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Learn about the types of child custody arrangements

Find out what the difference is between the different types of legal and physical child custody and parenting time arrangements.

There are 4 different types of custody arrangements in Massachusetts. Parents can make their own arrangements within these definitions and draft an agreement about custody and parenting time. The judge will review their agreement to decide if it's in the best interest of the child(ren). 

Types of custody arrangements

There are 4 types of custody arrangements:

  • Sole legal custody — One parent has the right and responsibility to make major decisions about the child, including ones about education, medical care, religion, and emotional development.
  • Shared legal custody — Both parents are involved in and responsible for major decisions about the child, including ones about education, medical care, and emotional, moral, and religious development.  
  • Sole physical custody —  A child lives with one parent and the other parent has reasonable parenting time, unless the court decides that parenting time wouldn't be in the child’s best interest.
  • Shared physical custodyA child has periods when they live with each parent, so they have frequent, regular contact with both parents.

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What's the difference between child custody and parenting time?

Parenting time lets a parent who doesn't have primary physical custody spend time with or visit their child. The parents’ court-approved agreement says where the visits will happen and for how long, and whether or not the visits need to be supervised by another adult. If the parents can't agree on terms, the court will decide.

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