Child Custody & Parenting Plans
Family law cases involving children, whether due to divorce or other family law matters, often involve concerns about the time children spend with parents, each other, or extended family.
Custody, Visitation and Parenting Plans
Many jurisdictions are moving away from using the term “custody” and using terms such as “primary or shared residence” or “parenting plan” instead. In addition to establishing residence for a child whether primary or shared, there is usually a need to establish a parenting plan, which can vary tremendously depending on the best interests of children and parental schedules such as work or other obligations.
Traditionally this plan has been termed “visitation”; but today is more commonly described as a “a parenting plan”; an improved term that treats children less like possessions and more as human beings with their own needs and interests that must be considered along with those of the adults in creating a parenting schedule.
Massachusetts law still uses the terms “custody” and “visitation”, so it is still important to understand these terms when establishing primary or shared residence and creating parenting plans for children affected by divorce or other family law matters.
Child custody or defining primary or shared residence is an important component of many family law matters including divorce.
Legal custody means the ability to make major decisions on behalf of a child, such as those related to major medical, educational, or other important life matters. If the parents share legal custody, they must be able to communicate regarding their child and make these major decisions together. If one parent has sole legal custody, that parent makes all the major decisions. It is more common for parents to share legal custody, which is presumptive in Massachusetts, but it is not appropriate in some circumstances. Legal custody does not necessarily affect the actual parenting plan, just decision making about major issues related to the child.
Physical custody refers to the amount of time a child physically resides with each parent. During any period that a parent has physical custody of a child, they are responsible for the physical care of the child and have the responsibility for day to day decisions relating to the child. A child can reside more with one parent than the other such that one parent has primary physical custody of the child. If the parents share physical custody, the child may physically reside with each parent for an equal or approximately equal amount of time. Regardless of whether physical custody is primary with one parent or shared, the parties will determine a parenting plan so that the child can spend quality time with each parent. The physical custody of a child may also affect child support.
Visitation and a Parenting Plan
Visitation or what is today commonly called a parenting plan, defines the schedule for spending time with the parties as a result of a change in the family structure. The parenting plan typically addresses weekday and weekend time, school year and summer vacation schedules, holidays, and other matters of importance to the parties as they relate to the child or children.
A parenting plan recognizes that both parents have legal rights and responsibilities with respect to their children, and need to establish a framework for maintaining those rights and meeting those responsibilities that serves the best interest of their children. While some parents are easily able to work together to create a parenting plan, some parents have difficulty agreeing about what would be best for their children.
As a family law firm, we have significant experience helping clients establish parenting plans, including helping work through disagreements regarding the parenting plan. We have represented mothers and fathers, grandparents, and other extended family members and will advocate for you as settlement or collaborative counsel, or assist you as a neutral mediator, with respect to the best parenting plan for you and your child or children.
At Levitt Family Law & Mediation, we will work with you to determine your parenting goals, the needs of your children, including reviewing schedules based on the age and developmental stage of each child, and use creative techniques to get to a schedule that meets your needs and those of your children. A divorce coach/case facilitator, or child specialist, who can work with the attorney and/or client(s), may also be helpful in developing and creating a parenting plan.
Levitt Family Law & Mediation offers extensive knowledge and experience in all matters related to child custody and developing parenting plans in Massachusetts. We are experienced and happy to represent either party as your family law attorney or provide mediation services to assist you with resolving family law matters including child custody.