“Custody” is the right to have your child live with you. Custody also means you have responsibility for your child.

There is “physical” custody and “legal” custody.

Parents have different custody arrangements:

  • 1 parent can have physical custody while they share legal custody with the other parent.
  • 1 parent can have legal custody while they share physical custody with the other parent.
  • Parents can share both legal and physical custody.

Legal custody

Sole legal custody

Sole legal custody means only one parent has the right and responsibility to make major decisions about your child's welfare.  Major decisions are about things like medical care, education, discipline, and religion.

Shared legal custody

Shared legal custody means both parents have the right and responsibility to make major decisions about your child's welfare.  Parents decide together about major things like medical care, education, discipline and religion together.

Physical custody

Sole physical custody

Sole physical custody means one parent is responsible for giving your child a home and taking care of them.

The other parent still gets parenting time. The court can decide the parenting time arrangement is not in your child’s best interest.

Shared physical custody

Shared physical custody means both parents are responsible for giving your child a home. Each parent is responsible for taking care of your child. Shared physical custody means your child has frequent and continued contact with both of you.

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Last Updated November 2016

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