Legal Information: Massachusetts

Custody

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Updated: 
October 24, 2018

Where can I file for child custody? (Which state has jurisdiction)?

Generally, you can file for custody or file to modify a final custody order in your child’s “home state.”  MA will qualify as your child’s “home state” if:

  • Your child has lived in Massachusetts with you or the other parent, or a person acting as a parent, for 6 consecutive months immediately prior to the start of the custody proceeding. (Note: It is OK if you or your child are temporarily absent from MA during the six-month period).1

Note: If a custody proceeding has already started in a court of another state, and the outcome of that proceeding is pending (has not happened yet), a Massachusetts court may not be able to hear your case, even if MA is now your child’s home state.2

Exceptions to the “home state rule”: Even if Massachusetts is not your home state, a Massachusetts court may be able to exercise jurisdiction (decide your case) if:

  • Your child is no longer living in but MA was your child’s “home state” within 6 months prior to the start of the custody proceeding MA (and the child’s parent currently lives in MA);
  • No other state has jurisdiction (the ability to hear your case), and it is in the best interest of your child for the case to be heard in MA because you or your child have a significant connection to MA and there is substantial evidence available in MA concerning the child's present or future care, protection, training, and personal relationships.3

Moving Concerns:

  • If you and your child recently moved from Massachusetts to another state, generally you cannot file for custody in that new state until you have lived there for at least 6 months (unless you qualify for “temporary emergency custody”—see below). Until then, you or the other parent may be able to start a custody action in MA, as long as your child has most recently lived there for at least 6 months.
  • If you and your child recently moved from another state to Massachusetts, generally you cannot file for custody in MA until you have lived there for at least 6 months (unless you qualify for “temporary emergency custody”—see below). Until then, you or the other parent may be able to start a custody action in the state you moved from, as long as your child has most recently lived there for at least 6 months.

Temporary emergency custody can be granted in a state that is not your child’s home state if it is necessary to keep your child safe from abuse or other danger.3  See Can I get temporary emergency custody? for more information about what it is and who can file for it.

1 M.G.L.A. 209B §§ 1; 2(e)
2 28 U.S.C.A. § 1738A(g)
3 M.G.L.A. 209B § 2(a)