What you need to know about Child Custody
Child Custody Guide
Parents involved in a family law proceeding are required to determine custody and parenting time for their children. 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 when in the best interests of the children. 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 determinations decide who will have decision-making authority for the minor child, while parenting time deals with when the child will be in the care of each parent.
Temporary emergency custody can be given to one parent in cases when a child is in immediate danger.
There are two common 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 makes all major decisions regarding the child. These major decisions may include the child’s religious and educational training, health care and where the child’s primary residence is. Usually a custodial parent has a majority of the parenting time with a child though it is not a requirement.
The best interests and welfare of the child
A court’s primary consideration in awarding custody is “the best interests and welfare of the child.” In determining custody, the court may not give preference to the mother or father based on gender. The court will consider the conduct, marital status, income, social environment, or lifestyle of a parent only if it is shown that those factors are causing or may cause emotional or physical harm to the child. Typically, courts are reluctant to separate siblings.
The court may consider a child’s preference on where to live, but most courts are reluctant to do so; forcing a child to “choose” a parent is often not considered to be in the child’s best interests. This is true no matter the age of the child, and there is no minimum age where a child’s wishes will be considered, although the age of the child and the reasons expressed determine how much weight is given to a child’s preference.
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, usually the court will also decide issues concerning child support, health insurance for the minor children, and payment for uninsured medical expenses for the children. The specifics of a parenting plan can impact the amount of child support ordered.
A court order for custody may be changed later if it can be shown that there has been a substantial change of circumstances since the prior order, and that a different custodial parent would be in the best interests and welfare of the child.
Child custody litigation is complex and requires careful consideration of all the factors used by a court to make a child custody determination. The attorneys at McKean Smith have the depth of practice experience and knowledge to successfully represent your interests in a child custody proceeding.
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