Understanding Child Custody Through the Divorce Process

Custody arrangements cause discord in divorce cases. A judge decides for the couple during a custody hearing if there is not an agreement. Disputes arise according to each party’s preferences and beliefs on how to raise the child. These conflicts can derive from religious views, the parent’s upbringing, and world views. Coming up with a fair custody arrangement requires the couple to come together, discuss their grievances, and compromise as needed. In addition, understanding child custody helps parents learn more about their rights.

Physical Custody of the Child

Physical custody defines where the child lives primarily. Courts award either sole or joint physical custody. With sole physical custody, the child lives with their custodial parent, and the noncustodial parent gets child visitation. In joint physical custody arrangements, the child lives with each parent at rotating intervals. For example, child custody alternates from one week to the next between the parents.

Parents living in the same city and school district are better suited for joint physical custody arrangements. For example, the children could ride alternating school buses to each parent’s home, or the parents take turns picking up their kids after school.

Courts award one parent with sole physical custody if the parents live far apart, such as in a different city or state. The custody arrangement minimizes disruptions in the child’s daily routine, and the noncustodial parent gets time with the kids during weekends when there are fewer interruptions.

Disputes in divorce cases originate from a power struggle between the parents over where their kids should live and who can provide the best life for the child. Therefore, the couple should attempt to agree on the matter without the court’s involvement.

Legal Custody Arrangements

Decisions on legal custody are not the same as physical custody, and these agreements don’t dictate where a child lives. Instead, what party receives legal custody determines who decides critical factors of the child’s upbringing, such as their school, religion, and doctor. These custody arrangements are referred to as full or joint.

Full custody means the custodial parent has decision-making power over the child, and the parent does not have to consult their former spouse when facing decisions. Under most circumstances, the noncustodial parent gets visitation with the child.

Full Legal Custody with Limited or No Visitation

Extenuating circumstances lead to full legal custody without visitation or require supervised visitation. Reasons for full legal custody without visitation include incapacitation, severe disabilities, incarceration, or if the parent is deemed unfit by the court.

Addiction to alcohol or controlled substances constitutes a court’s reasoning for deeming a parent unfit. In addition, a history of violent crimes, domestic violence, neglect, or child abuse gives a parent credible support to get this child custody arrangement.

Legal Joint Custody

Legal joint custody requires parents to arrive at decisions about the child together. They must co-parent, discuss elements of their child’s upbringing, and find a solution that is agreeable to them both. For example, under these custody agreements, a parent cannot transfer the child to a new school, use a different doctor, or change religions without discussing the matter with the other party.

Factors Constituting the “Best Interests of the Child”

Judges consider which parent has been the primary caregiver during the marriage, the relationship with the child, and each party’s ability to parent the child. Children develop stronger bonds with the parent providing most of the child’s care. Therefore, courts want to give custody to the parent that is more nurturing and provides the healthiest living environment.

How the child gets along with each parent determines where the child is most comfortable and thrives. Emotionally distant parents who don’t try to have a deep and healthier relationship with their child may neglect the child and fail to fulfill their emotional or psychological needs. These inabilities to parent the child make the parent a poor choice for child custody, and the child may suffer as a result.

The Mental and Physical Health of the Child

The everyday needs of a child determine who should get custody. Kids with complex medical conditions such as autism, ADHD, or bipolar disorder require regular visits with psychologists and receive at least some special education assistance in school. The parent faces a growing number of doctor visits, regular IEP meetings with teachers, and taking the child to any additional programs required by their doctors or educators.

A parent with a high-demand job may not have the time to commit to these requirements. The same situations arise when a child has physical disabilities and must undergo frequent treatment, surgeries, or therapies.

The Wishes of the Child

Courts assign a guardian ad litem for children during custody cases allowing kids to express their wishes. Most jurisdictions require the child to reach the age of twelve before judges decide according to a child’s preferences. A guardian ad litem presents the child’s wishes to the court. Still, they can also work with the child to identify why the child prefers one parent over another.

The child’s logic could play against the enforcement of their wishes and the preferred decision from the judge if they choose a parent to avoid discipline, structure, and healthy boundaries. Parents that let their kids do as they wish without limits cannot provide the most appropriate home environment for the child. The purpose of a custody hearing separate from the divorce case is to arrive at the best parenting arrangement for the child despite what the child or parents want.

Finalizing custody arrangements is critical to divorcing a spouse and creating an amicable agreement for both parties. Regardless of conflicts between the couple, they face a trial to end their marriage and a separate custody hearing if they cannot agree on custody. In addition, understanding custody helps parents enforce their rights and do what is best for their kids.

Additional Resources:

Child Custody and Support

Child Custody

Child Custody in Maryland

From Father’s Property To Children’s Rights: A History of Child Custody

Child Custody and Support Guide

The Different Types of Custody Arrangements

Child Custody and Visitation in New York

Child Adjustment in Joint-Custody Versus Sole-Custody Arrangements: A Meta-Analytic Review

Massachusetts Law About Child Custody and Parenting Time

Pennsylvania Child Custody Law

Choosing a Top Divorce Lawyer

Determining the Best Interests of the Child

Custody and Visitation

Child Custody–Married, Divorcing Parents

Child Custody Lawyers

Child Support and Parenting Time Orders

District of Columbia: Custody of Children

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