Parents involved in a family law proceeding are required to determine custody and parenting time for their children, either by agreement or by asking the court to decide. Public policy assures minor children frequent and continuing contact with each parent and encourages parents to share in the rights and responsibilities of rearing their children after a legal proceeding. Courts take these policies into account when they are deciding custody and parenting time issues. There is a distinct difference between a custody determination and parenting time. Custody focuses on who will have final decision-making authority for major decisions, while parenting time deals with when the child will be in the care of each parent.
There are two types of custody: joint custody and sole custody. The term joint custody refers to the parents sharing the decision-making about a child regardless of the amount of actual time the child spends with, or lives with, one parent or the other. Joint custody does not mean that a child lives with each parent 50 percent of the time. Joint custody also does not eliminate a parent’s duty to support a child. Sole legal custody means that the custodial parent has final decision-making authority for the child. These major decisions may include the child’s religious and educational training, health care and where the child’s primary residence is. Even with sole legal custody, however, a custodial parent must consult with the other parent.
A court’s primary consideration in awarding custody is the best interests of the child. There are a number of factors that a court considers, including who has been the primary caretaker and the ability of the parent to foster the child’s relationship with the other parent. Until there is an order of the court, both parents have the same rights to be with and make decisions for their minor children.
In deciding parenting time, a court also evaluates what is in the best interests of the child. That best interests inquiring is specific to the dynamics of each family as well as the age and developmental needs of the child.
Until there is an order of the court, both parents have the same rights to be with and make decisions for their minor children.
When determining child custody and parenting time, the court may also decide issues concerning child support, health insurance for the minor children, and how to split other expenses for the children.
Once a custody and parenting time order has been made by the court, either parent may move to modify those provisions at a later date.
Custody may be modified later if it is shown that there has been a substantial change of circumstances since the prior order and that the requested modification would eb in the best interests of the child. Similarly, a court can modify a parenting plan if it is in the child’s best interest to do so. And a court can modify child support if there has been a substantial change in circumstances.
Child custody litigation is complex and requires careful consideration of all the factors used by a court, and there is nothing more important to a parent than the time they get to spend with their child. McKean Smith has the depth of practice experience and knowledge to successfully represent your interests in a child custody proceeding.