Child Custody and Visitation Rights
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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 various types of child custody. The most common:
- Legal Custody – Legal custody is 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 – Physical Custody is 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.
- Sole Custody – A sole custody arrangement provides one parent with total custody rights, allowing the other parent only visitation rights.
- Joint Custody – A joint custody arrangement allows the parents to synchronize their schedules and share decision-making responsibility over the child.
- Bird’s Nest Custody – A bird’s nest custody arrangement occurs where the child remains in one home and the parents rotate in and out of the home and take turns caring for the child.
How to Establish Child Custody and Visitation Rights
Parents can establish formal child custody and visitation agreements 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 rights. Some states require the parents to meet with a court mediator in hopes that they will come to an agreement, but others will simply leave it up to the parents and their attorneys. The courts do not usually interfere with a mutual agreement.
- By Court Order – If an agreement is not reached, the court will hold a hearing to determine an appropriate visitation schedule. Both parents will have a short time to present their case. Because the judge is not familiar with the intricacies of the parents’ work, social, and commuting schedule, the judge may impose a visitation schedule that is not 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) a scheduled 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 court order. Any portion of the agreement can be changed so 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 is justified if substantial changes in a parent's lifestyle threaten or harm the child.
Family courts prefer not to alter visitation arrangements as this can cause new problems, but if a proper justification arises the court will grant a modification.
Do I Need a Family Lawyer?
If you are looking to establish or modify child custody or visitation rights, it is generally wise to consult with a family law 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: 10-10-2014 11:25 AM PDT
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