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Massachusetts Visitation Laws and Rights

In the wake of a breakup or impending divorce, couples with minor children must address custody and visitation issues.

When one parent is the primary custodial parent, generally, the other parent has visitation rights. In most circumstances, Massachusetts law will refer to visitation rights as "parenting time."

The child’s parents can try to reach some consensus about what to do. If they succeed, they may enter into a parenting plan. A parenting plan is an agreement on matters of custody, parenting time, and child support. In such circumstances, the probate and family court can review, approve, and adopt their plan as an agreement and court order.

But if the parents can't come to an understanding, the court steps in. The two sides present evidence at a contested hearing. The court then has the final say over what happens to the child concerning visitation rights. Key to its decision will be the court's finding on which outcome is in the "best interest of the child."

Regarding custody and visitation laws in Massachusetts, arrangements cater to the best interest of the child. The court will weigh various factors in a best interest determination.

Types of Custody

Understanding Massachusetts family law distinctions between shared legal custody, sole legal custody, shared physical custody, and sole physical custody is essential for navigating custody and visitation proceedings.

"Legal custody" concerns decision-making authority regarding the child's welfare. It involves identifying who will make major decisions for the child about medical care and schooling. It can be shared between parents or awarded solely to one parent.

"Physical custody" determines where the child resides primarily. This determination may have a more direct impact on parenting time. It addresses the schedule of when the child will be with each parent. Physical custody of a child can also be shared between parents or awarded primarily to one parent.

A custody order issued by a Massachusetts court typically outlines these arrangements, detailing the rights and responsibilities of each parent. In cases of sole physical custody, the non-custodial parent is granted visitation rights to ensure continued involvement in the child's life.

Massachusetts courts prioritize the child's well-being and seek that the child maintain a meaningful relationship with both parents. They will tailor custody and visitation arrangements to suit each family’s unique circumstances.

In court cases involving domestic violence, child abuse, or alcohol or drug abuse by a parent, the best interest of the child may focus on safety first. The court may issue a restraining order against a parent. It may also suspend or limit a parent to supervised visitation, at least on a temporary basis.

Massachusetts Law at a Glance

The best way to get assistance with statutory interpretation is to work with an attorney. But before you reach that step, you can gain an understanding of the law by reading a plain English version of the content. Read the chart below for an explanation of visitation laws and rights in Massachusetts.

Relevant Massachusetts Visitation Statutes

Massachusetts General Laws, Part II, Chapter 208

  • 208 Section 28 - Children; care, custody, maintenance

  • 208 Section 30 - Minor children; removal from Commonwealth; prohibited

  • 208 Section 31 - Custody of children; shared parenting plans

  • 208 Section 31a - Visitation and custody order; consideration of abuse toward parent or child; best interest of child

Part II, Chapter 209 

  • 209 Section 38 - Visitation and custody orders; consideration of abuse toward parent or child; best interest of child

  • 209C Section 3 - Paternity and support actions

  • 209C Section 10 - Award of custody; criteria

  • 209C Section 11 - Acknowledgement of parentage; approval; parental agreements regarding custody, support, and visitation

  

Visitation Rights: Limitations

  

The court, under most circumstances, will not make an order providing "parenting time" or visitation rights to any parent under the following conditions: 

  • A parent was convicted of murder in the first degree of the other parent of the child. 

  • A parent engaged in rape and is seeking to obtain visitation with the child who was conceived during the commission of the rape.

Supervised Visitation

If the court finds that there's abuse, then it may order: 

  • Pick-ups and drop-offs of the child in a safe location or in the presence of a third party

  • Visitation supervised by an appropriate person, visitation center, or agency

  • Conditional visitation for an abusive parent or parent based on their attending a treatment program

  • The parent to abstain from alcohol or controlled substances possession and consumption during the visitation and for 24 hours preceding visitation

  • No overnight visitation 

  • Appointment of a guardian ad litem for the child to conduct an investigation and make recommendations

Grandparent Rights

Sometimes, grandparents have the right to visitation. They may petition for visitation rights under specific circumstances. They must prove the following: 

  • That the visitation is in the grandchild's best interest; 

  • That they had a significant relationship with the child prior to visitation proceeding; and 

  • That not allowing visitation would be harmful to the child

Contents of Child Visitation Schedule

The child's visitation schedule should include: 

  • A regular schedule for visitation time with each parent; 

  • A regular schedule for holiday time (including school breaks) with each parent;

  • A protocol and schedule for vacation time with each parent;

  • A protocol for how transitions occur between the households; and

  • A protocol for how to handle a child's illness and/or make up time as appropriate

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 status of any state law(s) you are reviewing.

Massachusetts Visitation Laws and Rights: Related Resources

Questions About Massachusetts Visitation Rights? Contact an Attorney

Understanding your visitation rights in Massachusetts can be confusing. But in visitation and custody cases, the law can have a significant impact on how you maintain a positive parent-child relationship going forward. For legal advice related to your unique situation, contact an experienced family law attorney near you in Massachusetts.

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