If you are in the midst of a divorce and have minor children, you may be wondering what type of custody and visitation a court might award. You may be considering an agreement to share joint custody with your soon-to-be ex-spouse. If your spouse does not currently exercise his visitation rights, this could impact the likelihood a judge will order joint custody. This also applies in cases where a parent who has visitation has filed for a modification of custody.
It is important to understand what joint custody means. Parents may share joint physical custody or joint legal custody. In many cases, they share both.
Joint physical custody means that a child will spend approximately equal amounts of time with both parents. In many cases, the child will spend one week with one parent and the next week at the other parent’s house. Some parents exchange the child for visitation in the middle of the week.
Joint legal custody means that both parents must be involved when it comes to making important decisions that affect the child such as anything that involves the child’s healthcare or education. Sharing joint legal custody can be difficult if you have difficulty having a civil discussion with the child’s other parent.
In many cases, one parent has primary or sole custody of a child and the other parent has visitation. Standard visitation typically involves spending time with the child every other weekend and every other holiday. Courts may order supervised visitation in cases where there is evidence to demonstrate that unsupervised visitation would not be in the best interests of the child.
It is also important to understand any previous orders regarding child custody. In many cases, a temporary order is entered at the beginning of a case granting custody to one party and visitation to the other. A final order is entered at the end of the case. The parties may agree on issues such as property division and custody arrangements, or the parties can have a hearing and present evidence about why the court should rule in their favor. A judge must approve any final orders even if the parties agree.
Another common scenario where a parent may petition for joint custody is when a case is reopened and modifications of a prior order are requested. Some parents request a modification of custody when they want to avoid paying child support if a judge has previously awarded sole custody to the other parent.
During a custody hearing, each parent will be given an opportunity to testify about their relationship with the child. It is a good idea to document any interaction you have with your child’s parent and speak to an attorney about the recording laws in your state. You should also document any information that is relevant to taking care of your child such as taking them to the doctor or attending parent-teacher conferences. You may want to get a calendar to make notes about any scheduled visitation and write down any times when visitation is missed.
Judges make decisions regarding child custody and visitation on the basis of the best interests of the child. A judge will often consider which parent spends the most time with a child when awarding primary custody to one parent and visitation to the other. Many states have enacted legislation that favors an award of joint custody since research suggests that children do best when they spend as much time with each parent as possible. However, most judges recognize that joint custody is unlikely to work when parents cannot get along.
If a parent is not exercising their rights to visitation, a judge is unlikely to order parents to share joint custody since joint custody means that parents would be ordered to share equal parenting responsibilities. Judges recognize that forcing a child to spend time with a parent that is unfamiliar to them when there is not an established relationship is not in the child’s best interests. In cases where a parent who has not had contact with a child previously wants to establish visitation, many judges will order graduated visitation where a child spends a few hours or a day with the parent before the visitation schedule transitions to overnight visitation.
Joint custody works best when both parents get along and are able to discuss important topics like scheduling and religious upbringing without having an argument. Courts may order joint custody when there is sufficient evidence that parents are already sharing parenting responsibilities and are able to communicate well to co-parent their child.
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