Child Custody – Some FAQ’s

For those unfamiliar with the process, child custody is one issue they would just as soon not get involved with. Unfortunately, since divorce brings with it the difficult problems of child custody and other attendant conflicts, people are now needing to learn more about certain aspects of it.Following are some of the most commonly asked questions from people who are not familiar with the subject. The answers represent responses collected from different child custody attorneys. Certainly, child custody laws are not the same for all states. The following answers are offered in general terms, and to the extent that they apply and/or are recognized by the courts.What Is Custody?”Custody” determines who is responsible for the child or children in cases when their parents do not live together. This will apply to couples who are separated, divorced, or who have never been married to each other.How Does Physical Custody Differ From Legal Custody?When a parent has physical custody, it refers to a situation in which the child will spend time living with that parent on a regular basis. If custody is “joint physical custody”, then the child is shuttled between the parent’s homes.When a parent has “sole legal custody”, that parent has the sole right to make decisions on the child’s education, health, and overall welfare (schools, doctor, etc). In “joint legal custody” both parents share in making the relevant decisions.How is a Decision Made?A judge usually gives his or her approval to a custody plan agreed on by the parents. If the parents cannot agree, they will have to speak with a mediator or counselor to help work out a plan. The judge will make the decision on any disputed issues that both parties are unable to resolve.Can a Child Still See a Parent Not Awarded Physical Custody?The court will usually order that the other parent be given generous visitation rights with the child. However, this will be restricted in cases where domestic violence has occurred, or the where parent’s ability to care for the child is in question.What Happens When A Custodial Parent Obstructs The Child’s Visit To The Other Parent?The non-custodial parent can ask the court for a “contempt” order. The parent who is denying visitation can receive court sanctions. If it can be proven that it was done intentionally, the non-custodial parent may have grounds to sue to be granted the child’s custody. The judge usually will first require the couple to attempt to work out things with the help of a mediator.Can A Custody Arrangement Be Altered If It Doesn’t Work?Parents usually are able to change a custody arrangement that doesn’t work, provided they are able to suggest a new plan, and they then ask the judge to make it official. If the parents continue to disagree, they can ask the judge to decide on the changes. The judge’s decision will be based on the best interests of the child. This can be difficult if the child has been well-cared for, or if the original custody plan has been in place for some time.Can Anybody Other Than The Parents Have Custody Over A Child?In California, a judge must consider the parents first, either singly or together. A judge may, however, grant custody to another person (a grandmother, step-parent, or a friend) with or without the parents’ consent. This can occur if the judge believes giving child custody to either parent would be detrimental to the child.

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