In the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court “custody” can be a four letter word for litigants. For as long as anyone can remember the system has relied on the terms legal custody and physical custody to describe the level of responsibility a parent has for providing care to his or her children. Legal custody most commonly refers to the ability of a parent to make decisions about the welfare of a child as it pertains to education, medical care and religious upbringing, and physical custody refers to where a child will live and ostensibly which parent pays child support.
The terms legal and physical custody undoubtedly serve a legitimate function by summarizing, in 5 to 6 syllables, the rights and responsibilities of a parent. However, when used in a court setting these words often ignite the already smoldering embers of anger and vitriol that percolate in many family law cases involving children. Add in the word visitation and things tend to go nuclear. No parent wants to be viewed as anything less than “a parent” but sometimes words like custody and visitation have the perception of excluding or downgrading a mother or father especially when custody is not shared and visitation time is not equal.
Luckily, custody and visitation are just words used to describe concepts. They can (and probably should) be replaced with language like “parenting responsibility”, “parenting schedule” or other language that better promotes cooperation and collaboration. Words that are more inclusive can give parents the sense that, despite a divided household, they can continue to play an important role for their children.
If both mother and father feel involved then they may want to invest more time in defining their respective roles as a parent and create an arrangement that works well for them and, most importantly, for the children.
If you or a loved one has a child custody case, do not hesitate to contact one of the experienced Worcester Child Custody Attorneys at Murphy & Rudolf LLP. For a free consultation with an attorney at Murphy & Rudolf LLP, please call 508 425 6330.