If you’re planning to divorce you will have to discuss and settle issues related to property, finances and custody of your children. Laws governing child custody vary from state to state but there are a few things every couple should know about child custody cases.
How Legal Decisions Are Made
Courts deciding child custody cases base their decisions on one standard – what is in the child’s best interest. Various factors are considered before the court makes a decision when determining what is best for the child.
- The parent that is the child’s main caregiver
- The emotional and physical health of the parents
- Any evidence of abuse or neglect
- The ability of each parent to provide financially for the child
If the child is old enough, the court will also consider the child’s wishes.
Legal Child Custody vs. Physical Child Custody
It is important to understand the difference between legal custody and physical custody.
Legal custody refers to who is legally responsible for the care and well-being of the child.
Physical custody refers to where the child will physically live most of the time.
In some cases, parents will share legal custody while one parent will have physical custody. It’s extremely important not to get the two confused. While the child may live with one parent most of the time, the other parent may have the legal rights to decide on health care, schools and other important decisions.
Most courts want parents to create their own parenting plan with the help of a mediator, if needed. In some cases, the judge will require parents meet with a mediator first and at least attempt to create their own parenting plan. If parents fail to come to an agreement, then they can proceed to a hearing before a judge.
Only ten percent of parents involved in a child custody dispute have to have the matter settled by a judge. It is always best for everyone, especially the child, if parents can settle custody issues by agreement.
If the children are old enough, talk to them about what they expect and need to maintain a normal lifestyle. If they aren’t old enough, try to come to a decision that is best for the children not the parents.
In cases where one parent is awarded custody, the other parent, often called the non-custodial parent, will receive reasonable visitation with the child and may be ordered to pay child support and/or provide health insurance for the child.
Each court uses a formula to determine how much child support must be paid and will require each parent to provide recent tax returns, pay stubs, bank statements and other financial records to assist the court in making a decision.
It’s important to recognize child custody can also involve stepparents. As long as the biological parent agrees, stepparents can have rights to see their stepchildren and might have custody as well. Stepparents do not have automatic rights to see their stepchildren, so it’s important to speak with an attorney to find a common ground if this becomes an issue.
The important thing to do is make the situation as stable for the children as possible.
Children have bonds with parents, stepparents and stepsiblings alike. That should be taken into consideration when deciding on child custody. Even if it is better for the child, stepparents don’t have the same rights as biological parents do.
Child custody disputes add a great deal of stress to an already complicated and emotional situation. Anyone facing this situation would do well to consult a competent family law attorney. The right lawyer can help you through the complicated legal process and help you understand your rights.
Informational credit to Salcido Law.
Anita is a freelance writer from Denver, CO and often writes about home, family, finance and business. A mother of two, she enjoys traveling with her family when she isn’t writing.
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