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Child custody is often thought to refer to the issue of which parent the child or children live with. In actuality, legal custody relates to which parent or parents make major life decisions about the child, such as medical, educational and religious issues. Legal custody does not affect when each parent spends time with the child or children. The court is obligated to order custody based on the best interest of the child. Many factors must be considered in deciding what is in a child’s best interest, such as who has been the primary caregiver, which parent is more likely to allow the other regular and frequent contact with the other, and where the child has historically attended school. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list.
Sole Custody – only one parent makes decisions about the child. Sole custody may be appropriate in certain circumstances, as for example, if one parent has a drug or alcohol abuse issue, is incarcerated or because there has been significant domestic violence between the parents.
Joint Custody – the parents are required to attempt to communicate and together make decisions about the child.
Custody decisions can be very difficult, especially if one party believes the other to be an unfit parent. There are several options to help in addressing concerns that the parents have about the other: (1) Custody evaluations by a mental health provider, usually a psychologist, who evaluates the parties and may meet with the children. The evaluator then writes a report to the court. (2) A parenting conference where the parties will meet with a counselor who has been trained in family law issues to discuss disagreements and areas of concern. The counselor may write a report to the court. (3) Mediation or negotiation of some type is very common in family law cases. The idea is that no one knows the children better than their parents and, ideally, the parents will put aside their negative feelings toward each other and focus on what is truly in their child’s best interest. Negotiated settlements are encouraged.
Custody cases can be emotional and turn nasty. It is important, that as a parent trying to negotiate custodial issues in your child’s best interest, or defending against accusations from your spouse, you do not involve your child in the process. Children should not have to hear about the other parent’s faults or shortcomings.
Each family is different and each case has its own unique set of circumstances. Call to schedule a consultation so that we may discuss the particulars of your situation.
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