Child Custody & Visitation
- Who will get custody of the children?
The standard in Massachusetts for awarding either shared or sole custody is the best interests of the child. Parents can agree to a custody arrangement or, in cases where there is a dispute, submit the issue to the Court.
- What types of custody are there?
Legal and physical custody. Legal custody refers to decision making ability regarding major issues that affect the childís health and welfare. Physical custody refers to where the child lives. For either of these types of custody, parents may have shared or sole custody.
- How does the Court decide the issues of custody and visitation?
Deciding issues of custody and visitation are among the most difficult tasks facing judges in the Probate and Family Court. Frequently, at the request of a party, the Court will appoint a Guardian ad Litem to conduct an investigation on issues of custody and visitation arrangements. Guardians ad Litem are professionals approved by the Court and are usually licensed social workers, psychotherapists, or attorneys. The role of the Guardian ad Litem is to conduct an investigation by interviewing the parties and the children (if they are old enough), and other collateral sources, such as pediatricians and teachers, and making a recommendation to the Court as to their view of the best interest of the child.
Judges also take into consideration evidence presented by the parties, which may be challenged by the opposing party.
- What is a 'normal' visitation schedule?
Many factors may affect a visitation schedule depending upon the ages and needs of the child. However, non-custodial parents frequently spend time with the children every other weekend and one or two evenings during the week.
- Are there situations where visitation with the children should be supervised?
Yes. The Court may order that visitation between and parent and child be supervised by approved visitation centers. Supervised visitation may be appropriate in case where there has been domestic violence or child abuse, or where the non-custodial parents behaves inappropriately with the child in other ways, such as by manipulating the child during the divorce.
- What if I am already divorced, can custody or visitation arrangements change?
If parents are amicable, they can agree to any changes in custody or visitation that best suit the familyís needs. However, one spouse can petition the Court for a modification of custody or visitation at any time following a divorce (even where there is a separation agreement) based on the legal standard of ìa material change of circumstance.
- What if I or my spouse is in a different state with the children, where do I file a complaint for modification?
The federal and state legislatures have enacted laws against parental kid- napping, which include provisions for determining which stateís court will have jurisdiction when disputes over children arise.
- Do gay partners have rights to custody or visitation with a non-biological child?
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has recently ruled that if the non- biological partner has acted as a ìde factoî parent, that partner may petition the court for visitation. The determination of whether that person may have visitation rights with the child is based upon a factual review of the history of care-taking and involvement with the child.
- Do grandparents have a right to visitation with children?
Massachusetts has a law the provides visitation rights to grandparents. In order to obtain visitation rights, a grandparent must file a petition in the Probate and Family Court where the divorce, action for separate support or paternity suit was filed.