Divorce is a stressful and complicated time, made more complicated when child custody is involved. Tensions can run high and it can be difficult to reach a mutually beneficial agreement out of court. Here is a rundown of what to keep in mind when involved in a child custody case.
Types of Custody
Custody can often be split into two non-mutually-exclusive types: legal custody and physical custody.
Legal custody allows the parent to be a part of major decisions in their child’s life, such as their education, health, and religion. Legal custody is often shared by both parents, and allow both parties to be a part of the child(ren)’s life. Mutual legal custody is optimal in most divorce cases.
Physical custody relates to permanent residence and parental access to the child(ren). Physical custody can be partial, shared, or sole, and has a number of determining factors relating to the health, education, and disposition of the child(ren). Physical custody can be denied to a parent while legal custody is still allowed, but this is not ideal in most cases.
The process for determining custody can be straining, especially if both parents want sole physical custody or are unhappy with shared custody. This can make taking a custody case to court seem inevitable, even though settling out of court tends to be better for the wellbeing of the family. Despite the general preference for out of court settlements, both individual and in court decisions can benefit the family.
Out of court decisions are better for families with uncontested decisions. They allow the papers to be filed faster and for the family to move on more easily. Some states and counties may require at least one mediation session to ensure both parties fully agree with the settlement they have written before presenting to the court. Classes on how to respond and interact with your child(ren) after being divorced may also be required.
In court decisions are required when a settlement cannot be reached between the parents. This may be because one or both of the parents are accusing the other of being unfit to be the primary custodial parent of the child(ren). The judge, when faced with such disagreements, will decide which parent is to get primary custody and may restrict the visitation rights of a parent they see as unfit to provide a safe environment for the child(ren). Factors the judge may consider include whether a parent is actively using and/or abusing substances, has been convicted of a violent or child-related crime or has been accused of parental alienation. If none of these are relevant factors, the court will look into individual relationships both parents have with their child(ren), ability to provide, geographical location, and the child(ren)’s personal preferences.
Parent plans are mutually agreed upon terms as signed by the parents and the court. They are in-depth plans of where the child(ren) will spend weekdays, weekends, holidays, and birthdays. They are also known as child custody arrangements and should be followed and respected unless a variation is mutually agreed upon by the parents. Having a written down plan and having both parents follow that plan will help to ease tensions and let the family continue with their new life.
As of the 2010 census, the average monthly child support payment was $430. The individual amount decided on by the court and the parents will be dependent on factors such as their ability to provide, the cost of living in the region, and the amount of physical custody the parent has. Child support must be paid, and if the parent responsible for paying does not provide it for an extended period of time, legal action can be taken against them.
When going through a child custody case, it is important to keep the best interest of all parties at heart. It is easy to get caught up in a battle of who deserves what and who is at fault when the focus should be the best outcome for the child(ren). A good family lawyer will help keep discussions on track while also fighting for the most mutually beneficial outcomes for their client as well as the child(ren).