Divorce Includes Visits and Custody vs. Parenting time

Massachusetts courts are moving away from the custody and visitation model in favor of allotting parenting time.

Historically, Massachusetts courts often awarded primary physical custody to one parent, who would have the children reside with them during the school week, with the other parent being awarded ‘visits’ with the children on weekends, holidays and school vacations.

In some cases, courts would order that the parents have ‘shared’ physical custody, in which children’s time with each parent would be divided evenly – typically, either by alternating weeks, or spending half the school week with each parent and alternating weekends.

Recently, Massachusetts has begun to reshape its laws around divorce: 

“[In 2012], the governor’s office convened a similar committee to review the state’s child custody laws. That committee’s work is done, and the result is promising: a proposal that acknowledges that, in most circumstances, children benefit from significant time with both parents… child advocates say the changes would establish expectations for all splitting families, and set the tone for settlement negotiations, by prioritizing the well-being of children over the competing interests of the parents.

Significantly, the proposal would change some of the adversarial language that’s currently in state code, replacing “custody” with “residential responsibility” and “decision-making responsibility,” and replacing the loaded term “visitation” with the more neutral “parenting time.” A new mission statement would state that significant time with both parents, when possible, is ideal. And new language would suggest that, when possible, children should spend at least one-third of the time with each parent.” Boston Globe

Divorce is never easy. Some people feel that it is best to negotiate an agreement without involving attorneys. In fact, retaining an experienced family law attorney is crucial. An attorney’s role is to help you navigate this difficult time while protecting your assets and legal rights, and to ensure that all factors and eventualities are taken into account in reaching a resolution that is fair and workable. Retaining an attorney will help you to create detailed yet flexible arrangements that factor in your unique situation to truly serve the best interests of your children, and ensure that you maintain a meaningful role in their lives.

An attorney will work closely with the client to assist in identifying and achieving your main priorities. For example, as interfaith marriages become more common, the child’s religious upbringing is often an important issue. An experienced family law attorney will be familiar with the law surrounding religious upbringing disputes in Massachusetts. Who will have the final say in decisions about the child’s education? In medical decision-making? If one or both parents were unable to care for the children, who would care for them?

The end of a marriage often brings with it financial challenges, especially in today’s difficult economic climate. Many clients are concerned about how money and property will be divided, and how to ensure that their children’s needs are met. In Massachusetts, if the parties are unable to reach an agreement, the court will divide the property ‘equitably.’ Equitable does not mean equal! Whether the resolution is reached in or out of court, an experienced family law attorney will help their client achieve a result that is truly fair and ensures children’s needs will be provided for.