Child Custody & Parenting
Parental rights and responsibilities must be decided upon termination of a marriage for any children born issue of the marriage.
When a court is required to make a custody determination, there are two possible outcomes: (1) legal custody to one parent, or (2) shared parenting (sometimes called joint custody, where both parents are the legal custodians without regard of who the child is with).
Two aspects to parenting are decision making and parenting time. A party who retains legal custody of the child(ren) has the right to make all decisions regarding the child(ren)’s health and welfare. This includes deciding which school the child(ren) attend as well as what medical procedures are performed and by whom.
Whether one parent is the legal custodian or whether both parties make decisions through a shared parenting plan, both parents must make an allocation of parenting time. Who gets what parenting time depends on many factors including, but not limited to:
- work schedules
- distance between parent’s homes
- the age of the children
- Parenting time arrangements run the gamut and can be as complicated or simple as the parties wish them to be.
A shared parenting plan provides a blueprint for how issues and disagreements involving the children are to be handled. The more thorough a plan is the better as it will help to avoid future confusion and turmoil. A good shared parenting plan will address such issues as:
- parenting time arrangements
- contact outside regular parenting time
- birthdays and holidays
- privileges and discipline
- medical care
A court will not order a parenting arrangement without first determining the arrangement is in the child’s best interest. To make this determination the court will consider factors such as the parents’ wishes, each parent’s relationship with the minor children, and past conduct. It will also look at the wishes of all parties involved including the child, the child’s adjustment to school and home, and which parent is more likely to promote a positive relationship with the other parent.
If an agreement cannot be reached, the court may also order an evaluation. The evaluator will prepare a document for the judge to review giving the evaluator’s opinions on what the best custody and visitation arrangement is for the family as a whole.
Even after an agreement is reached, the court retains jurisdiction to modify the order in the future. In order to modify a custody or parenting time order, one party must show that there has been a change in the circumstances from the time the order was established and that a change in the order is in the best interest of the child(ren).
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