If you are a parent who is going through a divorce or separation, you may be wondering how to get custody of your child. Custody is a legal term that refers to the right and responsibility to make decisions about your child’s welfare, education, health, and religion. There are different types of custody, such as sole custody, joint custody, legal custody, and physical custody. The type of custody that you will get depends on various factors, such as your relationship with your child, your ability to provide for your child’s needs, your child’s preferences, and the best interests of your child.
In Massachusetts, joint legal custody is presumed to be in the best interests of the child but may be rebutted by evidence of abuse or inability to communicate. When parents talk about “getting custody” they are usually talking about physical custody. The term “physical custody” has become disfavored in Massachusetts Courts as use of this term is associated with the concept that one parent won custody and one parent lost. Instead, Massachusetts Courts order a “parenting plan” in which the court specifies how much time each parent spends with the child. Parents usually can’t obtain custody. Instead, they can increase the amount of parenting time awarded by a judge.
Here are some tips for parents who are seeking to increase their parenting time:
– Make a plan.
In order to ask a judge to grant you parenting time, you need a plan which sets forth what you think is an appropriate division of parenting time between both parents. You need to have an appropriate living arrangement in which the sleeping arrangements meet the child’s need for privacy. If you are not able to be present with the child because of work or other obligations you must have a plan for taking care of the child
while you are not present.
– Hire a qualified family law attorney. A family law attorney can help you understand your rights and obligations as a parent, prepare and file the necessary paperwork, negotiate with the other parent or their lawyer, and represent you in court if needed. A family law attorney can also advise you on how to avoid common mistakes that could hurt your chances of getting custody, such as badmouthing the other parent, violating court orders, or moving out of state without permission.
– Cooperate with the other parent. Unless there is a history of abuse or violence, it is usually in your child’s best interest to have a positive and consistent relationship with both parents. Therefore, you should try to cooperate with the other parent as much as possible, especially when it comes to making decisions about your child’s welfare. You should also avoid any conflict or hostility in front of your child, as this could cause them stress and anxiety. If you have difficulty communicating with the other parent, you may consider using a mediator or a parenting coordinator to help you resolve any disputes.
– Follow the court orders. If there is already a temporary or permanent custody order in place, you should follow it exactly as it is written. This means that you should respect the other parent’s visitation rights, pay child support if required, and inform the other parent of any changes in your address, phone number, or employment. If you want to modify the existing order, you should do so through the proper legal channels and not by taking matters into your own hands. Failing to follow the court orders could result in legal consequences and damage your credibility in front of the judge.
– Be involved in your child’s life. One of the most important factors that judges consider when deciding custody is the quality and frequency of contact between each parent and the child. Therefore, you should make every effort to be involved in your child’s life as much as possible. This means that you should attend their school events, extracurricular activities, medical appointments, and social gatherings. You should also keep in touch with them regularly through phone calls, texts, emails, or video chats. You should also show interest in their hobbies, interests, opinions, and feelings.
– If the Court orders an investigation to assist the court in making a custody order, then parties can prepare for the custody investigation. Frequently, a custody investigation is conducted by a neutral third party who is appointed as a “guardian ad litem” or GAL. The GAL evaluates each parent’s suitability for custody and makes recommendations to the court based on their findings. A custody evaluator may be a lawyer, psychologist, or a social worker. The GAL may interview each parent and the child separately or together, observe their interactions at home or in public settings, review documents such as school records or medical reports, and administer psychological tests if needed. To prepare for the custody evaluation, you should be honest and cooperative with the GAL, dress appropriately and professionally for the interviews and observations, and provide any relevant information or evidence that supports your case.
– Avoid discussing your court proceedings with the child. No matter how old the child is, you should avoid discussing the court proceedings with the child as much as is possible. When the child asks questions you should explain that this is between the two parents and should not be discussed with the child. There is a significant difference between telling the child about court orders that directly effect the child and explaining the issues in court and the positions of the two parents. Judges dislike overly involving children in the litigation.