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Fathers' rights and shared custody

Massachusetts fathers who are going through a divorce may have the mistaken belief that courts favor women in making custody decisions. While this may have been true in the past, the law specifically prohibits courts from assigning custody to one parent over the other based on the parent's gender. Instead, courts are to put the child's best interests first and they consider a number of relevant factors in making the custody orders.

Courts generally favor shared custody situations. There are two types of shared custody in Massachusetts. The first is called shared legal custody. When fathers are granted shared legal custody with their child's mother, both the father and the mother participate in all major decisions involving the child. The mother and father must confer and make decisions together regarding educational, religious, medical and other major decisions for their child.

The other type of shared custody is shared physical custody. With shared physical custody, the father and mother will share residential custody of the child. The child will go between the two parent's homes on a set schedule either agreed upon by the parents or established by the court. Parents will share holidays, summers and breaks as well.

Shared custody protects the child's ability to continue developing strong, ongoing relationships with both parents. The court is to always keep the child's best interests at the forefront when deciding custody disputes. If the parents are able to reach an agreement concerning a shared parenting schedule, courts will generally grant it. Otherwise, fathers do have rights and the court is bound by the law not to favor the child's mother just because of her gender. Fathers may benefit by speaking with a family law attorney who has experience in these matters.

Source: The commonwealth of Massachusetts, "Section 31Custody of children; shared custody plans", November 11, 2014

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