The term "custody" can refer to "legal custody", "physical custody" or both. Legal custody generally refers to a parent's ability to remain involved in a child's life, have access to pertinent records and participate in life decisions. Physical custody generally refers to where the child will live.
In many cases, the parties are awarded, or agree to, joint legal custody. This arrangement often helps preserves the parent-child relationship. Physical custody can be awarded jointly so that the child spends equal time at both homes, but this arrangement is often impractical or undesired.
If the children are twelve (12) or older, the Court can consider their preferences in the process. At age fourteen (14) a child has more substantial input, but the ultimate decision rests with the Court.
If the parties can not reach an agreement, the Court will decide what is in the child's "best interest". Factors that the Court may consider include: who has acted as the primary caregiver, stability of the environment, impact on the child, lifestyle, work schedules, and age of the child.
Typically, one party is generally considered the "primary physical custodian" and the child lives with that parent most of the time. The remaining parent, often called the "secondary physical custodian", is usually awarded liberal visitation rights. The parties can agree to almost any visitation schedule which meets their needs, but alternating weekend visitation with holiday arrangements are most common. Adjustments are made when work schedules, religious observances, physical distance, or the parties' desires require changes.
In most cases, parents are awarded joint legal custody. However, no matter how well the parents may work together, one of them needs to have the ultimate decision making authority for certain legal decisions. These decisions typically fall into four major categories: medical, eduction, extra-curricular activities, and religion. The parties can either reach an agreement, or the Court can divide those areas of responsibility, or grant all authority to one parent.
Divorcing Parent Classes
Most counties now require that both parents attend an educational seminar as part of the legal process. Some counties have even established a voluntary seminar for children so they can better cope with this difficult change.
Custody disputes may be the single most emotional and difficult part of any divorce case. At The Falcone Law Firm, P.C. we always attempt to find a solution that works for you, but are prepared to go to trial to protect your rights.