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Legal Information: Massachusetts


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Laws current as of
December 14, 2023

How will a judge make a decision about custody?

A judge will make a decision about custody based on what s/he thinks is in your child’s best interest, which the law also refers to as the “happiness and welfare” of your child.1 The judge could look at any factor s/he thinks is important to make this decision but there are a couple of factors that the judge has to consider by law:

  1. whether or not the child’s present or past living conditions have a negative effect on the child’s physical, mental, moral, or emotional health;2 and
  2. any past or present abuse committed by one parent against the other parent or against the child.3 (For more information, see Can a parent who committed violence get custody or visitation?)

Although the following factors are not specifically included in Massachusetts law, some other things that a judge might look at in any custody case include:

  • Who has been the primary caretaker for the child?
  • Is the child doing well in his/her current situation?
  • How is the child performing in school?
  • Where would the child go to school if living with the other parent?
  • How much quality time can each parent spend with the child?4
  • Depending on the age and maturity of the child, the judge might consider the preference of the child.5

1 See M.G.L. 208 § 31; M.G.L. 209C § 10
2 M.G.L. 208 § 31
3 M.G.L. 208 §§ 31; 31A
4 Family Law Advocacy for Low and Moderate Income Litigants: Chapter 9: Child Custody, 3rd Edition (2018)
5 See Bak v. Bak, 24 Mass.App.Ct. 608 (1987)