Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Child Custody Guide for Divorced Parents – What You Should Know

Man holding teddy bear - child in background - Depositphotos_266114350_xl-2015

*A family breakdown and consequent divorce is a painful and challenging situation for all its participants. Adults find it a little easier to deal with their feelings and plan further actions than to figure out how to take care of children.

The results of a recent survey by onlinedivorce.com show that 35% of all divorced couples have at least one minor child, and 19% have two or more children. In 16% of divorces, one of the parents moves to another state. And 33% of the time, the couple lives in different cities after the divorce.

Parents’ rights and obligations after divorce

Safeguarding the interests of children should be the primary concern of their parents. Family Law in the USA establishes equal rights and responsibilities regarding joint minor children. It means that both parents can take care of the child and make decisions regarding their life, development, and education.

When exercising their rights, parents must consider a child’s mental and physical health and create a healthy environment. All issues related to upbringing and education can be decided jointly by the parents based on the children’s best interests and their opinion.

Divorce does not affect the child’s rights in any way. Unless there are specific custody arrangements that forbid a parent to communicate with a child, they can participate in their upbringing and resolve various issues connected to their health or education. The parent with whom the child lives (a custodian) cannot get in the way of a child’s interaction with the other party if such communication is not harmful or dangerous.

A non-custodian has the right to:

  • Communicate with a child;
  • Participate in the upbringing of the child;
  • Solve issues related to education, health, development, etc.

In the best scenario, a custodian must facilitate frequent contact of a child with the other parent because it is beneficial for the child’s self-esteem and adequate perception of the current situation.

What are the types of child custody?

Legal custody implies making important life decisions concerning minor children. Such decisions may include choosing a school or a doctor, medical and orthodontic treatment, counseling, psychotherapy, and religion.

Physical custody establishes where the child lives and who handles their day-to-day activities. If one of the parents has physical custody, that parent’s home will usually be the child’s legal residence (domicile). The time during which each party provides housing and care is determined by court order and provisions in a parenting plan.

Joint legal and joint physical custody is the constant participation of both parents in the child’s life, spending an equal amount of time together. Joint physical custody is only possible on the condition of close territorial proximity of parental houses. For example, minor children live in a house with his mother, while the father takes them for weekends and holidays. It means that the father participates in his kids’ life on an ongoing basis. The exact schedule must be agreed upon in a parenting plan.

How is the issue of custody resolved in a divorce?

The parents’ best option is to agree on custody arrangements before the court hearing where their agreement will be taken into account by the court when making a final decision. If the parents cannot settle the matter amicably, a judge will determine the custody and visitation schedule based on the relevant circumstances. The court considers each parent’s ability to take care of the child, the upbringing, education, and development conditions. Each parent’s employment also matters as does their earning capacity, living conditions, and environment.

In many states, family courts consider the child’s emotional connection with each parent, giving preference to those who cared most for the child during the marriage. Recent psychological developments have emphasized the importance of maintaining interaction with a more caring parent. The findings determined it influences the extent of successful socialization, including physical and mental conditions.

How to draft a custody agreement?

A joint voluntary agreement about custody is always better than a court decision, which may inadvertently infringe on one of the parties’ interests. That is why many divorcing parents conclude a settlement agreement where they determine custody arrangements and a visitation schedule. Besides, the court is also interested in such an outcome and obliged to take full measures to encourage this agreement.

A divorced couple can reach an agreement in two forms:

  1. Written in each state, there are particular forms for a parental plan in uncontested divorces, which are prepared in several copies and then attached to the case.
  2. Verbal during a trial, it is necessary to make a joint oral statement about the readiness to conclude an amicable agreement. After that:
  • the court adjourns the session and gives the parties time to draw up the document;
  • a verbal agreement of the parties is immediately drawn up in a protocol without creating a separate form.

The settlement agreement’s legality and its content are subject to mandatory verification by the court for its approval.

The document must reflect:

  1. Determination of the child’s place of residence (physical custody arrangements);
  2. The procedure for a child’s communication with a non-custodial parent (detailed meeting schedule, participation in education, decisions on medical treatment, upbringing, etc.);
  3. The parents’ financial obligations (determine the amount of financial support for basic needs and medical costs).

A considerable change in any parent’s living conditions or circumstances can be a reason to adjust custody arrangements.

Stock image wedding day

What if you live in another city?

When a family suffers a breakdown, ex-spouses have to resolve several issues, including which parent the child will live, communication plans with the other parent, which parent will be responsible for everyday decisions, etc.

According to the law, a non-custodial parent can communicate with the child, participate in the upbringing, and keep an eye on their well-being (in joint legal custody). The custodial parent should not interfere with the child’s communication with the other parent.

Determining the place of communication becomes an issue when the ex-spouses live in different cities. Therefore, they need to decide in advance on a meeting schedule and where they will be held.

Keep in mind that if a non-custodial parent lives in another city, it is most likely that communication will be possible only on weekends and during vacation time because of the child’s daily routine includes school and after-school activities.

The parent can also talk with the child by phone, Skype, or other Internet resources and social networks. Currently, there are countless ways for continual communication via various applications. The main idea is for the child always to feel support, attention, and care.

Final thoughts

The issue of child custody arises when parents get divorced. Trying to develop fair and equal guardianship can be challenging for both parents and children. When resolving custody disputes, one should be guided by common sense and the desire to create favorable conditions for your kids rather than by emotions of hostility towards the ex-spouse. In this case, compromising and sacrificing one’s pride is the only way to soften the shock of divorce.

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