13 Kids and the Law What happens if the parents divorce? If the parents divorce, the Probate and Family Court has the authority to deter- mine whether the child should be in the joint custody of both parents or in the sole custody of one parent. The law does not state a preference for either the mother or the father when deciding sole physical custody. The court can make orders regarding parenting time (how, where, and when a parent who does not have primary physical custody of the child can visit or have other contact) and child support. Most parents agree to a parenting plan which outlines where and with whom the child will live and how much time the child will spend with each parent. The judge usually accepts this agreement and makes it a court order. If the parents cannot come to an agreement, the case is tried before a judge. The judge will decide if the child will remain in the shared legal and/or phys- ical custody of both parents or whether the child will be in the sole legal or physical custody of just one parent. Shared legal custody means that both parents continue to have responsibility for and are involved in major decisions regarding their child including educa- tion, health care and religion. A parent who has sole legal custody makes those decisions. Generally, sole physical custody means the child lives with and is under the supervision of one parent; the other parent has reasonable parenting time and access to the academic, medical, hospital, or other health records of the child (unless the court determines this is not in the child’s best interests). In Massachusetts the child usually will remain in the joint legal custody of both parents if the parents can work together for the child’s best interests. One parent may be awarded sole physical custody, and the child will live with that parent. The law does not state a preference for either parent when deciding sole physical custody. Who has custody when the parents were not married to each other when the child was born? A child born to an unmarried couple is in the custody of the mother unless or until a court rules otherwise. (This is true even if the mother is not yet 18 years old.) If there is an Acknowledgment of Parentage, parents can make an agreement that one or both parents shall have custody of the child. If the birth mother is unmarried, both parents can choose to sign a form that would estab- lish both parents as legal parents with rights and responsibilities for the child, Families: Rights and Responsibilities 1