Child Custody

Bristol County Child Custody Lawyer

A Dedicated Law Office to Help You and Your Child Move Forward. Serving Clients throughout Northfolk County, Plymouth County, Cape Cod & the South Shore Area

If you are facing a child custody battle in Bristol County or Plymouth County, the most important thing you can do for yourself and your children is to retain legal representation. The stakes are high in child custody cases, and the outcome could decide your and your child’s future. 

Attorney Rachel M. Matos is a dedicated advocate who will fight tirelessly for your legal rights and interests as a parent. She will help you build a strong case for child custody based on your goals and needs, and she will also make sure the parenting plan serves these interests. 

Child custody cases can get heated, but Bristol County child custody attorney Matos will do her best to make the process as stress-free for you and your children as possible.

Take the first step toward resolving your child custody dispute with the Law Offices of Rachel M. Matos serving Bristol County, MA. Schedule a free consultation online.

How to File for Custody in MA

When it comes to filing for custody in Massachusetts, it is important to understand the process and necessary steps involved. First and foremost, it is recommended to seek the advice of a lawyer who specializes in family law in Bristol or Plymouth County. They can provide valuable guidance and help navigate through the legal system. Next, a complaint for custody must be filed with the appropriate court, typically in the county where the child resides. Along with the complaint, various forms including financial statements, affidavits, and parenting plans must be submitted. It is also required to attend a mandatory parenting education program. Throughout the process, it is important to prioritize the best interests of the child and make decisions accordingly. While filing for custody can be a complex and emotional process, seeking professional guidance from a Bristol County child custody attorney and staying informed can make it easier.

Types of Custody in Massachusetts

When it comes to child custody, Massachusetts offers two categories: legal custody and physical custody. These terms refer to the legal authority to make decisions for the child and the physical care and supervision of the child.

Difference Between Physical and Legal Custody in MA

  • Legal custody refers to the decision-making authority a parent/guardian has to make choices on behalf of the children, such as regarding education, healthcare, and religion.
  • Physical custody determines where the child will live and who will be responsible for their daily needs.

The court can order sole custody held by only one parent or joint custody shared by both. For example, the court might award joint legal custody to one parent and sole physical custody to both. In such a situation, both parents have the right to make legal decisions for the children, but the children will reside primarily with one parent.

How to File for Full Custody in MA

If you are considering filing for full custody of your child in Massachusetts, it is important to understand the process and requirements. Firstly, you will need to fill out a complaint for custody form and file it with the family court in the county where the child lives. You must also provide a clear and convincing reason why full custody is in the best interest of the child. This can be due to the other parent's history of domestic violence, drug abuse, or neglect, among other reasons. The court may then schedule a hearing where both parents can present evidence and argue their case. It is highly recommended to seek the guidance of an experienced Bristol County child custody attorney during this process.

Who Has Custody of a Child When the Parents Are Not Married in Massachusetts?

In Massachusetts, if the parents aren't married, then the mother is given sole legal and physical custody of her children until a court in Bristol County or Plymouth County orders otherwise.

To ensure the noncustodial parent and the child still maintain a relationship in this scenario, the judge will allow a parenting time (visitation) schedule for the two to spend time together.

Parenting Plans

One important element of child custody arrangements is the parenting plan. Parenting plans outline the custody and parenting time arrangement for both parents in detail. 

Parenting plans should include the following information:

  • a detailed residential or visitation schedule, including a holiday and vacation times or a method for addressing such a schedule;
  • provisions indicating how the parents will make decisions regarding the child's education and health care; and
  • provisions describing how parents plan to resolve any future disputes.

The Best Interests of the Child

The main guidelines for a Massachusetts judge presiding over custody cases are the child’s best interests. The judge should make the best decision for custody and parenting plans based on the child’s needs, which is to the judge’s discretion to identify. 

For instance, the child’s best interests often include:

  • the child’s welfare and happiness;
  • the child’s present or past living conditions;
  • the child’s relationship with each parent;
  • each parent’s ability to provide the child with food, clothing, shelter, and other necessities;
  • the child’s home, school, and community;
  • whether either parent has a history of domestic abuse or child neglect;
  • each parent’s willingness to foster a frequent, continuing, and quality relationship between the child and the other parent;
  • both parent’s moral fitness;
  • each parent’s physical and mental health;
  • any other factors the judge deems relevant in the case.

