What You Need to Know About Child Custody in Divorce Cases

Divorce is one of the most stressful experiences of your life, and of the lives of your children. Here are some facts to help you find your way through the maze and get the best outcome for your children at this difficult time.

What is Child Custody?

Child custody is a legal term describing the relationship between a child and their parent. Divorce usually involves the parents living separately, so they need to agree on appropriate care for their children. Child custody has two elements. Legal custody is the right to make major decisions about your child’s upbringing, such as their education, health care and religious practice. Physical custody is the right to have your child living with you and under your daily care.

What Factors Do The Courts Use to Decide Custody?

The main question that courts ask in child custody cases is “What is in the best interests of the child?”. This question takes into account many factors, such as the health and wellbeing of the children and both parents, the suitability of the residence for children, access to education and healthcare and the emotional bond between the children and their parents. Courts will consider children’s preferences as well.

Which Parent Will Get Custody?

Courts usually consider that it’s in the best interests of the child for both parents to have contact with their children in some form, unless there are good reasons for this not to happen. In some states courts must award joint custody, unless one parent is deemed unfit (for example because of drug or alcohol abuse). If sole custody is awarded, the law doesn’t give preference to the mother over the father by default, instead the best interests of the child are examined.

What Does Joint Custody Mean?

If you’re awarded joint physical custody, you and your ex will need to work out a schedule for residency, based on your daily work and school routines. This may involve splitting care equally and your children moving between you during the week. Other arrangements, such as one parent having the children at weekends, are also possible. If you’re not able to agree a schedule between you, the courts will put one in place.

If you’re awarded joint legal custody, you’ll be jointly responsible for making decisions about your children’s upbringing. Wherever your children are living, legal custody is enforceable by law, so you or your ex can go back to court if you feel excluded from major changes or decisions. You can use a mediator to help you come to an agreement all parties are happy with.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

It’s a good idea to consult a lawyer if you’re involved in a child custody case as there are many legal issues to deal with. However, you should try and work with your ex, with the support of a mediator if needed. This can reduce additional litigation fees and set you up for a healthy long-term relationship, with the best interests of your children at the center.