Parents involved in a family law proceeding are mandated to determine custody and parenting time for their children, either by independent agreement or by allowing the court to decide on their behalf. Public policy both ensures that minor children retain frequent and continuing contact with each parent and encourages parents to continue to act as a team, sharing in the rights and responsibilities of raising their children after the legal proceeding. Courts take these policies into account when deciding on custody and parenting time issues. Custody determination and parenting time are two distinctly different issues; 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 and sole. The term joint custody refers to an arrangement where the parents share the decision-making power in regards to their child, regardless of the amount of actual time the child spends or lives with each parent. Joint custody does not mean that the child spends an equal amount of time in the custody of each parent or negate either parent’s duty to support the child. Meanwhile, sole legal custody means that the custodial parent has the final decision-making authority for the child. These major decisions may include things such as the child’s religious upbringing, education, health care, and/or where the child’s primary residence is. However, even with sole legal custody the custodial parent may consult with the other parent when making important decisions.
A court’s primary basis of consideration in awarding custody is always serving the best interests of the child. In this regard, there are a variety of factors that the court considers, including who has so far been the child’s primary caretaker and the ability of each parent to continue fostering their child’s relationship with the other parent. Until an order of the court is issued, both parents have the same rights to be with and make decisions in regards to their minor children.
The best interests of the child also play a pivotal role in how a court decides to allocate parenting time; Each ‘best interest’ inquiry 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 on behalf of and in regards to their minor children.
When determining child custody and parenting time, the court may also decide upon issues concerning child support, health insurance for minor children, and division of other child-related expenses.
Once a custody and parenting time order has been issued by the court, either parent may decide to motion to modify those provisions at a later date.
Custody may later be modified if it can be shown that there has been a significant change of circumstances since the prior order and that the requested modification is being made in the best interests of the child. Similarly, a court can elect to modify a previously enacted parenting or child support plan if there has been a substantial change in circumstances and it is in the child’s best interest to do so.
Child custody is a complex sect of litigation that requires careful consideration of the many factors a court will use in reaching a decision. We know there is nothing more important to a parent than the time they get to spend with their child; McKean Smith has the depth of knowledge, experience, and understanding to successfully represent both you and your child’s best interests in a custody proceeding.
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