic violent, child abuse, substance abuse, or any other situation or criminal history that may endanger the child, parents in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are considered to be equal in custodial matters.
In divorce and custody proceedings in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, a hearing will be held called a "trial of merits", which is designed to allow you to present evidence so the court can rule on disputed matters.
At the trial of merits, you will have the opportunity to submit a parenting plan, also called a "shared custody implementation plan", to the court.
You may submit the plan either individually or work together with the other parent and submit one jointly. The court will then opt to reject, accept, or modify the agreement(s).
It is important to know what to expect during your case so you can prepare for court.
In Massachusetts, these plans and agreements should contain (as found in Section 31):
- A declaration as to the custody of the child
- Information about the child's education
- Information about the child's health care
- Procedures for resolving disputes between the parties with respect to child-raising decisions and duties
- A schedule defining periods of time during which each parent has the child reside with him/her, including holidays and vacations
- Any other information about how parents will share parental responsibility and make the custody arrangements work
When you are able to cooperate and reach agreement with the other parent about your child's custody arrangements, the court should accept your plan, unless the court feels the plan is not in the best interest of your child.
If you are working on a shared custody agreement, you can make a joint shared custody implementation plan that has the details about how you will share custody.
This is the preferred method for determining custody matters since you know your child and your child's needs better than the court does. Working with the other parent now is beneficial to both you and your child and can help to prevent future conflict.
When you are unable to agree on a plan, but either one of you wants shared custody, each of you can submit an individual shared custody implementation plan to the court.
You may also submit a sole custody agreement to the court, if you feel that is what is best for your child and you can present a valid reasons and evidence to support it
The court will then consider all the factors involved and create a parenting plan for you. The judge will most likely rule in favor of the parenting plan that best meets your child's needs, so creating a parenting plan that is detailed, organized, and truly written to preserve your child's happiness and well-being will stand out.
The best interest of the child is the main factor the court considers when making any decisions in family law cases.
There is not just one factor, but a combination of all of the circumstances in your child's life that the court will consider when making a ruling.
Basically, if you are a good parent and are willing and able to provide your child with love, attention, and affection while meeting his or her physical and mental needs, it is considered to be in the best interest of the child to have frequent and ongoing contact with you.
It is when a parent poses a threat or a danger to the child that the court steps in to protect the child.
The top twenty cities in Massachusetts (by population, US Census Bureau, 2008) are: Boston, Worcester, Springfield, Cambridge, Lowell, Brockton, Quincy, New Bedford, Fall River, Lynn, Newton, Somerville, Lawrence, Framingham, Haverhill, Waltham, Revere, Taunton, Malden, Medford.