Experienced Team of Divorce Attorneys
Are you in the middle of a divorce or separation proceeding? Do you need assistance with child custody issues? If so, you need the advice of an experienced divorce law attorney who is competent to handle all sorts of custody agreements.
Child custody laws differ from state to state and may present additional complexities in instances where you and your spouse are from different states—or countries—or in cases where one spouse is not cooperating.
Do not wait to get in touch with a divorce attorney today. At JSBell & Partners, our divorce attorneys are highly qualified in handling complex custody battles and fighting for our clients’ right to secure a result that is fair and beneficial.
The stakes are high with any custody dispute. Put JSBell & Partners on your side today to fight for your rights.
What is Child Custody?
Child custody issues generally arise during a divorce proceeding but can also arise during annulment and paternity actions. For instance, when the child’s parents are not married, the court must first establish paternity before the couple can discuss child custody issues or bring child support claims to the court.
In the United States, child custody laws are determined, governed, and enforced by the states as opposed to the federal government. While each state—and the District of Columbia—has its own law regarding child custody, most are similar.
Many jurisdictions determine with which parent the child should reside by following the “best interests” of the child standard. There should be no presumption of one parent in favor of the other. In 2000, the Supreme Court in Troxel v. Granville held that a biological parent of a child has a constitutional and fundamental right to choose how to raise their child and direct their upbringing.
The “Best Interests” of the Child Standard
Many jurisdictions analyze a series of factors to determine child custody issues—this standard is frequently referred to as the “best interests” of the child.
Under the law, the mother and the father of the child are to be treated equally. This “best interests” standard is not to be underestimated. In fact, it is this examination that ultimately determines custody and possession of the child.
Examples of factors that courts—as well as child psychologists and members of Congress—have developed over the years include the age of the child; the ability of the parent(s) to provide the child with important resources such as food, water, clothing, and medical care; the relationship between the parent(s) and the child; and the age, stability, mental and physical health of each parent.
These are just guiding factors; their interpretation will differ from court to court. For instance, although the “tender years” doctrine has long been abandoned, some judges still believe that very young children should live with their mother.
A judge will also consider the degree of cooperation between the parents regarding one another’s work schedules as well as each parent’s willingness to support the other both in their work schedule and their relationship with the child.
Lastly, if there is evidence of abuse, neglect, or other kinds of domestic violence, a judge will likely limit that parent’s contact with the child.
Examples of Child Custody Arrangements: Sole vs. Joint Custody
Sole Custody with Visitation Rights
Child custody agreements typically take one of two forms (with modifications): (1) sole custody with visitation rights or (2) joint or shared custody.
Under a sole custody agreement, the child will spend the majority of their time with one selected parent. The parent who has sole custody will be responsible for making the major decisions of the child such as education and medical care. The child will also live with the parent holding sole custody.
With sole custody agreements, the non-custodial parent will usually be granted visitation rights. These visitation rights entitle the non-custodial parent to spend time with the child. As an example, these visitation arrangements could specify that the non-custodial parent be allowed to see the child every other weekend, on some major holidays, or for a few weeks in the summer.
Visitation rights are an important part of parenting after a divorce or separation. The non-custodial parent will typically have this right unless it can be shown that the child will be put in danger by visiting the non-custodial parent. This danger can be proven by evidence of mental illness of that parent or child abuse.
Joint or Shared Custody
Joint custody refers to the shared power of both parents to make major decisions about the upbringing of their child and to have the child spend time with both parents.
Joint Legal Custody: This refers to the right of both parents to make important decisions for their child’s life—including education, health and medical care, religion, social activities, etc. The parents usually are expected and encouraged to collaborate on the decision-making process of these issues. However, if the parents cannot agree on a decision for one of these issues, the court may allow one parent to make the decision.
Joint Physical Custody: This refers to the amount of time that the child will spend with both parents. The amount of time does not have to be 50/50, although it can be. It generally means that the child will spend a significant amount of time with each parent.
How Child Custody Negotiations Work
Most cases on child custody are resolved by agreement. The parents will come before a judge and show the judge their agreement regarding the child’s custody arrangement. The parents can either be represented by their own attorneys or can proceed without an attorney.
If the parents are unable to negotiate an agreement regarding the custody of their child, the court will have to make decisions about the future of the child by considering what is in the “best interests” of the child.
If the judge has to make these decisions, compelling points of consideration include which parent is the primary caretaker of the child and which parent can better meet the child’s current and future needs.
In some cases, outside parties—such as friends, neighbors, or the child’s teachers—may be brought in to testify on these issues.
If the judge had an inherent bias for one parent over the other based on sex and this can be demonstrated, it is possible that a higher court would reverse the decision and amend the custody arrangement.
Complications of Child Custody Proceedings to Be Aware Of
Not all custody arrangements are routine proceedings that are finalized quickly and with the cooperation of both parents. Some become custody battles and are riddled with additional complexities.
First, if your case involves multiple jurisdictions—state or international—the laws in the other jurisdiction will be different and could have a critical impact on your case. If you and your spouse live in different states or countries, you should get a divorce attorney on your side to advise you on how this could affect your case.
Second, if your spouse is remarrying or relocating—perhaps abroad—in the middle of the divorce proceeding or has plans to do so, this could definitely impact your case. For instance, your spouse may have plans to take your child with them after they marry or relocate. For this, you would need the advice of a divorce attorney right away.
And third, your spouse may change their legal argument to your detriment. For example, your spouse may claim that you are not a good parent, cannot support the child, or is otherwise unfit. This could wreak havoc on your custody fight.
Do not let this happen to you. Do not go down without a fight.
Don’t forget, your spouse may have already hired a divorce attorney of their own to help with their case. Do not believe that your spouse’s attorney will have your best interests in mind and never consider going through your custody battle pro se!
Need Legal Assistance with the Child Custody Issues of Your Divorce?
Custody issues are a sensitive topic for the courts to evaluate and make a decision upon. But for you, this custody fight is everything.
The divorce law attorneys at JSBell & Partners have the experience and extensive knowledge needed to prepare your case to fight your custody battle. We also help our clients with more complex issues such as cross border divorces.
If you need advice regarding child custody issues, do not wait. Call us today or contact our office for a free consultation.