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A Quick Breakdown of Child Custody Laws

Divorces are unfortunately common occurrences in the U.S. In 2019 alone, there were over 740,000 divorces among all Americans. 

While dealing with all the paperwork related to divorce is stressful, child custody might even be tougher. Parents become lost when they have to deal with who gets to see their child. 

So what goes into child custody? “If I’m going through a divorce, what should I know about child custody laws?”

That’s what we’re here to answer today. Read on to learn the basics of child custody today. 

Child Custody for Legal Parents

If you’re considered a legal parent of your child, custody will be handled much the same way a divorce would. That is, there will be mediation sessions and maybe even an investigative process with a county official. 

You’ll probably have to consult with a county social worker to report on your parenting skills and home situation. The local family court judge will have the final say in terms of who gets custody and other details. 

Regardless of whether you’re dealing with California child custody laws or Florida child custody laws, the judge will always rule in favor of the child. They keep childrens’ “best interests” in mind when ruling over child custody. 

However, most state courts will allow both parents to retain custody of their children. This means that each parent has equal say in making decisions for their child and for caring for their well-being. 

When it comes to who the child lives with, the conversation gets more complex. Some states allow for shared physical custody. Others issue joint legal custody where one parent is the “primary” custodian. 

In most cases, the parent who isn’t the primary caretaker gets to visit their child during weekends while the other parent cares for them during most of the week.

Now that we’ve outlined the basics of child custody, let’s look at what custody orders are and how they play into this system. 

What Are Custody Orders?

Custody orders are basically regulations that divorced parents must follow once they’ve agreed on a custody plan. Once the judge approves the order, parents are obligated to follow through. 

There are two main types of custody orders: legal and physical. Let’s look at each of them here:

Legal Custody

We already went over how custody differs from family to family, and state to state.

It can either joint, where both parents share the responsibility of caring and making decisions for the child. Other times, a sole parent will be tasked with taking care of the child. 

Things that parents with legal custody must do include the following:

  • School and child care
  • Psychiatric and mental health care
  • Travel
  • Recreational activities
  • General healthcare

Parents with joint legal custody don’t have to agree 100% on every decision. Each parent is allowed to make their own choices. 

It’s usually advised, however, that the parents consult with one another to avoid another legal dispute. 

Physical Custody

Physical custody can also be joint or left to a primary parent. It means that a child either lives with both parents, or only lives with one while getting to see the other on weekends. 

Joint physical custody usually has a child staying with one parent for most of the time. This is because it’s impractical for a child to switch living situations so frequently. 

You can also get joint legal custody but not joint physical custody. This means both parents are responsible for the child’s well-being while they mostly stay with one primary caretaker. 

Custody Agreements

Whether you’re dealing with physical or legal custody, it all comes down to child custody agreements and how you navigate them. Let’s look at what goes into making proper custody agreements. 

Parenting time is often what trips parents up. Many try to agree to have their child spend equal amounts of time with each parent. Creating a realistic schedule that works for you and your children is key here. 

There’s also the allocation of parental responsibilities. Which parent gets to do what for their kids? Who takes them to school? What about insurance?

Grandparents might get involved if neither parents are fit to care for their child. While this is obviously not ideal, it’s important to keep it in mind when entering child custody agreements

Deciding On Custody and Visitation

The term “visitation” refers to whenever one parent shares less than half of the time with their children as their former partner. Visitation orders always vary depending on what the judge rules are in their children’s best interest. 

You might be able to strike a reasonable visitation agreement where the time you spend with your kids might be open-ended. Other times, you might have to stick to a schedule. There are also instances where visitation is supervised by the other parent. 

Deciding on visitation rights and custody ultimately falls on the judges. Again, they decide based on the “best interests” of the child. 

Factors that affect those best interests include:

  • The child’s age
  • The child’s health
  • The parents’ abilities to care for the child
  • History of abuse or other issues 
  • The child’s ties to their home, community, or school
  • The emotional connection between parents and child

Courts can’t deny you legal custody just because you and your partner were never married. This also holds true for any physical disability, sexual orientation, or religious beliefs. 

While each judge will rule cases differently, they are held to similar standards across state lines. Whether you’re dealing with PA child custody laws or child custody laws in NY, you’ll see similar criteria.

Understand Child Custody Laws Today

Child custody is never an easy topic, but knowing child custody laws is a great step towards making the best decisions for your children. If you’re going through a divorce, use this guide to help you navigate this complicated matter. 

For more lifestyle articles, check out the rest of our site. 

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