Divorce can be complicated, and it can be even more complicated when children are involved. Couples involved in or considering a divorce should have a sense of how the court handles child custody in Massachusetts.
First, having custody means that you are legally responsible for your child’s care. (“Child” is usually defined as being less than 18 years old.) In Massachusetts, there are two kinds: physical custody means that the child will live with the custodial parent every day, and legal custody means that you have rights to decide major areas of your child’s life (for example, where your child will be educated and religious instruction, if any). Legal custody can be sole, which means that one parent determines the choices, or it can be shared, which means that both parents have these rights.
Second, the court process varies in custody cases. If one or both parents want shared custody, and they and they attorneys come to a meeting of the minds, the judge will often simply formalize the terms of their agreement.
If the parents continue to disagree, then the custody case goes to a trial. (There can be one hearing or multiple hearings.) Both parents can present evidence and witnesses. The judge will hear plans both for physical and legal custody. At the end of the trial, who gets custody and the terms of the custody agreement are handed down by the judge.