Settling Child Custody in Massachusetts: 4 Steps

Most parents settle instead of leaving custody decisions to the judge. Settling means you write a parenting plan with the other parent, then file it with the court. If approved by the judge, it becomes part of your final judgment.

Legal professionals recommend settling, as it encourages cooperation between parents and can save time and money.

If you need help negotiating, try an alternative dispute resolution method. Parents in a divorce or separate support case can enter the early settlement process for extra help reaching an agreement. Regardless of the approach you take, you can choose to end negotiations at any time.

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After you draft an agreement with the other parent, follow the steps below to settle your case. If you have an attorney, they'll guide you through this process.

Some parents decide they don't need a court order once they reach a consensus. In this case, they can keep their agreement informal and forgo the settlement process (unless they need a divorce or separate support order). However, they will have fewer enforcement options if a parent breaks the deal.

Step 1: Draft a parenting plan and other documents

You can create settlement documents yourself or have your attorney do it. Sign all documents in front of a notary.

First, you need to write up a parenting plan. The plan must explain how parents will share or divide legal custody, and it must include a parenting schedule. It should not discuss child support. You may use any format for your parenting plan, including the Custody X Change template.

If you have a divorce or separate support case, you'll also need a separation agreement to detail all other aspects of your case, including child support and the division of property. Attach your parenting plan to the separation agreement.

Check with your family court to see if it requires additional forms for settling.

Possible: Open a case

If you haven't already, open a case and pay the filing fee ($100 for separate support, paternity and custody-only cases, and $200 for divorce and annulment cases).

If you have a contested no-fault divorce case, you can convert it to uncontested to streamline the settling process. To do this, file a motion with the court asking to switch, then fill out a Joint Petition for Divorce and an Affidavit of Irretrievable Breakdown.

Step 2: File your paperwork

You can file your settlement paperwork when you open or convert your case or afterward.

Take your documents from Step 1 plus two copies of each to the court clerk.

If you're required to take a parenting class, file your certificate of completion no later than 30 days after finishing the class.

Step 3: Schedule a settlement conference

As soon as all your paperwork from Step 2 is in, ask the court clerk for a settlement conference date.

Before your conference, you have to file documents on one more topic. If your settlement covers child support, parents file the child support worksheet together. If your settlement doesn't cover child support, each parent files the worksheet separately at least five days prior to the conference. (You can file these items during Step 2 if you have them ready then.)

Step 4: Attend the settlement conference

Both parents must attend in person. Bring your settlement paperwork, parenting class certificate (if applicable) and child support worksheet. Check with the court to see if you need to provide any other forms.

The judge will review your agreement and ask both parents questions. If the judge decides your settlement meets the best interests of your child, they will sign off, making it part of the final judgment and closing your case.

If the judge doesn't approve your plan, you can submit another settlement agreement or head to trial.

After you've settled

The custody journey continues after you receive a final judgment. Now your responsibilities include:

To do all of this and more, use Custody X Change.

The online app's customizable calendars, parent-to-parent messaging, expense tracker and parenting plan template will make life after settlement as straightforward as they made settlement itself.

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