Massachusetts Custody and Visitation Schedules
You can create your own custody and visitation schedule (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 schedule, you can use the Custody X Change software.
Custody X Change is software that creates custody schedules, calendars, and professional parenting plan documents.
By learning about Family Law in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and applying the knowledge to your documents, you can create a child visitation schedule that the court will be more likely to approve.
Being in compliance with the law and being aware of certain aspects of the law, such as the ability of non-parents to seek visitation and what rules apply to child visitation is cases where abuse has occurred, can only enhance your ability to make a child visitation schedule and help you to anticipate all possible situations that may occur.
The laws pertaining to child custody and visitation can be found in the Massachusetts General Laws and are also contained in Massachusetts Case Law.
Creating a child visitation schedule and the entire child custody process can seem intimidating and overwhelming if you are unprepared. You will find some helpful information in the sections below.
While the perception that mothers typically get custody of the children in Massachusetts still exists, an important aspect of the Massachusetts General Laws to be aware of is that the court does not show preference or favoritism towards a parent based on gender.
It is the perspective of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that both natural born parents are equal in custodial matters.
Both parents are considered to be the natural custodians of their child until a court rules to the contrary. Evidence must be presented if one (or both) of the parents are to be considered to be unfit or pose a threat or danger to their child.
In Massachusetts, you have two options for physical custody (these are found in Section 31 of Chapter 208):
- Sole physical custody is an arrangement where the child resides with and is supervised by one parent and has reasonable visitation with the other parent.
- Shared physical custody is an arrangement where the child has periods of residing with and being supervised by each parent. With shared physical custody, the parenting time is shared so that the child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents.
Whether you choose sole physical custody or shared physical custody depends very much on your situation and what is best for your child.
If both parents want to be actively involved in raising the child, and both parents have a history of being actively involved in taking care of the child, then a shared physical custody schedule will probably work for you.
If it is better for the child to live with one parent and have visitation with the other parent, then you'll want to set up a sole physical custody schedule.
If you are in a situation where the other parent has been abusive, you should make your child custody and visitation schedule in a way that protects your child from harm.
It is the position of the court that placing a child in the custody of an abusive parent is not in the best interest of a child (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 208, § 31A).
If there have been any incidences or serious acts of abuse, whether upon the child, the other parent, or another child, a judge shall grant sole physical custody to the non-abusive parent upon a preponderance of the evidence.
The abusive parent may or may not be entitled to visitation rights, but measures will be taken to ensure the child's safety and well-being are preserved while in the presence of the abusive parent.
This may include restricting the abuser to only supervised visitation or prohibiting overnight visits.
This may also include exchanging the child in a neutral, safe location in cases where domestic violence was committed against the other parent but no harm was done to the child (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 20, § 38).
Conditions may also be placed upon the offending parent that must be met prior to having access to the child and/or in order to continue to have access to the child.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts does not look fondly upon child abusers and that disdain is reflected in rulings as a measure of protecting the child.
Grandparents are permitted to request and may be granted visitation rights to a child if it is found to be in the best interests of the child (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 119, § 39D).
If a grandparent is seeking visitation or has been awarded visitation in your case, you may account for that time in the child visitation schedule.
Typically, maternal grandparents shall visit the child during the mother's parenting time and paternal grandparents shall visit during the father's parenting time, but that is not always the case.
There are situations when a non-custodial parent is denied visitation while the related grandparent(s) are granted visitation instead.
In non-traditional families, there may be a situation where there is a non-related person who is not a natural parent to the child, but resides with the natural parent and child.
If this person assumes the caretaking role of a parent at least as much as the natural parent does, (at the urging of the natural parent), that person is called a "de facto parent".
Citing Massachusetts Case Law, a de facto parent is entitled to seek and may be awarded child visitation (E.N.O. v. L.M.M., 429 Mass. 824 ). If awarded, this time may also be accounted for in the child visitation schedule.
In the absence of the above mentioned extenuating circumstances, your child visitation schedule should be a lot less complicated.
Your Massachusetts child visitation schedule should contain the following components:
- A regular residential schedule written in accordance to the type of custody the parents have. The residential schedule will dictate where the child resides and when the child will spend time with each parent. A non-custodial parent will typically have less visitation time than a parent sharing physical custody of the child would have, though joint physical custody does not necessarily mean the child's time will be divided equally between the parents.
- A holiday schedule that allocates the child time with both parents on holidays. Many parents elect to take turns having the child on holidays during the year, then alternate the holidays the next year. Whatever will work best for your child will be acceptable to the court.
- A vacation schedule or provisions for spending vacation time with the child. A vacation schedule allows the child additional extended vacation time with each parent on their personal vacations as well as during the child's school breaks.
Working together with the other parent to create a child visitation schedule is a great way to ensure your parenting plan is accepted by the court.
Parents have intimate knowledge of their child and a judge usually does not even meet the child she or he is making the decisions for.
Whether or not you and the other parent can reach an agreement, you should always base your child visitation schedule on the same factor Massachusetts courts consider, which are the best interest of the child.
If you are able to mutually agree on a schedule and create it within the realm of the law, you increase your chances of having a favorable outcome in your case.
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.