Massachusetts Parenting Time Guidelines

The Massachusetts Parenting Time Guidelines provide recommendations for parents and courts on how to create a parenting plan that best serves the needs of the children involved in a divorce or separation. The guidelines were developed by the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court.

The guidelines provide a framework for parents to develop a parenting plan that is specific to their family's unique circumstances, taking into account factors such as the age and developmental needs of the children, the parents' work schedules, and any special needs of the children. The guidelines include a number of sample schedules for different age groups, but they are not intended to be prescriptive and can be modified to meet the needs of individual families.

Some of the key provisions of the Massachusetts Parenting Time Guidelines include:

  • Best Interests of the Child: As mentioned above, the overriding principle guiding the guidelines is the best interests of the child. Parents are encouraged to put the needs of their children first and to work together to develop a plan that meets those needs.
  • Shared Parenting: The guidelines encourage shared parenting, where both parents play an active role in the child's life. This includes regular and frequent contact with both parents, including overnight stays, unless there are safety concerns.
  • Age-Appropriate Schedules: The guidelines provide sample schedules for children of different ages, from infants to teenagers. These schedules take into account the child's developmental needs, including the need for stability and consistency.
  • Flexibility: The guidelines emphasize the importance of flexibility and cooperation between parents. They encourage parents to communicate openly and to be willing to make adjustments to the parenting plan as needed.
  • Holidays and Special Occasions: The guidelines provide recommendations for how to divide holidays and special occasions, such as birthdays and school vacations, between parents.

It's important to note that the Massachusetts Parenting Time Guidelines are just that - guidelines. They are not laws, and judges have the discretion to deviate from them if they believe it is in the best interests of the child.

It is recommended that parents work together to propose a mutually agreed-upon parenting plan that they will submit to the court for approval. The court in Bristol County or Plymouth County, may accept, modify, or even reject a plan, based on how the plan meets the child’s best interests.

At What Age Can a Child Refuse to See a Parent in Massachusetts?

Even though there is no specific age in Massachusetts when a judge considers a child's preference, the judge tends to give older teens' opinions. Therefore, a child under ten needs to be more mature for a Massachusetts judge to factor their preference into a child custody decision.

Generally, the court presumes it is in the child’s best interests to maintain a relationship with both parents regardless of custody. So, even if one parent does not have primary residential custody of the child, they will be granted parenting time with the child (unless the parent has a history of domestic violence or substance abuse that poses a danger to the child). 

In some situations, if the court deems it safe and appropriate for the child to spend time with a parent who has been abusive, they may order supervised visitation.

Modifying a Custody Order in MA

Naturally, the child’s needs change as they grow, and a custody order that had been in place for years may no longer be appropriate or serve the child’s best interests. Either parent has the right to file a motion to review or modify a custody or parenting time order.

Parents can either mutually agree to modify their schedule to better fit the child or, if they cannot agree, the court will rule on the request for modification if the following hold true:

  • there has been a material and substantial change of circumstances of the parents or child since the last order; and
  • a modification is necessary to serve the child's best interests.

Why Choose Mediation for Your Custody Dispute?

When it comes to resolving custody disputes, mediation offers a peaceful alternative to lengthy and costly court battles. Mediation involves a neutral third party, known as a mediator, who helps facilitate communication and negotiation between parents to reach a mutually agreeable custody arrangement.

Here are some reasons why mediation may be the right choice for your custody dispute:

  • Less adversarial: Mediation promotes a cooperative and collaborative approach, allowing parents to work together to find solutions that are in the best interest of their child. This can help preserve relationships and minimize conflict.
  • Greater control: Unlike court proceedings where a judge makes the final decision, mediation allows parents to have more control over the outcome. You and the other parent can craft a custody agreement that meets your specific needs and the unique needs of your child.
  • Confidentiality: Mediation sessions are confidential, providing a safe and private environment for open and honest discussions. This can help foster trust and encourage productive communication.
  • Cost-effective: Mediation is often more cost-effective than going to court. It typically requires fewer sessions and less time compared to the lengthy litigation process.
  • Preserves co-parenting relationship: Mediation focuses on finding solutions that promote healthy co-parenting. By working together and maintaining open lines of communication, parents can establish a solid foundation for future cooperation and shared decision-making.

If you are considering mediation for your custody dispute, our experienced Bristol child custody attorneys at the Law Offices of Rachel M. Matos can guide you through the process and help you achieve a fair and sustainable custody agreement.

If you are facing issues with a child custody matter, contact our experienced Bristol County child custody attorney today!

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