Obviously one of the major issues facing divorcing couples is the custody of their children. This is understandably emotional. With the right plans in place, child custody arrangements can actually work quite well for both parties and their children. Here are some things to think about concerning child custody.
LEGAL VS. PHYSICAL CUSTODY
Legal Custody means a parent’s right to make major life decisions, including educational, medical, and religious decisions. Joint legal custody is presumed in Connecticut, meaning that both parents have equal rights and responsibilities when decisions are made. Communication between the parents is crucial to effective decision making and there should be a system or process in place for resolving disputes that arise.
Physical Custody, or visitation, concerns where the child will live and the amount of time spent with each parent. In determining a child’s residence, the concept of “primary residence” describes a child’s legal residence for purposes of school and other administrative reasons (doctors, legal documents, etc). Visitation plans should include a parenting schedule that provides for regular contact with each parent and clearly defines dates, times, transfer locations, and other details. Birthdays, holidays, vacations, and unexpected events should also be taken into consideration.
HOW CUSTODY IS DETERMINED
The court will consider a number of factors when making custody decisions. Determining the best interest of the child is the standard. Some of the main factors used by the court are the needs (medical, social, educational, etc.) of a minor child, a parent’s ability to provide for those needs, each parent’s willingness to facilitate a relationship between the minor child and other parent, and the child’s history in terms of residence, lifestyle, and schedule. The court is not limited to these and will also consider other factors on a case by case basis.
WHAT IS A PARENTING PLAN?
A parenting plan is a legal document that addresses child custody and delineates each parent’s rights and responsibilities concerning legal custody, primary residence, physical custody and visitation, etc. Often child support, communication, and dispute resolution are also addressed in a comprehensive parenting plan depending on the specific circumstances of each case.
UNMARRIED COUPLES AND DIVORCE
If you have never married, should you have a custody order or parenting plan in place? YES. In short, this helps prevent future disputes. When parents are not married, the same best interests of the child are considered. A parenting plan is a great way to document each parent’s rights and responsibilities and to avoid unnecessary conflict that may exist between parents.
HIRING A CUSTODY LAWYER
Should I hire a custody lawyer? YES. If you and your spouse are getting divorced, or if a child is born to unmarried parents, there may be a dispute over custody. Even if there is no dispute, it’s in the best interest of the child (and YOU) to put a legal document in place that will prevent future disputes. The court will always rule in the best interest of the child, but who better to make that determination than the parents with the guidance of an experienced family law attorney.
FAMILY RELATIONS INVOLVEMENT
Family Relations mediates disagreements and negotiates agreements during custody, visitation, and divorce cases. A family relations counselor may be called in, at the request of a judge, to interview family members and evaluate how to move forward. They are typically involved when parties cannot come to an agreement through the court process.