A “child custody arrangement” is a legal term that refers to the manner in which a separated or divorced couple’s legal rights and responsibilities over their child or children are distributed. In other words, the type of arrangement chosen will determine what legal and physical custodial rights will be assigned to each parent.

There are various different kinds of child custody arrangements. For instance, child custody can be arranged in the following ways:

  • Sole Custody: In this case, only one parent will receive full custody of the child. 
  • Joint Custody: For joint custody situations, both parents will receive some form of custody, but it will be distributed unevenly between the parties. 
  • Shared Custody: In circumstances where the court approves a shared custody arrangement, the parents will receive equal custody over the child.
  • Miscellaneous: Some states permit the parents to create a child custody arrangement that is based on a combination of different custodial arrangements, such as alternating custody.

In addition, child custody may also refer to whether the parent has legal, physical, or both types of custody rights. Physical custody refers to the parent who is physically caring for the child at the moment, whereas legal custody means the parent who is responsible for making major legal decisions (e.g., education or religious upbringing) on behalf of the child. 

In cases where both parents are either absent or unfit to care for the child, the court may appoint a non-parent as the legal guardian of that child. Although legal guardians do not always have to be related to the child, they usually are a close relative, such as an aunt, an uncle, or a grandparent. 

Finally, regardless of the type of child custody arrangement chosen, the court will base its final decision on whether or not the arrangement will comport with the best interests of the child standard

How are Child Custody Arrangements Decided?

As previously mentioned, all child custody determinations must be made in accordance with the child’s best interest standard. This standard calls for the court to consider a number of factors, including:

  • The child’s age, gender, and physical or mental development;
  • Whether the child has any special educational or physical requirements;
  • The degree of attachment that the child has to each parent individually; and
  • The child’s social background or participation in extracurricular activities.

In addition, the court will also consider certain factors in relation to each parent, such as their income, their mental and physical fitness, the level of education they have reached, and whether or not they were involved in prior incidents regarding abuse, violence, or substance abuse. 

What If I Need to Change My Child Custody Arrangements?

A child custody order can be modified based on the needs of the child or children, as well as the needs of each parent. A new or modified custody order can generally be obtained if there are any “major life changes” that would affect the way the child is being raised. 

Major life changes can include the following circumstances:

  • If a parent has remarried;
  • When a parent moves to another state or residence;
  • If a parent has been laid off or promoted (e.g., the promotion leads to extra hours or relocation);
  • When one of the parents becomes incapacitated or deceased; and
  • Various other factors that could contribute to the child not being properly cared for if the child custody arrangement is not changed.

If any of these types of scenarios occur, they should be presented to the court immediately. A judge will then review the information and make any adjustments to the parties’ custody and visitation order as they see fit.

Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer for Help with Child Custody Arrangements?

Child custody arrangements should not be taken lightly. These arrangements are capable of producing long-lasting consequences that will have an impact on both the parents and child or children involved. They also can be procedurally confusing due to the different laws involved, which may vary by state.

As such, it may be in your best interest to hire a local child custody lawyer for assistance with creating or resolving other issues concerning your child custody arrangement. 

Consulting an experienced child custody lawyer will help to ensure that the child custody arrangement will not only be formed in a way that best protects your child, but also provides protections over your rights as a parent and will be legally enforceable. 

A lawyer will also be able to discuss the different custody options available based on the laws in your area as well as the arrangements that would best fit your situation. Additionally, a lawyer can also provide representation on your behalf when you need to appear for a custodial hearing. 

Finally, if you believe that there are circumstances that require either modifying or terminating your current child custody order, an attorney can also help you with this process.