Cases involving children, whether divorce, paternity, guardianship, or other related family law actions, often involve concerns about the time children spend with parents, each other, or extended family.
Many jurisdictions are moving away from using the term “custody” and using terms such as primary or shared residence instead. In addition to establishing residence for a child whether primary or shared, there is usually a need to establish a parenting schedule, which can vary tremendously depending on the best interests of children. Traditionally this has been termed “visitation”; however, it is more common now to talk about “a parenting plan” which is the more modern terminology that treats children less as possessions than as human beings with their own needs and interests that must be considered along with those of the adults in creating a parenting schedule. Massachusetts law still uses the terms “custody” and “visitation”, so it is still important to understand these terms when creating parenting plans for children.
Legal custody means a parent has the ability to make major decisions on behalf of a child, such as those related to major medical, educational, or other important life issues. If the parents share legal custody, they must be able to communicate regarding their child and make these major decisions together. If one parent has sole legal custody, that parent makes all the major decisions. It is more common for parents to share legal custody, but it is not appropriate in some circumstances. Legal custody does not necessarily affect the actual parenting plan, just decision making about major issues related to the child.
Physical custody refers to the amount of time a child physically resides with each parent. During any period that a parent has physical custody of a child, they are responsible for the physical care of the child and the responsibility for day to day decisions relating to the child. A child can reside more with one parent than the other such that one parent has primary physical custody of the child. If the parents share physical custody, the child may physically reside with each parent for an equal amount of time. Regardless of whether physical custody is primary with one parent or shared, the parties or the court will determine a parenting plan so that the child can spend quality time with each parent. The physical custody of a child may also affect child support.
Visitation refers to the parenting plan or schedule for the child, which usually addresses weekday and weekend time, school year and summer vacation schedules, holidays, and other matters of importance to the parties as they relate to the child.
The lawyers in the Levitt Law Group have extensive knowledge and experience in all matters related to child custody in Massachusetts. Contact us for more information or to schedule a consultation.