Understanding Child Custody Laws
If you are in the midst of a child custody case, or even if you have just been granted custody of a child, there are important entitlements and rights you should consider. First and foremost, a child custody grant is never conclusive. It can always change. With this in mind, you should be aware of the following child custody laws.
Obtaining Legal Custody of the Child
When a parent has been granted legal custody of a child, he or she has the obligation to decide or contribute to major decisions in regard to the child's upbringing. Essentially, this is the privilege to be the child’s parent. A parent who has obtained legal custody of the child can partake in important decisions such as:
- What school will the child attend;
- What religion will the child practice;
- Who will be the child’s primary physician;
- Where will the child live; and/or
- Contribute to the child’s college decisions.
It is very common for a judge to award both parents a joint legal custody. Usually, this is seen as having the greatest benefit for the child. Sole custody is rarely granted, but it will happen if the opposing parent is found to be physically or emotionally abusive, drug addicted, or incarcerated. On rare occasion, this resolution will be granted if the opposing parent is forfeiting his or her parental rights and has therefore agreed to the unusual arrangement. Another rare instance in which a judge may award sole custody to one parent is if the parents have a severe inability to make joint decisions about the child, so much that the environment has become grossly unhealthy. When this happens, the judge will then award one parent full custody and therefore deny rights to the other parent. This is considered one of the worst cases for all parties involved. Courts typically dislike giving custody to a single parent. Having both parents fully involved is seen as having the greatest overall benefit for the child. When a parent has legal custody of the child, this gives the guardian parental rights to the upbringing of the child, whether or not the child resides with this parent.
Obtaining Physical Custody of the Child
Obtaining the physical custody of a child does not necessarily mean that the parent will have the sole say in the child’s upbringing. It mostly refers to being able to have the child primarily live with this parent and make day-to-day decisions. When a parent has the physical custody of a child, this usually means one of the following:
- The parents have shared custody. When both parents share the custody of the child, the child will ultimately spend just about equal amounts of time with either parent. Typically, if a child spends over ninety (90) days of the year with one parent, the parents share physical custody. This form of physical custody is seen as highly healthy for the child. This is because the child will spend equal time with both parents. Shared custody is granted to the parents who have shown to get along the best.
- One parent has primary custody. Primary custody is given predominantly to one parent, while the other parent can have limited visitations with the child. This can often be the result of a court order when one parent is in need of a sort of therapy or other form of recovery.
- One parent has sole custody. Sole custody is a rare occurrence that can happen under certain circumstances. Common situations involve physical abuse from one parent, the incarceration of the parent, or even the passing of the parent. It will often be granted when evidence shows that one parent has placed the child in danger. When a parent has physical custody of the child, he or she has an obligation to honor the rights of the other parent and allow for visitation. If this is not done, a judge may change the custody schedule or grant legal custody to the other parent.
Seeking Professional Support
It is always important to remember that you must oblige by any court orders in regard to your child’s custody. If for any reason you disagree with the results, do not attempt to solve the matter on your own terms. This can cause you to lose any parental rights you were already granted. Seek the advice and support of a knowledgeable attorney. An attorney familiar with your state's child custody laws can help you understand your rights and those of the other parent. When it comes to children, a parent will attempt to find the best solution for the child. This can often be difficult when there is a complete disagreement with the other parent in regard to the child’s upbringing. If this is your case, consult with a professional attorney who can guide you through the legal process as well as explain the full extent of your rights. A qualified child custody attorney will be able to assist you in finding the best solution for yourself and your child.