Susan Rossi Cook, Attorney and Mediator

The rare circumstances when you may need to seek sole custody

The family courts in Massachusetts want to do what is best for the children whose parents are going through a divorce. When they decide how to split up custody between the parents, the focus will always be on the best interests of the children, not on the wishes or rights of the parents.

In most cases, the best interests of the child involve retaining healthy relationships with both parents. Unfortunately, that isn't always an option for every family. There are certain circumstances in which it makes sense for you to seek sole custody of your children during a Massachusetts divorce.

Does your ex have a history of abuse, abandonment or neglect?

The most obvious reason that you wouldn't want your ex to have access to your kids is the risk for physical, emotional or sexual abuse. If your ex has displayed abusive behavior toward the children or toward you in front of the children, that can be a valid reason to seek sole custody of your children.

You will want to have documentation that supports your allegations, whether that means collecting police reports from when the neighbors called the cops or medical records of injuries you or the children suffered. Neglect and abandonment can be slightly harder to prove, but that doesn't mean it is impossible to do so.

Abandonment could involve your ex deciding to leave the state for a week and go on a bender with friends. It could also involve them completely walking out on your family for months at a time. Neglect, on the other hand, means that the parent was present but not paying attention or providing adequate care. You could allege neglect if your child suffered an injury due to inadequate parental monitoring while in the case of your ex.

Instability, addictions and other issues could impact custody, too

If your ex has severe mental health issues or can't maintain a stable household without the help of someone else, that could be grounds for seeking sole custody. You don't want your children moving through a variety of houses because of an unstable situation.

Similarly, if your ex struggles with an addiction to drugs, alcohol, pornography or gambling, any of those issues could be a reason to reduce or eliminate their parenting time. You need to have a way to demonstrate to the courts that the addictive behavior impacts the ability of your ex to parent, as it obviously does in the case of substance abuse.

For other forms of addiction, you could demonstrate that they destabilize the home or absorb your ex's attention to the point that they can't help but neglect the children. Outside of these extreme circumstances, chances are very good that you and your ex will likely share custody. If you need to build a case for sole custody, start doing so as soon as possible to effectively protect your children.

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Susan Rossi Cook, Attorney and Mediator

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Needham, MA 02494

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