Child Custody Agreements
Child custody can refer to where your children will live after divorce (physical custody), or who has the legal right to make decisions about their upbringing (legal custody). In each scenario, parents may jointly share the responsibility or the courts may award one parent solely. Below are some key terms to better understand child custody laws. For more information contact a Greensboro Divorce Lawyer at Garrett, Walker, Aycoth, & Olson.
Physical custody is the right to have your children live with you after a divorce. The right may be shared by both parents in a joint physical custody arrangement or granted to only one parent in a sole physical custody arrangement.
Joint Physical Custody
Courts generally prefer to award joint physical custody to guarantee the children will maintain contact with both parents. In some states this is the default resolution, and may require a disagreeing parent to prove why their children should not spend time with both parents. For more state-specific resources in family law, check out FindLaw.com’s resource section or contact a local Greensboro Divorce Lawyer.
Joint physical custody requires parents to share time with their children. It does not need to be a 50-50 split, but if the parents cannot reach an agreement, the courts may impose a schedule. Common arrangements include alternating weeks, months, and/or holidays at each parent’s house.
Joint physical custody enables both parents to be integral parts of their children’s lives. Research supports that in low-conflict divorces, children fare better in joint custody arrangements than sole custody. However, for high-conflict divorces with disputing parents, joint physical custody may trap children in the middle of an emotional conflict zone.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself regarding joint physical custody:
- How will your children split time between you and your ex-spouse?
- How far will you and your ex-spouse live apart?
- Do you plan on relocating to another city in the future?
- Are you prepared to be in touch with your ex-spouse on a regular basis?
- How important is it for you to be an integral part of your children’s life?
Sole Physical Custody
In sole physical custody arrangements, the children permanently stay with the custodial parent while the non-custodial parent have regularly scheduled visitation rights. The advantages of this arrangement are that children are permanently residing in a single location. Logistically, this can be less stressful for both the children and the parents, especially when it comes to schools, neighbors, and friendships.
However, this arrangement is arguably less “equal” than joint physical custody because the children no longer live with the noncustodial parent. The noncustodial parent may feel like a “visitor” in the children’s lives over time and visitation may seem like playtime rather than meaningful daily bonds.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself regarding sole physical custody:
- Who will your children permanently stay with?
- Will it be difficult for your children to cope with sole physical custody?
- How important is geographical stability to your children?
- How involved do you want your ex-spouse to be in your children’s child-rearing?
Visitation Rights of the Non-Custodial Parent
In sole physical custody arrangements, both the custodial and the non-custodial parent must follow the arranged visitation schedule. The non-custodial parent can’t take their children away from the custodial parent without consent, or otherwise may face severe legal consequences. Similarly, the custodial parent can’t refuse a scheduled visit from the non-custodial parent under normal circumstances, including if the child is sick, if the custodial parent does not like the non-custodial parent’s new partner, and much more.
However, there are circumstances where the custodial parent or the child may be able to legally refuse a visit. These circumstances usually arise if the custodial parent fears imminent harm to the child (such as abuse or neglect); or if the children themselves do not want to visit the non-custodial parent.
Violation of visitation rights can have serious consequences. If the violations are continuous, a judge may find the violator to be in contempt of court. In some states, interference with visitation may be a criminal offense. Because visitation rights can be complicated and contentious, if you suspect any violation it’s crucial to speak with an attorney.
Visitation Rights of Grandparents, Step-Parents, and Caretakers
Every state has its own statutes allowing grandparents, step-parents, foster parents, caretakers a legal right to maintain a relationship with children. However, states’ laws vary and some are more restrictive than others.
Many states have permissive visitation laws granting grandparents and others visitation rights intended to serve in the child’s best interest. But some states restrict court-ordered visitations only to grandparents, and only under a strict set of conditions.
Grandparents, step-parents, caretakers, and others involved with a visitation struggle should understand the issue is state-specific and courts have made contradictory rulings in the past. If you’re facing resistance to visitation you should consult an attorney.
Legal custody is your right to make decisions about your child’s upbringing, such as education, medical care, and religious instruction. Similar to physical custody, legal custody may be jointly shared between both parents or solely vested in one parent.
Generally in most states, both parents continue to have joint legal custody after divorce, meaning both parents have equal rights to make child-rearing decisions. However, courts may award sole legal custody to one parent under some rare circumstances. A parent with sole legal custody has the unilateral legal right to make child-rearing decisions.
Non-Parent/Third-Party Custody or Guardianship
In some situations, relatives or close family friends may seek custody. States label this type of custody as “non-parental custody,” “third party custody,” or “guardianship.” This process is initiated by filing a petition with the court, paying filing fees, and sometimes filing a letter of consent from the parents. The court does a background check of the petitioner, arranges interviews and sometimes home inspections, and then a judge makes the decision in the best interest of the child.
If you or a loved one is looking for a Greensboro Divorce Lawyer, contact Meghan O’Keeffe at Garrett, Walker, Aycoth, & Olson.