Under Delaware law, parents are joint natural custodians of their children. When parents start living separately and apart, either or both parents may file a petition in Family Court seeking custody of their child.
Furthermore, whether parents have joint legal custody or one parent has sole legal custody of a child depends on each case. Keep in mind that each parent has the right to receive, when requested from the other parent, all material information concerning the child’s progress in school, medical treatment, school activities and conferences, religious events, and other activities in which the child participates. Both parents have a right to attend all these activities as well.
Furthermore, the Delaware Courts state that both parents have the right to access the child by phone and mail. Each court order must contain a contact (visitation) schedule with the non-custodial or non-residential parent. The court could restrict these rights if it discovers, after a hearing, that any of these rights would present a danger to the child’s physical health or impair the child’s emotional development.
After a Petition for Custody is filed in family court, the respondent in the petition must be personally served with a summons, including a copy of the petition. When positive service has been returned to the court, the case is referred to mediation. If domestic violence is discovered or a no-contact order is currently in effect concerning the parties, there will not be a mediation hearing unless the victim’s attorney requests a mediation hearing and is present.
Before mediation, each party is mandated to fill out the Custody, Visitation, and Guardianship Disclosure Report. Each party needs to bring the completed form to mediation. If mediation is bypassed, each party must complete and exchange with the opposing party or attorney a Custody, Visitation, and Guardianship Disclosure Report at least 7 calendar days before the first court appearance.
The Custody, Visitation, and Guardianship Disclosure Report must also be filed with the court at least 7 calendar days before the first court appearance. You can access the information on the Delaware Courts government website if you need more details on this.
At the mediation hearing, the mediator will assist the parents in coming to an agreement or defining the issues upon which the parents cannot agree. Additionally, the mediator will inform both parties of the language and content of the contact guidelines used by the court. If the parents can agree, a consent order will be completed and signed by the parents.
If the parents cannot come to a full agreement on the petition and cannot agree on a temporary contact schedule with the child, the mediator may suggest a contact schedule that may be in place until the court hearing occurs. If mediation is unsuccessful, the petition will be assigned to a judge for a full hearing later.
After an order for custody has been entered, if either parent files a Motion and Affidavit to Modify Custody, the motion will again be referred to mediation. If an agreement is not reached at mediation, the petition will be referred to a judge. If not previously completed, each party must complete the Parenting Education Class.
What is the Meaning of Custody?
Per Delaware law, the parent who has custody of their child decides where the child will reside, what school the child will attend, what doctors the child will see, and what religion the child will follow. If parents have joint custody, the custody order will state with which parent the child will live. The parents must communicate to make joint decisions on the child’s school, religion, and doctors. If a parent keeps a child longer than the court order permits, you have the right to enforce your order in court.
Keep in mind that even if one parent has custody, the other parent can still receive visitation unless the judge rules otherwise or decides it would harm the child. According to Delaware law, the child should have frequent contact with the other parent, in person, by mail, and by telephone.
Furthermore, according to Delaware law, whether one parent has legal custody or parents have joint custody, each parent has the right to receive information about the child’s schooling, medical treatment, and any activity in which the child participates.
Lastly, this information should be given as soon as they learn about it so that the other parent can attend. This includes doctor’s appointments, school programs, league games, and religious events unless the court, after a hearing, discovers that the other parent is unable to pay support.
How Will a Judge Decide on Custody?
In awarding custody of a child, the judge will examine many factors to decide what is in the child’s best interest. These factors include:
- What custody and living arrangements do the child’s parent(s) desire;
- What custody and living arrangements the child wants;
- The interaction and relationship the child has with their parents, grandparents, siblings, the husband or wife of either parent, any other residents of the household, or persons who may significantly impact the child’s best interest;
- The child’s adjustment to their home, school, and community;
- The mental and physical health of all individuals involved;
- Past and present compliance by both parents with their rights and responsibilities to support and care for their child;
- If there is any evidence of domestic violence;
- The criminal history of either parent and anyone they resided with, including whether the criminal history contains pleas of guilty or no contest or a conviction of a criminal offense; and
- If the judge believes it is necessary, the order can include a request that the police assist a parent in getting possession of a child. To accomplish this, the police officer can enter private property to get the child.
Can A Relative Apply For Child Custody?
The Women’s Law organization shares that a non-parent can seek to be appointed legal guardians if the child is being neglected. The court must find that it is in the best interest of the child that they should have a guardian appointed. Being a legal guardian is similar to having custody, but it is not the same since the parents still have some rights and responsibilities for the child.
Moreover, a blood relative, foster parent, or parent may also request permanent guardianship over a child in certain circumstances. This tends to be more like establishing custody but is legally separate. “Custody” in Delaware is considered only for parents. Parents include birth parents, adoptive parents, and “de facto” parents, which translates to any person who has acted like a parent to the child with the consent of the child’s parents.
When Do I Need to Contact a Lawyer?
It can be challenging to navigate the child custody issues that entail divorce. If you reside in Delaware, it is important to seek out a Delaware child custody attorney near you if you require resolving child custody issues.
Child custody issues can be mentally and financially draining; therefore, it is recommended to seek help from a professional when necessary. Your attorney can guide you through the process and inform you of your rights with regard to child custody decisions in the state of Delaware.