Massachusetts family law reform: Changes to custody in the future?

Massachusetts is considering laws that would shift child custody to a focus on shared parenting.

The Massachusetts Legislature is taking two bills under consideration that could change the outcome of courtroom proceedings regarding child custody determinations. According to those in favor of the bills, the proposals are designed to shift away from the current system which often results in one parent getting custody and the other receiving visitation rights. Instead, supporters of the proposal state the new law will focus on shared parenting.

Movement towards shared parenting

The two proposals under consideration are bills SB834 and HB1207. Together, they are referred to as the Massachusetts Child-Centered Family Law.

The current laws regarding child custody and support in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are designed to promote the best interest of the children. This is done through the promotion of a safe, healthy and meaningful relationship between the children and their parents. In most cases, parents have the right to parent their children as long as limiting factors are not present. Examples of potential limitations include the presence of instances of emotional abuse or occasions when one parent interferes with the other parent's attempts to see the child.

When the court is involved in a custody determination, it generally applies the best interest of the child standard. This legal standard takes a number of factors into consideration. Some examples include:

  • Relationship of the child with each parent.
  • The child's wishes, depending on the age and mental capacity of the child.
  • Ability of each parent to foster a positive relationship between the child and the other parent.

Although the current proposal continues to support the use of this standard, it also includes the presumption that shared parenting generally satisfies this standard.

Development of the proposal

The proposal was developed by a group put together by the office of Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. The group was charged to "review and recommend any necessary revisions to state laws to ensure that children's rights and interests are prioritized and protected during and following court proceedings pertaining to parental decision-making, responsibility and caretaking."

Impact of the proposal

Although the fate of the proposal is not yet known, it provides an example of the evolving nature of family law in Massachusetts. As a result, it is wise for those who recently filed for or are considering filing for a divorce to seek the counsel of an experienced divorce and child custody lawyer. This legal professional will guide you through the process, working to better ensure a more favorable outcome.