In general, child custody rights refer to the set of legal rights granted by a biological or adoptive parent upon receiving custody of their child in a divorce or legal separation setting. For instance, a parent with legal custody over their child will have the right to make important legal decisions on behalf of their child, amongst other important decisions regarding raising that child.
Generally, a child custody arrangement refers to the legal right of a parent with physical custody to possess and live with the child. With a child custody arrangement, each parent will have a court-ordered or approved schedule by which they are entitled to possess their child. However, one parent will typically be granted primary custody of the child for insurance, tax, and educational purposes.
Generally, the parent’s residence that has primary physical custody of the child is considered to be the child’s primary residence.
It is important to note that a child’s biological parents are automatically granted certain legal rights over their child or children. Further, courts tend to follow the precedent that spending time with both parents is in a child’s best interest. As such, each parent subject to a child custody arrangement will have a legal right to possess their child, along with other rights, including the right to the following:
- Make educational decisions for their child, such as what type of school they go to, what type of courses the child should take, and other choices;
- Make religious decisions regarding what religion to raise the child in, if any;
- Make legal decisions on behalf of their child, such as whether or not to enter into certain legal contracts on behalf of their child or represent their child in a lawsuit;
- Make medical decisions for their child, both invasive and noninvasive, including psychological care.
What Are the Different Child Custody Arrangements?
Child custody arrangements may come in many forms, as every parent-child relationship will be different. The following list summarizes the different types of child custody arrangements available to parents upon divorce or legal separation.
It is important to note that the exact definition of these custody rights and arrangements will depend on the state in which child custody is being determined:
- Sole Custody: In the case of a sole custody arrangement, only one parent has custody of the child for most of the time. Then, the other parent is permitted certain child visitation rights, in which they are able to visit with their child for an allotted period of time.
- In general, courts are moving away from sole custody arrangements. Unless the child is in clear danger in one parent’s household, or evidence is shown that permitting one parent legal and physical custody of the child is not in the child’s best interest.
- Joint Custody: When parents agree, or a court orders them to share decision-making and child-raising responsibilities, they will be granted joint custody of their child or children.
- Courts prefer joint child custody arrangements and are typically considered to be in the child’s best interests.
- Joint child custody arrangements ensure children have continued contact and involvement with both of their parents by allowing both parents to have almost equal possession and access to their child or children.
- Joint child custody arrangements also help to alleviate some of the burdens of parenting for each parent.
- Birds Nest Custody: A bird’s nest child custody arrangement refers to a rare form of child custody wherein the child or children remain living in the family home. The parents take turns moving in and out of the home to care for the child.
- This form of child custody is typically not granted as it is disruptive for the parents’ schedules, and the parents will not typically be amenable to the situation long-term.
- Split Custody: In a split custody arrangement, otherwise known as a 50-50 child custody arrangement, both parents will be granted equal rights to possession of their child or children. Neither parent will be declared the primary conservator of the child or children.
- Split custody arrangements are typically more rare than a joint custody arrangement as one parent is generally less available to care for their child on a daily basis due to their career. Additionally, the parents may not be able to share custody due to the location of their residences.
How Are Child Custody Arrangements Decided?
When determining what the child custody arrangement is going to be for both parents, family law courts will always make the decision based on the child’s best interest. It is important to emphasize that the decision is being made based on the child’s best interest, not the parent’s best interests.
As such, all decisions regarding the child, including determining custody, will be made according to the child’s best interest standard. This once again means that what is considered to be best for the child will always be placed over the wants and needs of the parents involved in the custody case.
Common examples of what is considered by a family law court when determining child custody include, but may not be limited to:
- Each parent’s relationship with the child;
- Each parent’s history of interactions with the child;
- Whether or not the child has any siblings or other family members living with only one parent;
- Whether one parent has been acting as the child’s primary caretaker and how long they have been the primary caretaker;
- The child’s background, such as their attachment to their home, neighborhood, and school;
- The mental and physical health of each parent;
- The mental and physical health of the child;
- Each parent’s financial state;
- Each parent’s residence and the state of the residence;
- Whether the child has any special needs, such as health, mental, or medical needs;
- The wishes of the parents, if they have both agreed to a particular custody arrangement;
- The child’s wishes, if the child is old enough and capable of stating a preference.
It is important to note that a court will typically accept an agreed child custody order that has been put forth to the court by both parents so long as the order is in the child’s best interests. If parents can agree to a child custody arrangement, it will typically save them money in legal fees and be less stressful overall for both parties.
Sometimes parents will choose to attend a mediation with a neutral third-party mediator to come to an agreed child custody arrangement that works for both parties.
Can Child Custody Arrangements Be Changed?
In short, yes, child custody modification is possible after a child custody order has been signed. However, typically a child custody arrangement may only be changed after a certain period of time has elapsed, or there has been a significant and material change of circumstances since the first order was rendered.
Similar to determining the original child custody arrangement, a child custody order can be modified based on the needs and best interests of the child or children involved in the case. As mentioned above, a new or modified custody order can generally be obtained if there are any significant and material life changes that would affect the way the child is being raised.
Generally speaking, the following circumstances may constitute a significant and material change for purposes of modifying a prior ordered child custody arrangement:
- A parent has remarried;
- One parent has relocated to another state or residence;
- One parent has been laid off or promoted, which leads to more or less availability for caring for the child subject to the order;
- One of the parents has become incapacitated or deceased;
- Various other factors, such as the child not being properly cared for by one parent or that parent has received criminal charges for child abuse or other violent criminal charges.
If any of the above scenarios occur, a parent should seek a consultation from an experienced family law attorney who handles child custody modification to determine whether the child custody arrangement may be modified.
If it is determined a material or significant change in circumstances has occurred, or enough time has passed, a judge may then review the new information and previous order and determine whether any adjustments to the parties’ custody and visitation order should be made.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With Child Custody Arrangements?
As can be seen, there are numerous factors that are taken into consideration when determining a child custody arrangement. As such, if you are going through a divorce with children or if you are going through a legal separation, it is important to consult with an experienced child custody lawyer.
Have LegalMatch pair you with an experienced child custody attorney who can help you understand your state’s specific laws on child custody and what your legal rights and options are under those laws. Additionally, an experienced attorney will also be able to represent you in court as needed throughout the entire legal process.