Learn about the types of child custody arrangements

Find out what the difference is between the different types of child custody arrangements.

There are 4 different types of custody arrangements in Massachusetts law. 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 determine 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 continually 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 is subject to reasonable parenting time by the other parent, unless the court decides that parenting time wouldn't be in the child’s best interest.
  • Shared physical custody — A child has periods of living with each parent, so the child has frequent, continuous contact with both parents.

Additional Resources for Types of custody arrangements

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

Parenting time allows a parent who doesn't have primary physical custody to spend time with or visit the child. Where the visits take place, how often the visits take place, and whether or not the visits need to be supervised by another adult can be determined by the parents' agreement, which must be approved by the court. If the parents can't agree, it will all be determined by the court.