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Primary Child Custody Factors in Massachusetts

When a parent spends most of the time with their child and that parent typically resides with their child, it's often referred to as "primary custody." However, every state has slight variations in how they refer to custody categories. Massachusetts uses the following child custody designations:

  • Sole legal custody;
  • Shared legal custody;
  • Sole physical custody; and
  • Shared physical custody.

Massachusetts courts make all custody decisions based on the child's best interests. They typically presume that it's in the best interests for both parents to be equally involved in the child's life and that favors providing shared custody whenever possible. However, there are times when one parent may show signs of behavior that can place a child's welfare at risk. In situations like these, the court would likely order sole custody to the other parent. Courts weigh numerous factors in making these determinations, including a look at which parent has acted as the child's main caretaker throughout the couple's relationship.

Overview of Primary Child Custody Factors in Massachusetts

When dealing with legal matters, you want to make sure that you know the exact meaning of the relevant statutes. A good way to accomplish this is by referring to a guide that breaks down the statutes into readable language. Read on for a basic overview of the law that details primary child custody factors in Massachusetts.


Massachusetts General Laws:

Types of Custody

Sole legal custody: one parent has the rights and responsibilities to make major decisions regarding the child's welfare including the following:

  • Religious upbringing of the child;
  • Medical care of the child; and
  • Education of the child.

Shared legal custody: continued mutual responsibility and involvement by both parents in major decisions regarding the child's welfare including:

  • Religious upbringing of the child;
  • Medical care of the child; and
  • Education of the child.

Sole physical custody: a child resides with and is under the supervision of one parent and has visitation with the other parent (unless the court determines the visitation isn't in the child's best interests.)

Shared physical custody: a child has periods of residing with and being under the supervision of each parent.

Primary Child Custody Factors: Parents' Rights

The rights of parents are equal, unless there's parental misconduct; the happiness and welfare of the child determines custody decisions.

When considering the happiness and welfare of the child, the court considers whether the child's present or past living conditions adversely affects their physical, mental, moral, or emotional health.

Factors that Can Be Considered for Custody

When the court considers whether shared legal custody is in the best interests of the child, the following factors are relevant:

  • Whether any member of the family abuses alcohol or other drugs; or
  • Whether any party has deserted the child; and
  • Whether the parties have a history of being able and willing to cooperate in matters concerning the child.

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.

Related Resources for Primary Child Custody Factors in Massachusetts:

Discuss Custody Issues with a Massachusetts Attorney

Knowing the factors that Massachusetts uses to determine custody is an important first step in assessing your custody rights. Get detailed information about how the law impacts your specific case by discussing it with an experienced Massachusetts family law attorney near you.

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