The Ultimate Guide to Child Custody

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 What is Child Custody?

Child custody and guardianship are legal concepts which involve the legal and practical relationships between parents and their children. These terms also involve legal custody, which is the right of a parent to make decisions for the child and physical custody, which is the duty of a parent to care for their child.

Child custody can be awarded to one parent or to both parents. If the relationship between the parents is amicable, the parents can often reach an agreement to determine who will be awarded custody.

In a situation where the parents cannot agree, the court will step in and determine child custody.

What Are the Different Classifications of Child Custody?

There are two types of child custody, physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody is the legal right a parent has to provide a physical home for their child.

Legal custody refers to the rights of the parents to make all decisions related to their children, including:

  • Religion;
  • Education; and
  • Medical care.

Physical and legal custody may be awarded to one parent, both parents, or a combination. As noted above, parents may be able to agree to the terms of physical and legal custody.

If, however, the relationship is more contentious, the court will determine both physical and legal custody terms for the parties.

What Are Visitation Rights?

If physical custody is awarded to one of the parents, the other parent, referred to as the noncustodial parent, may be granted visitation rights. Visitation rights refers to the rights which are held by a noncustodial parent that entitles them to spend time with their child or children.

The parents can agree upon a visitation schedule. However, in cases where a parent has a history of violence or dependency issues, the court may determine the visitation schedule.

In addition, a court may order that the visitation should be supervised by a court and require that a third party be present during all visits.

Typical visitation schedules for parents who reside in close proximity may include:

  • Every other weekend;
  • A weeknight;
  • Half of the child’s spring and winter breaks; or
  • 2 to 6 weeks in the summer.

If the parents do not reside close to one another, the visitation schedule for the noncustodial parent may include more holidays and summer vacation days to permit that parent sufficient time with their child.

Are There Different Types of Visitation Rights?

There are three main categories of visitation rights which may be awarded to the noncustodial parent, including:

  • Unsupervised visitation: The most common type of visitation, unsupervised visitation permits the noncustodial parent to take the child to their own home or any outing during the time of the visit;
  • Supervised visitation: In situations where the noncustodial parent is not permitted to be alone with the child, the court will order supervised visitation with the child. Supervised visitation is ordered where the parent has a history of violence or chemical and substance abuse issues; and
  • Virtual visitation: Virtual visitation typically takes place over the internet and may include:
    • video chatting;
    • instant messaging; and
    • email.

Does Anyone Else Have a Right to See My Children?

Visitation rights of grandparents vary from state to state. Most states, however, determine grandparent visitation rights based on three circumstances:

  • The relationship between the parents and whether or not both of the parents are alive;
  • The relationship between the parents and the child or children; and
  • The relationship between the grandparents and the child or children.

A court will determine the rights of a grandparent when considering what is in the best interest of the child or children. It is important to note that a court is required to consider the decision of a fit parent to dent a non-parent visitation rights to the child or children.

This means that although a grandparent may be permitted to petition for visitation rights, a court will give weight to the wishes of the custodial parent of the child.

Are There Any Issues Surrounding Visitation Rights I Should Understand?

Yes, there are numerous issues related to visitation rights which a parent should consider. When courts order visitation rights, they will ensure that those rights are reasonable.

Reasonable usually means allowing the parents to exercise flexibility as well as taking into consideration both the schedules of the parents and the children. Although the custodial parent has the right to disagree with a court-ordered schedule, a court will take note of an uncooperative custodial parent.

The majority of visitation dates are open to revision based upon changing circumstances as well as the schedules of the parents or children. There are, however, some instances in which a court will order fixed visitation.

If the relationship between the parents is strained and severe, a court may order fixed visitation to reduce the need for the parents to be in continued contact. Fixed visitation also keeps the custodial parent from having additional control over the schedule.

One advantage to a fixed visitation schedule is that it provides a stable environment for the child.

What is Child Support?

The law requires parents to provide monetary support for their children. Child support is monetary support which is paid by the noncustodial parent.

The custodial parent is considered by the court to support the child because they are with them the majority of the time. Child support is monetary support that is intended to be used for the care of the children and not to support the custodial parent.

How Are Child Support Amounts Calculated?

Every state has its own formula or court rules which determine how child support is to be calculated. The majority of courts consider factors including:

  • The income of the parent;
  • The child or children’s educational, health and other needs;
  • The ability of the noncustodial parent to support themselves; and
  • The child or children’s accustomed standard of living.

When Does Child Support Terminate?

Child support is paid until such time as one of the following conditions is met:

  • The child reaches the age of 18, 19, or 21, depending on the state;
  • The child is legally emancipated;
  • The child goes on active military duty;
  • The child has passed away;
  • The noncustodial parent terminates their parental rights and responsibilities; or
  • The child was adopted by another person.

There are some situations in which child support may be required for a longer period beyond the age of maturity. For example, if a child is in college, post-minority or post-secondary support may be ordered.

This support is used to assist in paying for the education of a child attending:

  • A college;
  • A university;
  • A vocational school; or
  • Another type of post-secondary education.

There are some states which require child support to continue through college. This provision may also be included in a child support agreement between the parents.

In addition, child support may be ordered to continue past the age of maturity if a child has disabilities or special needs. When a child is unable to support themselves due to a disability, the majority of states have adopted the rule that parents have a duty to support their adult disabled children.

Should I Contact an Attorney?

Your rights related to your children and your ability to see them are extremely important. If you have any issues, questions, or concerns related to child custody, it may be helpful to consult with a child custody lawyer.

Your lawyer can explain your rights related to your children and protect your interests. In addition, if you owe or are attempting to collect child support payments, your attorney can protect your rights and help you get the support you need.


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