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Custody agreements, what family courts look for

When a couple with children ends their marriage, a court works to ensure that the best interests of any children will be met. Parents in Massachusetts can come to a custody agreement on their own, and a judge will view a plan and either make changes or enter an order in accordance with the plan when finding no problems.

If a couple cannot come to a custody agreement, a judge will decide on an arrangement at a custody hearing. One parent may receive sole legal or physical custody, which grants a parent the right to make decisions and reside with the child. However, it is common for parents to have shared legal and physical custody because the rights of both parents are considered equal if no misconduct occurred.

Unless it is not in the best interests of a child, parents might have temporary shared legal custody while a judge reaches a decision. A judge considers how a child will receive a stable, loving environment that is safe and allows for consistency in a community and at school. Judges will look at which parent can best take care of a child's everyday needs, any relationships a child has with half siblings, and which parent can best facilitate contact between a child and the other parent. If a child is old enough, a judge may also consider his or her preference.

Whether coming to a decision with a spouse or going to court, child custody issues require thought and careful planning. Custody implementation plans may include where a child lives, education and medical matters, how to handle disputes between a couple, vacation time and visitation rights. Even if there is no child custody dispute, an attorney could still be necessary when finalizing a parenting plan.

Source: The Commonwealth of Massachusetts , "Custody of children; shared custody plans", September 16, 2014

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