Gaining custody of a child is rarely a straightforward process. When it comes to the decision of the court, it all boils down to what is in the child’s best interests. Getting joint custody in Massachusetts obeys the same principle.
Before we talk about how you can obtain custody, it is important to first understand what your options are. There are two types of custody. The first one is legal custody. This type of custody addresses major decisions in the child’s life, such as education, medical issues and religion. The second one is physical custody. In simple terms, this is where the child will live. For each type of custody, you can request that it be sole, meaning only you have it, or joint custody so that you share it with the other parent.
So, how do you go about getting custody?
You begin with a family law case based on your family’s situation. If you’re married, you include your request for custody when you file your complaint for divorce or separation. If you’re unmarried, you include your request for custody when you file a paternity complaint, or a complaint for custody, support and parenting time.
First, you need to consider the communication and relationship between you and the other party. Are you both interested in joint legal custody? If you communicate well with one another regarding your child, then this is an obvious choice. Joint legal custody is presumed and encouraged by the court in actions where the parents are married. If you are unmarried, the law states that the mother automatically has sole legal and physical custody of the child. The only way to change this is by agreement or court order. However, this is not impossible and happens more often than not. Whether you are married or unmarried or in agreement or not , it’s still beneficial to have a family lawyer help navigate the process or at the very least prepare the correct legal documents. That way you can ensure there won’t be issues down the road.
As stated above, if you are unmarried, the mother, by law, has physical custody of the child. If you are married, there is no presumption that one parent has physical custody as opposed to the other parent. An important factor in determining physical custody is the parenting plan, meaning how much time does the child spend with either parent? Having joint physical custody means that the child spends equal or nearly equal time with each parent. If one parent has sole physical custody, that typically means that this parent has the child approximately two thirds of the time and the other parent is with the child approximately one third of the time. If there is no agreement, the court will decide.
The court will examine many factors in determining whether custody should be sole or joint. The court’s primary focus will be if joint custody is in the best interests of the child? What facts do you have to support your request? Don’t make the mistake of making the case all about you, because it’s not. Think about how you contribute to your child’s needs.
It is important that you provide your attorney with as much information as possible. You should prepare a chronological history of your child’s life and your involvement. The court wants to know you are already involved. Who is their doctor? Do they play soccer or take piano lessons? Do you ever bring them to these activities? How are they doing in school? Do you know their teacher’s names? Have you met them? What are their friend’s names? Do you have any parent-child activities that you two do together regularly? You want to be able to show that you are a big part of your child’s life. You should also be prepared to discuss the involvement, or lack thereof, of the other parent.
Consider there will probably be two sides to each point you make. This is when having a good family lawyer is a game changer. They’ll go over all this with you and help make the best possible case. It’s their job to prepare for both sides of every argument. Our office is ready to assist you with your request for sole or joint custody.