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Massachusetts Law About Child Custody and Visitation

Massachusetts Laws

Court Rules and Guidelines


Child Custody Forms

Selected Cases

(See Moving Away for additional cases)

A.H. v. M.P., 447 Mass. 828 (2006). A woman who never adopted the child of her same-sex partner, "although she was well aware of the importance of doing so," and was not the primary caretaker for the child, did not have a legal right to visitation or a support agreement as a "de facto parent." Further, the court declined to adopt a "parent by estoppel," theory as defined in the ALI Principles of the Law of Family Dissolution § 2.03 (2002). saying, in part, "the parent by estoppel principle is a most dramatic intrusion into the rights of fit parents to care for their child as they see fit." and "parent by estoppel status is most appropriate where "adoption is not legally available or possible.""

Della Corte v. Ramirez, 81 Mass. App. Ct. 906 (2012). A child born of a same-sex marriage is the legitimate child of both people. "As a result, it follows that when there is a marriage between same-sex couples, the need for that second-parent adoption to, at the very least, confer legal parentage on the nonbiological parent is eliminated when the child is born of the marriage."

E.N.O. v. L.M.M., 429 Mass. 824 (1999). De Facto Parents. "A child may be a member of a nontraditional family in which he is parented by a legal parent and a de facto parent. A de facto parent is one who has no biological relation to the child, but has participated in the child's life as a member of the child's family. The de facto parent resides with the child and, with the consent and encouragement of the legal parent, performs a share of caretaking functions at least as great as the legal parent." In this instance, the court may order visitation for the de facto parent.

Other Web Resources

General Information

Answers to Common Questions for Never-Married Parents, Hampshire County Probate and Family Court. Information on custody and visitation for unmarried parents.

Child Custody: Family Law Advocacy for Low and Moderate Income Litigants, 2d ed., 2008, chapter 9. Online version of a great book includes information on differences between married and unmarried parents, types of custody arrangements, how a judge decides, changing custody orders, and necessary procedures, including checklists and sample forms.

Child Custody and Visitation, Massachusetts Legal Help. This page includes information hard to find elsewhere, including: If I haven't been to court, who has custody of the children?, Visitation Schedules, Visitation and Child Support: Is There a Connection?, and more.

Nolo's Essential Guide to Child Custody and Support, Nolo, 2013. Not specific to Massachusetts. "This book will walk you through everything you need to know about child custody, shared parenting, and the rules about supporting your children." Also provides a list of what decisions need to be made and when. Requires Library Card for access.

Guardians Ad Litem

Juvenile Court Department Guidelines for Court Investigator Reports, Mass. Juvenile Court Dept. Guidelines include the conduct of GAL investigations, appropriate content for GAL reports and more.

Standards for Category F Guardian Ad Litem Investigators, Mass. Probate and Family Court. Standards define the role of a GAL, compensation, professional performance, investigation and reporting requirements.

Moving Away

D.C. v. J.S., 58 Mass. App. Ct. 351 (2003). "Applications for court decision in cases in which a parent seeks to relocate within the Commonwealth should not be routine but are proper only where the relocation would evidently involve significant disruption of the noncustodial parent's visitation rights and the parents cannot agree." When necessary, criteria for "relocation to a distant part of the State will resemble those applied to removal beyond the State boundaries."

Mason v. Coleman, 447 Mass. 177 (2006). In order for a parent who shares joint physical custody to move out of state, s/he must meet a higher standard than a parent who has sole physical custody. "The importance to the children of one parent's advantage in relocating outside the Commonwealth is greatly reduced." Applying the "best interests of the child" test, the court determined that the mother would not be permitted to move out of state.

Rosenthal v. Maney, 51 Mass. App. Ct. 257 (2001). Because "Efforts by a custodial parent to relocate a child out of the Commonwealth often give rise to a claim for custody by the parent not seeking the move," case outlines the different standards required by a request for modification of custody and a request to relocate, and details the necessary considerations in a request to relocate.

Smith v. McDonald, 458 Mass. 540 (2010). Unmarried mother. "Permission to relocate... is not required when a child has only one legal parent. Such is the case for a nonmarital child prior to any proceedings to determine paternity or allocate custodial rights. When the paternity of a nonmarital child has not yet been established pursuant to G.L. c. 209C, § 2, the mother is the child's only parent. The putative biological father has no legal rights that need to be protected by the court, and the mother may relocate freely with the child."

Yannas v. Frondistou-Yannas, 395 Mass. 704 (1985). In detail, outlines how the best interests of the child are to be determined in deciding a case in which one parent who has sole physical custody wants to move out of state.

Leaving Massachusetts: Family Law Advocacy for Low and Moderate Income Litigants, 2d ed. 2008, Chapter 12. Mass. Legal Services. Online version of a great book, this chapter covers all the details of an action to move out of state with your child, or to prevent the other parent from moving. Includes sample forms.

Parenting and Parenting Agreements

Being a Great Divorced Father, Nolo, 2010. Talks about how to get through and past the divorce process in a positive manner so you can still be a great dad to your children. Requires Library Card for access.

Building a Parenting Agreement That Works: How to Put Your Kids First, Nolo, 2010. All about creating and working with your parenting agreement, includes sample forms. Requires Library Card for access.

Model Parenting Plans: Designing a Plan in the Best Interest of Your Child: Information You Should Consider, Mass. Probate and Family Court. "The Model Parenting Plans are not mandatory or presumptive. They do not represent the "law". They are not intended to be strict guidelines; nor do they indicate that there should be a minimum or maximum amount of parenting time for either parent. The plans are designed to be educational, informational and practical tools for parents who face important decisions relative to the care of their children."

Planning for Shared Parenting: A Guide for Parents Living Apart, Massachusetts Chapter of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC). Particularly helpful is the section which describes optimal arrangements by child's age.

Proud to Parent, Charlie and Barb Asher. Resources for parents who never married each other (not specific to Massachusetts). The site provides advice and information in video form.

Up to Parents, Charlie and Barb Asher. Resources for divorced and divorcing parents (not specific to Massachusetts). The site provides advice and information in video form.

Print Sources

Being a great divorced father, Nolo, 2010.

Child Custody and Support, MCLE, 2008.

DCF Case Practice Policy and Procedure Manual, Dept. of Children and Families, 2008.

Handling Interstate Removal Cases, MCLE, 2010.

How to Try a Removal Case, MCLE, 2013.

Massachusetts Practice v.2A (Family Law and Practice), 4th ed., Thomson Reuters, 2013 with supplement. Chapters 61-65.