Child Custody and Visitation Cases
Without a doubt, child custody and visitation issues can be some of the most difficult and emotionally-charged in all of family law. The are many reasons for this, but most importantly, the relationship between the parents and a child is foundational to the family unit, regardless of whether the parents are married, divorced, never married, currently living together, or never having lived together. Additionally, the guiding principal in all custody and visitation cases is the best interests of the child. For these reasons, among others, initial custody and visitation cases can be filed at any time. In other words, the mother and father do not need to be married, or if they are married, they do not need to initiate a divorce case in order to seek custody and visitation of his or her child.
The Best Interests of a Child
When it comes to custody and visitation issues regarding your child, you likely know what is in your child's best interests. Unfortunately, the other parent may also think that he or she knows the child's best interests. And if you and the other party cannot agree on the child's best interests, then a court will decide. In determining the best interests of the child, the court is requied to consider ten statutory factors. These factors are all-encompassing and include, among other things, the age and physical and mental condition of the child, the child's changing developmental needs, the parents' abilities to meet these needs, the age and physical and mental condition of each parent, the relationship between each parent and the child, the role each parent has played in the child's life, the ability of each parent to maintain a close and continuing relationship with the child, etc. Under appropriate circumstances, the court may also consider the child's preferences.
Custody and Visitation Defined
The terms "custody" and "visitation" have specific legal meanings. The term "custody" can be broken into two sub-parts, legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody is the right to make major decisions regarding the life of the child, such as religious upbringing, education, and major medical care. Depending on the facts of a case, the court may award joint legal custody to both parents, or sole legal custody to one parent. Physical custody concerns the custodial time that the child will spend with each child. If a parent has the child for more than fifty percent of the time, that parent is oftentimes referred to as the primary custodian, and the other parent is award visitation or parenting time.
Parents May Agree on Custody and Visitation
As in all family law issues, the parents are free to agree as to the custody and visitation of their children. At Steven R. Morris Law, PLLC, we encourage settlement of custody and visitation issues because the parents, working together, will certainly know what is in their child's best interests--much more so than a judge who will only spend a few hours at trial getting to know the parents and the facts of the case. And we will work with you and guide you through every stage of the settlement negotiations. Nevertheless, if the other parent is unwilling or unable to work with you in settling custody and visitation issues, we will be prepared to represent you and present a strong case on your behalf in court.