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What factors do courts consider in making child custody decisions?

Child custody is one of the most important issues couples with children have to deal with in divorce, if not the most important issue. Ideally, couples are able to set their differences aside and work together to settle upon a custody arrangement that is beneficial for their children. This is not possible, though, in every case.

When parents cannot agree on matters of custody, a family court has to get involved and make a determination. Under Massachusetts’ law, courts presume that the rights of parents are equal when there is no evidence of misconduct, such as abuse or neglect, and judges are to make child custody decisions based primarily on the “happiness and welfare of the child.” This is also known as the best interests of the child standard. 

Massachusetts law does not, as in other states, provide a specific list of factors for courts to consider in making child custody determinations, but it does direct judges to consider the effect of past and present living conditions with respect to the child’s physical, mental, moral and emotional health. Ultimately, Massachusetts judges have significant discretion to consider a wide variety of factors that impact the happiness and welfare of the child.

Some of the factors Massachusetts judges will consider in child custody decisions include:

  • The relationship each parent has with the child
  • The ability of each parent to provide for the child’s needs
  • Each parent’s willingness to facilitate the child’s ongoing relationship with the other parent
  • Any history of domestic violence

In any child custody dispute, it is critical for parents to work with experienced legal counsel to ensure he they are able to present the best possible evidence for the court’s consideration. Although child custody decisions are not about the interests of the parents, a skilled attorney can help ensure that the court has the information and perspective it needs to make a well-considered decision regarding custody that doesn’t unfairly disadvantage one parent. This is especially important in contentious cases where one parent makes false or exaggerated statements which paint the other parent in a negative light.

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