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The types of child custody orders in Massachusetts

As is the case in other states, there are two types of child custody arrangements that a Massachusetts court could order when parents end their marriage. The types are legal and physical custody, and such arrangements might be ordered as part of a divorce settlement that is accepted by the court or through a litigated divorce.

Legal custody awards the responsibility and right to make major decisions in a child's life, such as medical care, education and the development of the child morally, religiously and emotionally. Physical custody is the determination of with whom the child lives and under whose supervision the child remains. When a child custody agreement involves sole legal custody, only one parent earns the responsibility and right to make major life decisions for the child. In sole physical custody arrangements, the child only lives with one parent, but reasonable visitation rights may be awarded to the noncustodial parent.

When shared custody is ordered, both of the parents have decision-making power and share the supervision of the child. Although the child might live with one parent most of the time in a shared physical custody arrangement, the child could stay with the other parent periodically. Judges generally try to ensure that children get the benefit of having relationships with both of their parents.

One instance in which a parent could be awarded sole custody of a child is if there is a history of abuse from the other parent. Sometimes this abuse is not always reported to authorities, so the non-abusive parent seeking sole custody needs to have other proof that it occurred. A parent in such a situation can benefit from the advice and counsel of a family law attorney.

Source: Massachusetts General Laws, "Section 31Custody of children; shared custody plans", November 10, 2014

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