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Legal Information: Massachusetts


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Laws current as of December 14, 2023

What will the court custody process look like?

Most of the time, after one or both parents file for custody in court, the parties may come to some sort of agreement about child custody. If they can agree, the judge will review that agreement and, under most circumstances, turn it into a formal court order.1

Sometimes, parents cannot come to an agreement. In that case, the judge might order the parents into mediation, where a mediator tries to get you and the other parent to come to an agreement. However, mediation is generally not a good idea in domestic violence situations due to the imbalance of power between the parties.

If the parents still cannot agree, or the judge does not order mediation, then there is a trial, where both parents can present evidence and witnesses to strengthen their case. There may be one hearing or a series of hearings. At trial, if one or both parents are asking for shared custody, both parents will be asked to submit a plan that details how custody will be shared, including where the child will live, plans for the child’s education and health care, ways to resolve disputes between the parents regarding child-raising decisions and duties, periods of time that the child will live with each parent, etc. The judge may use the plan(s) to decide what will go into the final custody order or the judge can reject the plans and issue a sole legal and physical custody award to either parent.1

At the end of the trial, the judge will decide who will get custody and what other terms will go in the custody order. If you think that your case is headed for trial, we strongly suggest that you get a lawyer to represent you. Custody cases can be complicated and it is best to have someone in court by your side who can help you through the process. See our MA Finding a Lawyer page for more legal referrals.

1 M.G.L. 208 § 31