Child custody is not as simple as the media makes it appear, and custody disputes do not simply result in awarding the mother custody of the child. In situations where the parents are divorced, unmarried, or live far from one another, the issue becomes complicated. This is why many parents who are considering divorce choose to hire a child custody attorney who can help them through any legal entanglements and fight to retain custody of their child.
Most state laws define custody as one or both parents bearing responsibility for the welfare of the child. Physical custody is what people commonly think of when they talk about custody. This refers to where a child lives on a daily basis, which can be given to one parent or both. Legal custody is a related matter and refers to the right to make significant decisions about a child, such as education and health care.
Every state has its own laws regarding family matters, including child custody. Contrary to popular belief, family courts do not favor one parent over another due to the basis of gender, and the court does not push one form of custody over another. There are several types of custody and visitation privileges available in most child custody situations, which are described as follows:
Joint Physical Custody
In cases where joint legal custody is granted by a judge, the child is essentially split between both parents. The child may live with each parent for a set period of time, which allows the child to spend equal time with both parents. Joint legal custody is not to be confused with situations where one parent has custody, but grants visitation rights to the other. This form of child custody is best suited for parents who are able to work past their differences and make decisions together for the best interests of the child.
Joint Legal Custody
Neither parent is given preference by the judges when it comes to making decisions for the best interests of the child. However, in certain situations, the court may give one parent the power to make certain decisions for the child, depending on several factors. This type of custody is not to be confused with joint physical custody, where the child is given equal time with each parent. Instead, joint legal custody is based out of a desire of the parents to make shared decisions regarding the child. “Joint Custody” is another term that can refer to either joint legal custody or joint physical custody and the term it is often used interchangeably.
A court may make one of the parents responsible for the child’s major life decisions, which may include education, healthcare, religion, and general welfare. This doesn’t mean that both parents are barred from making the decisions together; however, sole custody is generally granted by the judge in situations where it would cause too much conflict to do so, such as situations where domestic violence has occurred. Under law, the child’s custodial parent (the one with sole custody) may make decisions on their own, even if it goes against the other parent’s wishes.
Visitation typically refers to the non-custodial parent’s ability to have “parenting time.” Even though the child may live with the custodial parent, they can still interact with the other parent during a set period of time previously defined by the court. This largely depends on the unique facts behind each family’s situation. When a judge determines this time period, they will consider the parents’ work schedules, safety of the child, prior child care history, school locations, as well as the preference of the parent/child in deciding visitation schedules. However, even if the child is allowed lengthy visitation time with one parent, this does not mean that the parent retains any level of custody.
When determining visitation, there are many situations where the safety of the child or custodial parent is of concern to the judge. This is common is domestic violence cases, where the child should not be left alone with the abuser. In order for the judge to grant supervised visitation, the custodial parent must prove why it is necessary. The specific facts behind each situation will also decide how long and how frequent the supervised visits will be.
Additionally, parents are not required to pursue custody or visitation of their child in court. For some parents, involving the court system may add additional stress or financial burden. If the parents are on amicable terms, they may reach an informal decision regarding the custody or visitation of their child. However, if there is a potential for future conflict about custody or visitation agreements, the parents may still turn to the courts to resolve the issue.
There is no perfect solution to addressing the issue of child custody when dealing with divorce or separation. Similar to the rationale behind the court’s decisions regarding child custody, parents tackling this issue should place priority concern over the option that would allow the child to live a healthy lifestyle. This may mean having one parent retain sole custody or having joint legal custody of the child. Whatever you ultimately decide, remember that your child will experience a large share of the impact from the child custody decision.