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Child Custody Basics

By Ullian Associates of The Law Firm of Ullian & Associates, P.C. on September 16, 2019

There are different types of custody and the actual terminology can vary from state to state.  In Massachusetts legal custody refers to the parent who will be responsible for major long-term decisions affecting the child such as religion, education, and medical care.  The most common result in a divorce is joint legal custody of the children, regardless of who is given physical custody because both parents should be involved and communicate on these major issues.  However, there are circumstances which warrant one parent obtaining sole legal custody.  For example, the parties may have significant differences of opinion on the religious upbringing of the child or some other circumstance which prevents the parties from working together such as one parent has a drug addiction.

Physical custody refers to the parent who will be responsible for the day-to-day care of the child.  Historically, the norm was that one parent had primacy physical custody, but parents today often have shared physical custody.  When one parent has primary physical custody that parent typically has the child during the school week and the other parent has the child on some weekends and for dinner once or twice during the school week.  When the parents have shared physical custody, each has the child approximately 50 percent of the time. 

A custody dispute, particularly over primary physical custody, is the most expensive contested issue in the divorce process because it leaves no middle-ground for compromise.  Suppose a father and mother are arguing whether the father should pay $250.00 or $350.00 per week for child support.  Obviously, they can compromise somewhere between the two amounts to resolve the dispute.  If both parents, however, want primary physical custody, a compromise is much harder to reach.

The focus on any custody dispute is the best interest of the child.  So make sure as a parent that your focus is on the best interests of your child and not your animosity towards your spouse.

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