Parenting Schedules and Custody
If you have minor children, you will need to decide how to co-parent during your separation and following your divorce. You will also need to decide the legal and physical custodial arrangement. Parents should always be guided by what is best for their children and attempt to communicate regarding the children’s health, religion, education, welfare and general upbringing. If you are unable to determine custody and create a parenting schedule, the Judge will make those decisions for you with Temporary Orders, or, following a trial, with a Divorce Judgment.
In Massachusetts, joint legal custody is the norm where parents share the decision-making authority regarding minor children, including access to the child’s school and medical records. Joint legal custody requires the parents to communicate and may not be feasible where one parent is unreasonable, unfit or unwilling to discuss and resolve conflicted issues.
Physical custody is determined by where the children primarily reside. If one parent has the children approximately two-thirds of the time, then that parent is the physical custodial parent, also known as the primary caretaker. If the children live at both parents’ homes approximately half the time at each home, then the parents have joint physical custody. The Judges are primarily concerned with how parents cooperate and parent their children and less concerned with counting days or hours to determine who is the “custodial” parent and who is the “non-custodial” parent. The focus in mediation and in negotiations for litigated cases is more often on the actual parenting schedule than on which parent has which designated label.
Even with joint physical custody, one parent may end up paying child support to the other parent because child support is based on income.
Each parent of a child under the age of 18 must individually attend a Court-sponsored Parents Apart education program before filing a joint petition, or attending the pre-trial conference hearing. The original certificate of attendance must be filed with the Court.
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