Legal Custody

Legal custody refers to the legal authority to make major decisions on behalf of your child. Examples of major decisions include where your child will go to school, what type of religious upbringing he or she will have (ifany), and non-emergency medical decisions. Legal custody options include:

  • Sole Legal Custody: The parent who has sole legal custody is the only person who has the legal authority to make major decisions on behalf of the child. These include decisions regarding education, religion, and healthcare.

  • Joint Legal Custody: Joint legal custody means that both parents have the legal authority to make major decisions for the child. It should be noted that parents can potentially share "joint legal custody" without having "joint physical custody."

Physical Custody

Physical custody refers where the children live the majority of the time. This is sometimes referred to as "residential custody." Types of physical custody include: Sole Legal Custody : With this type of child custody, the child physically resides at one location. In most cases, the non-custodial parent is awarded generous visitationrights, including sleepovers.

  • Joint Physical Custody: This form of child custody is also called "shared custody," "shared parenting," or "dual residence." In this situation, the children live with one parent for part of the week (or part of the year), and live with the other parent during the remaining time. The division of time spent at each location is approximately equal.


Parent-child visitation allows parents who do not have physical custody to see their children on a regular basis.

  • Unsupervised Visitation: This is the most common type of visitation. Parents with unsupervised visitation are generally permitted to take their children to their own homes or may enjoy an outing child their children during their scheduled visitation. Occasionally, limitations are specified in advance. For example, if a mother chooses to breastfeed, the non-custodial parent may be asked to visit the child at the mother's home until the baby is able to take a bottle.

  • Supervised Visitation: In some cases, the courts will order supervised visitation, which means that another responsible adult must be present for the duration of the visit. Depending on the circumstances, the courts may allow the non-custodial parent to select an individual to serve as the supervisor. For example, he or she may choose a grandparent or family friend. In other cases, the parent and child must meet at a specified location so that an appointed social worker or court-ordered designee can supervise interactions.

Massachusetts Custody and Visitation Laws

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