Child custody and visitation issues generally arise during separation and/or divorce proceedings. This can be one of the most difficult times in an individual’s life. It can also be extremely difficult for any children that are involved.
It is essential to have the assistance of an experienced family law attorney to help with any issues involving child custody and/or visitation. The decisions made in these cases will have an enormous impact on everyone involved.
Regardless of whether an individual is seeking custodial and/or visitation rights over a child, there are two main ways that a party to a divorce or separation proceeding can begin the process. These are by agreement or by a court order.
An agreement is the preferred method of determining custody and/or visitation rights. If both parties are willing to and can cooperate, they should discuss child custody and/or visitation arrangements without the involvement of the court. This permits the parties to draft an arrangement that works best for them. The agreement should include the conditions of custody and a basic visitation schedule.
In situations where the parents cannot come to an agreement on their own, or if the well-being of the child is in jeopardy because of one or both of the parties’ behavior, then the court will be required to intervene and make decisions for the parties. Both parties are usually given an opportunity to present their side of the situation to the court at a hearing.
It is important to note that either of the above selected methods required approval by the court. The parties will simply have more control over the terms and schedules if they draft an agreement together.
As noted above, preparing a strong custody and visitation case begins with an attorney. An attorney will know what evidence is needed and what arguments need to be presented during court proceedings. Hearings are often held to decide child custody and visitation issues.
If the parties are able to come to an agreement, an attorney will also be able to draft an agreement that includes the wishes of the parties. As noted above, to be legally binding, the agreement must be submitted to the court for approval.
Preparing a strong case also includes being aware of how a court will evaluate an argument. In family law cases, a court will use the child’s best interest standard. This standard takes precedence over most issues. However, the factors the court will consider may vary by state.
Using the child’s best interest standard ensures a vulnerable class of individuals, children, are granted the utmost protections. An individual taking custody of a child must be able to provide a stable home environment and ensure the safety and well-being of the child.
What Other Factors Might a Court Consider in a Child Custody Case?
To determine if a parent qualifies under this standard, the court will consider a variety of factors. These may include:
- The parent’s ability to care for the child;
- The relationship between the child and that parent; and/or
- Which home would be better suited for the child’s adjustment and/or needs.
Important issues that may factor into a court’s decision are things such as which parent has a more stable job and/or income. For example, if one parent has a job on a rotating shift at the other has a job Monday through Friday during normal business hours, the parent working normal business hours may be able to provide a more stable schedule.
However, that does not mean a rotating schedule job is counted against a parent, it may just mean they will have to show how the child will do such things as be taken to school. A grandparent or other relative may assist with these tasks and it will be important for the court to have that information.
What Documentation Should I Gather Before I Meet with My Child Custody Lawyer?
It is important to gather any relevant paperwork or information prior to a consultation. This may include items such as pay stubs and bank statements to provide a picture of the stability of an individual’s home. What is relevant will be different in every case. If an individual believes something is relevant but is not sure, it is best to bring it anyway and the lawyer can determine whether or not it is needed.
It may be helpful to prepare a list of questions regarding any issues prior to the consultation. That way, the lawyer can address any concerns at the outset. There will be many issues to be resolved.
If there are any issues an individual believes may not be in their favor, such as a rotating schedule employment, it is important to mention these to a lawyer at the beginning. That way, they can be addressed and a plan can be made for presenting an argument to the court.
What Makes a Child Custody & Visitation Case Strong? What Makes it Weak?
A strong child custody and visitation case is made by showing the court an individual can provide a stable and nurturing home for their child. Every child is different and every situation is different so there is no one size fits all standard. However, if the parent can show the court why their home would provide the best growing up environment for the child, they will have a strong case.
A child custody and visitation case may be weakened if there are factors in the parent’s life such as alcohol and/or drug use and/or dependency. Criminal activities also weaken an argument that an individual is the parent best suited for custody. It is important to note, however, that courts usually believe it is best for the child to have both parents raise them when possible. Therefore, if there are issues as previously mentioned, there are steps that can be taken to improve a case, such as rehabilitation programs.
What are Some Dos and Don’ts for Child Custody & Visitation Cases?
Custody and visitation cases are extremely important and typically extremely taxing on all involved. First and foremost, it is important to consider the child. The parents get to move on and start over but the child must continually be in the middle of the process.
Some “do’s” for child custody and visitation cases include:
- Do: Hire an attorney. An attorney will know how to best argue to the court without an emotional bias.
- Do: Remain calm and professional. A court will understand the proceedings are emotionally charged but will expect all individuals to remain calm and proceed in a professional manner.
- Do: Keep the child and their needs in mind at all times. It may be necessary to agree to something an individual doesn’t necessarily like because it is best for the child
Some “don’ts” for child custody and visitation cases include:
- Don’t: Don’t speak poorly of the other parent. The other parent is also the parent of the child and it hurts the child when the parents speak ill of one another just for sport.
- Don’t: Don’t provide dishonest information to an attorney and/or the court in an attempt to gain custody and/or visitation rights. This may permanently damage the other parent’s reputation and cause legal issues for the dishonest individual.
- Don’t: Don’t put the child in the middle of the custody battle. The child is not the reason for the proceedings and they do not deserve to be punished by being used as a pawn.
When Do I Absolutely Need a Lawyer for Child Custody & Visitation?
It is essential to always have a lawyer helping with child custody and visitation issues. The process and the issues involved are emotional and may often be overwhelming. At times, the parties involved may be so caught up in their own issues they forget their decisions and behaviors will have an effect on their children as well. These issues will last until the child reaches the age of majority, so it may be many years.
A local child custody lawyer can provide guidance as well as an unbiased opinion on custody and visitation options. A lawyer will help you focus on the most important issue, your child. They can discuss what outcomes will come from what choices and ensure your rights as a parent are protected in the process.
A lawyer can also further explain the different types of custody and visitation rights and how they may apply to your situation. They can draft and/or review an agreement and assist you with submitting it to a court for approval. By hiring a lawyer, someone will be present to represent you during any court proceedings, if necessary. They can also assist with any future modifications of the agreement.