In matters of custody, the court is focused on the best interests of the child. When a marriage ends or when parents are unmarried but want to share custody, the parents must submit a plan allocating responsibility for the children. That plan will typically include visitation rights and schedules, determination of legal custody, and child support obligations. The court will evaluate that plan in light of the child’s best interests. If the plan is not in the best interests of the child, the court will deny the plan and you’ll have to rework and resubmit it.
If one parent has custody, that parent has sole legal responsibility for decisions regarding the child. That parent has the final say on educational issues, medical care, religion, and other issues affecting the child. The non-custodial parent has no legal right to make those decisions and must comply with the decisions of the custodial parent. You may get custody through a divorce or separation agreement or you may ask the court to grant you custody if you’re a single parent.
In granting custody, the court will consider both parents’ living situation, employment, and history. The court is looking for a safe, stable home for the child. You may be denied custody if you have a history of violent or sexual offenses, especially against members of your household. The custody arrangement is separate from a child support arrangement, so you may be required to pay child support regardless of the custody situation.
Under certain circumstances, the court may change a custody arrangement. That typically requires a “change of circumstances,” which may include financial or health problems, abuse or neglect, or other issues that mean the child’s best interest may be served by changing the custody arrangement. The court will consider the wishes of the parents and weigh the benefits of changing custody against the harms. There is a presumption against changing the custody arrangement, meaning that the court will be reluctant to do it, but the court will change the arrangement if you bring the right evidence to show that a change is necessary.
If one parent has custody, the other parent may still wish to spend time with the child. That can be achieved through a visitation agreement. The visitation agreement will include a visitation schedule and may have other stipulations, such as requiring visits to be supervised by a third party. As with all other agreements regarding children, a visitation agreement is subject to the court’s judgment about what is best for the child.
We can help you decide how best to handle issues regarding children. Whether you want to pursue sole custody, joint custody, or shared parenting, our experienced family law attorneys will work with you to ensure that you understand your rights and your options. We can help you create a plan that works for you and your child. Contact Kirkland & Sommers, online or call (937) 853-5555.