Who is entitled to custody?
We pride ourselves in helping parents achieve custody / visitation of their children, and in helping parents enforce prior-entered Custody Orders. Custody & Visitation by biological parents is a constitutionally protected right. It can often be very difficult, however, to enforce that right without the aid of an experienced attorney. We seek to protect that right both in court and by helping to draft Custody Agreements that honor it.
In order for a court to grant custody, the court must find that the custodian is a fit and proper person to have custody and that custody with that person is in the best interests of the children. There is no presumption favoring mothers over fathers. All other things being equal, mothers and fathers have equal rights to the custody of their children. There is a presumption favoring natural parents over third parties, such as grandparents, aunts, and neighbors. Natural parents have protected rights parent their own children. However, natural parents can lose those protected rights if they take action that is inconsistent with the best interests of the children.
What is sole custody?
Sole custody means that one person has primary physical custody of a child and decision-making power over that child.
What is joint custody?
Joint custody means shared custody. It does not necessarily mean equally shared physical custody. When parents have joint custody, they share in major decisions about a child, and typically each parent has the child more than every other weekend. For joint custody to be successful, the parents need to be able to communicate effectively and to cooperate in parenting their child together.
How is custody determined?
Custody may be agreed upon by the parents. If it is, the parents may set out the terms of their custody agreement in a Separation Agreement or a Parenting Agreement. These agreements are usually not filed with the court. If the parents are unable to agree on their own, they can try mediation or arbitration. If they do not wish to try mediation or arbitration, they can go to court and let a judge decide.
What are visitation rights?
If one parent has custody, the other has the right to have visitation with his child. There are no general rules about when and how much visitation the noncustodial parent should get. That depends on various factors including the ages of the children, the children.s schedules, how far apart the parents live, and the work schedules of the parents. When determining a visitation schedule for the noncustodial parent, the parties (or the court) should consider weekdays, weekends, holidays and summer. As with custody, the parents may agree on visitation in an Agreement. If they cannot agree, they can try mediation or arbitration. If they do not wish to try mediation or arbitration, they can go to court and let a judge decide.
What is the court procedure in custody / visitation cases?
One of the parents begins the process by filing a Complaint (lawsuit) for custody or visitation. The parties generally must attend mandatory court mediation before a trial will be scheduled. In some jurisdictions, the parties must also attend parent education classes. In extreme cases, the court may appoint a Guardian ad Litem to represent the children or a mental health professional to perform a psychological evaluation of the parties and/or the children. At a trial, the court will hear evidence and will decide what custody and visitation arrangement is in the best interests of the children.
What is mediation?
Mediation is when a neutral third party helps facilitate an agreement between the parties. The mediator does not make decision. The parties make the decisions, but the mediator helps them. You can do private mediation before or after a Complaint has been filed. In addition to resolving custody issues, you can address all support and property issues in a private mediation. Mediation is generally less expensive and not as time-consuming as court. The parties control the outcome. The entire process can be settled in one day, and you can leave a private mediation with a binding settlement document. The process is very civil and dignified. It can set the tone for how the parties deal with each other from that point forward. If the parties are able to resolve the issues related to their separation at mediation, typically they work together and treat each other better in subsequent dealings with children or otherwise. You do not necessarily need a lawyer for mediation, but we recommend it. A non-lawyer mediator will not know the law. Without an attorney, you could lose or waive rights you did not know you had.
Is custody ever permanent?
No. Custody and visitation arrangements are always subject to change when circumstances affecting the child.s best interests change substantially.
Can the child decide?
No. The court may consider the wishes of older children, but the court will not let the children decide custody or visitation issues.