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Massachusetts Child Custody Modification and Procedure

In Massachusetts, all custody decisions are made by the court using the best interests of the child standard if parents can't agree. The issues of residential responsibility, decision-making responsibility, and parenting time (visitation) are resolved in a temporary court order or court judgment, depending on the timing and the circumstances of the case. However, this isn't necessarily the last word on custody; if there are changed circumstances, the court will alter the custody arrangement.

If one or both parents are dissatisfied with a previously entered temporary court order or judgment concerning child custody, then they can request a modification. The specific procedure depends on whether one person is seeking a modification or whether both parties agree that changes should be made. For instance, if one person wants the modification, then they must serve the other person notice of the scheduled hearing date.

Massachusetts Child Custody Modification and Procedure Overview

While it's recommended to seek help from counsel for complex cases, it's also beneficial to read a guide that breaks down the law into plain English. Read the chart below for a basic overview of child custody modification and procedure in Massachusetts.


Massachusetts General Laws:

Standard to Change Custody

What You Must Show for the Modification

  • A "material and substantial change in circumstances" since the judgment or temporary order was made.
  • The current arrangement is not in the best interests of the child.

Material and Substantial Change in Circumstances

This means that it's relevant to the child's care and necessary to the child's welfare and not just a minor change. Examples include, but aren't limited to the following:

  • Changes in jobs or work schedules;
  • A parent relocates out of state;
  • A parent is addicted to alcohol or drugs and can't care for the child;
  • An addicted parent now maintains sobriety; or
  • Incidents of domestic violence have occurred.

Modification of a Prior Judgment

If a parenting plan was part of a final judgment in a divorce or paternity matter, it must be changed by filing a complaint for modification. A judgment can be modified more than once so long as the reason for the request is based on a significant change in circumstances.

Contents of the Complaint

Either parent may file the complaint, but the complaint should include the following:

  • A description of the portions of the previous order that need to be changed;
  • A description of the circumstances at the time of the previous order;
  • A description of the changes since the previous order;
  • A description of the way that the child's been affected due to the changes that have prompted the complaint; and
  • A request to the court stating what they should do.

If both parents agree on the change, they must file forms for a joint modification together with a Joint Petition.

Modification of a Temporary Order

The following must be filed for a modification of a temporary order:

  • A motion for temporary orders that requests that the court make changes to the order;
  • A proposed order stating what the new temporary order should say;
  • Affidavits supporting the need for change.

If both parents agree on the change of the order, then they will jointly file the required forms for changing a temporary order.

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Massachusetts Child Custody Modification Procedure: Related Resources

Discuss Massachusetts Child Custody Modification with an Attorney

If you're interested in proceeding with a custody modification in Massachusetts, you might be confused by the procedures because of the complexity of the law and all the steps you must take. Get in contact with an experienced Massachusetts family law attorney who can help you create a proposed order, file a petition, or oppose a modification.

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