Child Custody and Visitation Lawyers
Establishing Child Custody and Visitation
Establishing child custody and visitation arrangements in a divorce or other separation are often the most difficult challenges parents must face. Courts deciding child custody and visitation matters will always make a decision based on the best interests of the child.
What Does "Best Interests of the Child" Mean?
Determining what the best interests of a child are depends upon many factors, including the:
- Child's age, gender, mental and physical health
- Health of parents
- Lifestyle and other social factors of parents
- Love and emotional ties between parent and child
- Parents ability to provide food, shelter, clothing and medical care
- Quality of schools in a given locale
- Child's preference if the child is over 12
- Ability and willingness of the parent to foster a healthy relationship between child and other parent
- Stability of the environment
Different Types of Custody Arrangements
There are two types of child custody:
- Legal Custody -The right and responsibility to make decisions about the rearing of the child. This includes issues such as education, religion, medical care, and discipline. Courts generally award joint legal custody, allowing the parents to share these rights.
- Physical Custody - The right of a parent to have a child live with him or her. Most courts order joint physical custody, but the exact time-split is often something other than 50/50.
Courts will award legal and physical custody of a child to either one parent (sole custody) or both parents (joint custody).
How Child Custody and Visitation is Established
Formal child custody and visitation arrangements are establish in one of two ways:
- By Agreement –Ideally both parents will come to an agreement regarding visitation so that each parents' schedules can accommodate their visitation. Some states require you to meet with a court mediator in hopes that you will come to an agreement, but others will simply leave it up to the parents and their attorneys. Typically both parents have a lot of leeway in these agreements and the court usually will not interfere with a parental agreement..
- By Court Order – If an agreement is not reached then you will have a court hearing and a short amount of time to present the facts of your case to a judge. This judge will not know the intricacies of your work, social, and commuting schedule, but since an agreement was not reached the court will need to impose some sort of visitation schedule which may not be ideal for either parent.
Child Visitation Rights
The parent who does not have physical custody of the child is usually given "reasonable visitation" rights with the child. Visitation rights allow the non-custodial parent (the person without child custody) time to spend with their child. Child visitation schedules can be set either by the court or left to the parents to agree upon.
Modification of Child Custody and Visitation Arrangements
Child custody and visitation agreements can be modified with the consent of both parents or by the Court. Anything can be changed as long as it is consistent with the best interests of the child. Typical justifications for an alteration in child custody or visitation are:
- Relocation - Some states allow parents with physical custody to relocate no matter what distance is involved.
- Substantial change in circumstances- Anything significant that disrupts the stability of the child's life ( i.e. parent's loss of job, relocation, illness) may warrant modification.
- Change in lifestyle - Modification may be justified if substantial changes in a parent's lifestyle threaten or harm the child.
Generally family courts prefer not to alter visitation arrangements as these can cause new problems, but if a proper justification arises modifications can be granted.
Do I Need a Family Attorney Experienced in Child Custody and Visitation?
If you are looking to establish or modify child custody or visitation, it is generally wise to consult with an attorney. A lawyer has experience dealing with the complicated court system and can work to protect your relationship with the child. See these articles for additional information about Child Custody Laws and Child Custody Guidelines.
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Last Modified: 09-24-2012 02:31 PM PDT