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Child Custody Law Basics: What You Need to Know

No parent ever relishes the thought of having to fight for custody of their children, but the reality is that during a divorce, joint custody is never a guarantee, especially if the other spouse disputes such an arrangement.

If you are getting divorced, here are a few things about the child custody laws that you should know.

How does a judge decide which parent gets custody?

All judges base their custody determinations on what is in the best interests of the children. “Best interests” take factors like the following into account:

  • The emotional ties that the child has with other family member
  • Which parent has traditionally been the primary caregiver
  • Whether or not continuing an existing relationship is desirable
  • Each party’s interest in and attitude toward the child
  • Whether or not one parent abused the other
  • Each parent’s willingness to maintain a relationship with the child and the other parent (unless physical and sexual abuse has been a factor in the past)

If one parent has physically or sexually abused the other parent or the child, a judge will assume that awarding custody to an abuser is not in the best interests of the child.

The court will consider the behavior, income, lifestyle, social environment, and marital status of either parent only if it is proven that any of these factors could harm the child physically or emotionally.

If one parent is disabled (as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act), the judge cannot take that disability into account when deciding custody unless it is proven that the parent’s limitations and/or behaviors are potentially dangerous to the child’s well-being. In general, no preference is given to either the mother or the father.

Can a custody order be changed afterward?

Once a judge signs a child custody order, its conditions come into effect: which parent has what type of custody, what support obligations exist, and what visitation rights are in effect. The only way to change it is to file a motion requesting modification of the order.

What is parenting time?

The court may order that the non-custodial parent receive visitation rights, otherwise known as parenting time. But if the parent has a history of violence or domestic abuse, visitation rights may be conditional or eliminated entirely.

If you’re contemplating divorce, we understand the stress that you’re under, and we can help. Please contact Writer Law today to learn more!