Robert Withrow
21 Jun

Child custody issues in Massachusetts that tend to go to trial typically involve complex or contentious disputes where parents cannot reach an agreement through negotiation or mediation–often because there is no middle ground. Here are 4 common reasons why child custody issues can lead to a trial:

1. Safety Concerns

One parent may allege that the child is not safe in the custody of the other parent due to issues such as substance abuse, neglect, or domestic violence. It is critical in these cases that parents are able to articulate and demonstrate specific safety concerns to the Court, as opposed to generalized anxiety or “unpredictable behavior.” Third-party testimony from mental health professionals, investigators, the Department of Children and Families, and law enforcement is critical in conveying the seriousness of the threat to the Judge.

2. Relocation Disputes
If one parent wishes to relocate with the child, particularly a significant distance away from the other parent, this can lead to what is called a removal action. Massachusetts law requires a parent seeking to relocate with a child to obtain permission from the court or the other parent, especially if it would impact the existing custody and visitation schedule and the standard of review used by the Court in determining whether or not they will allow a parent to relocate with the child depends on the specific facts of the case.

3. Child's Preference
In Massachusetts, the court may consider the child's preference regarding custody arrangements if the child is deemed old enough and mature enough to express a reasoned preference. Disputes may arise if the child's preference differs from what one or both parents desire, leading to a trial where the child's best interests are carefully considered in light of the child’s desires, age, and other case-specific factors.

4. Modification of Custody Orders
Post-divorce or post-custody determination, circumstances that necessitate modification of existing custody orders may change. This could include changes in parental work schedules, a parent's relocation, the child's developmental needs, or significant changes in the parent-child relationship. If parents cannot agree on modifications, a trial may be required for the court to decide on the appropriate adjustments to custody arrangements.

In each of these scenarios, the Massachusetts court system's primary focus is the child's best interests. The court will consider factors such as the child's relationship with each parent, the stability of each parent's home environment, the child's educational and emotional needs, and any other relevant factors to determine custody arrangements that promote the child's health, happiness, and overall well-being. When disputes cannot be resolved through negotiation or alternative dispute resolution methods, a trial provides a structured process for presenting evidence and arguments, allowing the court to decide for the child's best interests.

If you or someone you know needs assistance navigating a child custody case that's leading to trial, please contact us at or give us a call at (781) 381-5287 to consult with a family law attorney.