Divorces can be tough and even more heart-wrenching when children are involved. Deciding on who will take custody of the child or children can be overwhelming for couples. However, by leveraging insights into the legislature and keeping the best interests of the child or children in mind, couples can arrive at a viable child custody decision that will benefit everyone. The different aspects and basics of child custody law that can aid parents in the process are defined in detail below.
What Are Child Custody Laws?
When in a marriage, both parents share equal responsibilities and rights over their children. After a divorce, child custody law helps determine the extent of the rights and responsibilities each parent maintains regarding their children. The law refers to the legal authority and obligation a guardian or parent has to supervise, care for, educate, and control a minor child. These laws can often overlap with divorce laws. Child custody laws vary from state to state. However, every state recognizes the child custody laws of the other state and uses a form of the universally accepted model of child custody in the country.
Child custody for unmarried couples is more complex than for married couples. In the case of unmarried couples, both biological parents do not get equal rights and responsibilities for their children. In most states, the biological mother is automatically granted parental rights of a child while a father has to legally obtain guardianship even though he might have already been keeping up with their responsibilities as a parent.
Types of Child Custody
There are two types of child custody that in one form or the other is accepted by all states across the United States:
- Legal Custody: This type of custody does not deal with where the child resides physically but gives a parent the right and responsibilities to make decisions about the welfare, education, and other important aspects of their child’s life. Having legal custody means a parent has the right to decide where the child studies and what healthcare facilities they get.
- Physical Custody: A physical custody gives the parents or guardians the right to live with their child and take care of their day-to-day needs and necessities. If only a single parent or guardian is given the primary physical custodianship or sole custodianship of their child, then the child lives only in one household, and the other parent is given visitation rights. It is possible to share physical custody of the child so that they can alternatively stay in different households.
Splitting and Sharing of Child Custody
Both physical and legal custody can be shared or given solely to one parent. The sole authority to make the decision on the sharing of legal and physical custody is the court. Judges can suggest and enforce any combination that they seem fit while keeping the best interests of the child or children in mind. Here are some models that are used to divide child custody:
- Sole Custody: This means that only one parent gets the physical or legal custody of their child. In this type, a parent is given the sole responsibility of taking the decisions for the child's welfare. When a parent is given the sole physical custody of their child, they spend the majority or all of the time in one household.
- Joint Custody: In this type of shared custody, both parents share legal and physical custody of their children, giving them equal rights and responsibilities. Joint custody can be agreed upon through a parenting agreement or can be ordered by the court.
- Split Custody: Typically, in split custody, one parent gets to spend the majority of the time with their child or children. In some cases, split custody may also allow equal sharing of legal and physical custody between parents. Generally, split custody arrangements involve the child staying with one parent during school and the other during summer vacation.
- Third-person Custody: In this type of custody, none of the parents are awarded the custody, but a third party, for instance, the grandparents, are awarded the custody if they file for it. This arrangement is ordered after the parents of the child fail to prove that they can care for the financial and welfare needs of the child or the death of the biological parents.
What Factors Impact the Decision of the Court?
The criteria that the court considers before deciding on who would be granted the custody of the child are as follows:
- The most prominent factor that is of paramount importance is the interest of the child. Therefore, the judge responsible for deciding on child custody cases always delivers judgments keeping the child's best interest in mind.
- Who has been the primary caretaker in the past and who is currently looking after the child plays a role in deciding to which parent the custody will be awarded to.
- The child's safety is also taken into consideration to decide which parent should get their physical custody. Past incidences of violence mean a parent’s chances of getting custody are significantly reduced.
- The bond of the child with each of their parents also impacts who the custody will be awarded to
- The overall health, including mental and physical health, past cases of addiction, smoking, and drinking habits, are evaluated.
- If the child is above the age of 12, then their preferred option is considered when delivering the judgment on custody.
- The financial situation and stability of the parents are also taken into account. A parent should at least have enough resources to support themself, and a child support order can be issued to ensure the child’s needs are met. However, it is always good to have more financial resources.
Why Hire a Child Custody Lawyer?
Hiring a child custody lawyer is always a good choice as it can help in the following ways:
- Expert child custody lawyers keep children's best interests at heart and assist parents in negotiating an agreement that works best for them and their children.
- Child custody lawyers understand the state-to-state variances in child custody laws and help parents understand the legal methods and procedures at their disposal.
- With child custody lawyers at their behest, a parent can narrate and present their side of the story better.
- Child custody lawyers are expert negotiators and can help a parent settle the case quickly and seamlessly.
- In case the child custody battle ends up in court, the lawyers can ensure a parent is not bullied into giving up their child’s custody and stand a considerable chance to meet and live with them.
- With a child custody lawyer taking responsibility for the legal procedures, the parents can focus on taking care of their child or children and can keep stress at bay.
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