Massachusetts parents who go to court for a custody hearing only go because they cannot agree between themselves on what custody arrangement is best for their children. Thus a judge must decide this crucially important issue.
Before going to court and testifying, parents need to be aware of several terms and situations addressed by Massachusetts law. First and foremost, they need to understand the different custody options. The 190th General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts defines the normally available four types of custody as follows:
- In sole legal custody, only one parent has the right to make major decisions about the welfare of the children, such as their education, medical care and moral, religious and emotional development.
- In shared legal custody, both parents have those rights.
- In sole physical custody, children live with one parent and the other parent has reasonable visitation with them unless the court determines that such visitation is not in their best interest.
- In shared physical custody, the children have periods during which they live with each parent in such a manner as to assure that they have continuing and frequent contact with both.
Both parents have an equal right to custody assuming that neither of them currently is engaged in behaviors or activities that would adversely affect the physical, mental, emotional or moral health of the children. The court also considers whether any such behaviors or activities have occurred in the past.
The Massachusetts Law Reform Institute reminds parents that if the court finds that there has been a pattern of abuse or even a single serious incident of abuse by one of the parents, it is required to presume that it is not in the best interests of the children for the abusive parent to have any form of custody. This presumption, however, is rebuttable, meaning that the abusive parent can offer testimony to rebut; i.e., challenge the presumption.