For parents going through a divorce, child custody often becomes a primary topic of discussion (and debate). Determining how children will navigate their day-to-day while splitting time between households is complex in even the most amicable divorces. This guide breaks down how joint custody works, as well as answers many common questions from parents.
A custody agreement is a written document that outlines how parents will provide for the care and wellbeing of their child. There are two types of custody: physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody has to do with who the child lives with and how to handle visitation. Legal custody is the right to make significant decisions on behalf of a child, including decisions about healthcare, education, and legal rights.
Where to Begin
As a starting point, it is useful to understand How much a child custody case will cost. Determining whether it is necessary to hire a lawyer will also be a key factor in the way your custody agreement will be actualized.
Joint legal custody means that both parents have legal authority to make significant decisions for the child involved, but this does not necessarily mean that both parents have physical custody of the child. Filing for joint custody is a multi-step process involving a significant amount of paperwork and multiple custody hearings.
In some cases, mediation with a specially trained and neutral third party will be a successful way to create a parenting plan. There are pros and cons to using a mediator instead of a lawyer. Mediators are a cheaper alternative than a lawyer and can be appointed by the Clerk of Courts in your county as each municipality has a specific process to follow. Mediation is also different than arbitration and can be a useful option for both parties.
If you are not the biological parent of a child, understanding guardianship is an important distinction that needs to be fully understood.
What Can Prevent Shared Legal Custody
Family law professionals prefer to find a solution that allows children to maintain relationships with both parents. However, some situations can prevent a parent from having physical or legal custody of their children.
These can include:
- Ongoing drug or alcohol abuse
- Child abuse or neglect
- Domestic violence
- Mental health issues
- Jail Time
A history of parenting time failures or evidence of interference can influence the legal custody determinations. These are serious violations that can show that a parent is not putting the best interest of the child ahead of their own desires.
Is the Custody Agreement Final?
If a parent is denied custody or given limited visitation rights to a child due to their situation at that time, the custody agreement can be revisited at a future time. If a parent can demonstrate that they have taken steps to change the circumstances that caused limited custody, courts will consider the new information. Regaining custody is a complicated process, and most experts highly recommend that a parent in this situation seek legal counsel. As always, lawyers, mediators, and judges are always working to make decisions that are in the best interest of the child involved.
Holidays can be a stressful time regardless of the family situation. Creating an agreement that incorporates a holiday custody schedule can allow co-parents to prepare themselves (and their children) ahead of time.
When creating a holiday custody schedule, start by considering which holidays are most important to you. Aim to create a sustainable schedule that can be replicated year after year for consistency. Our blog also has a holiday custody schedule example.
If your child has special needs, understanding the additional custody considerations that need to be put in place to ensure the child has stable care that helps them receive the best possible access to professionals that they need.
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Find a lawyer: Talking Parents has a searchable directory of lawyers that can help you contact law firms in your area.