A normal expectation during any divorce involving children (especially if they’re the high-conflict variety), child custody litigation is both stressful and heartbreaking. In addition to the breakdown of parenting time, child support matters are often rolled into such matters, either during the same case or via separate hearings.
It is also very costly when things are extremely contentious. In addition to the normal legal fees, you may expect to partake in and pay for: custody evaluations, guardian ad-litem, mediation efforts, arbitration, psychological testing, and much more. It bears repeating that if you can find some way to end the litigation and come to an agreement, at least initially, outside of the direction of the court – the better off everyone will be… physically, mentally, and especially financially. Don’t let the impersonal courts and judges choose the level of parental involvement you’ll have in your children’s lives. Yes, we know achieving that will be difficult, it’s just something we feel strongly about suggesting you try.
Despite the mantra that the family courts always operate with the “best interests of the child” in mind, it’s not difficult to conclude that it’s simply not true in most cases. Without obvious, provable extenuating circumstances that put the child at risk for something detrimental (and even sometimes despite that), there is still a significant bias in favor of mothers when it comes to child custody. That’s not said to denigrate mothers. It’s an undeniable reality that this unfairness exists. The imbalance of custodial arrangements in contested custody cases where there is no real danger to the children demonstrate that this is so.
Depending upon the specifics of one’s unique circumstances (and applicable laws in your states) Child custody can be awarded to any number of persons including parents, grandparents, other family members, or other designated guardians. The parenting plans may be balanced or not. (Joint custody, Sole custody, Shared custody in 50/50 or some other unbalanced arrangement, among others.) Reliable statistics relative to child custody cases and parenting agreements indicate that between 70% and 90% of the time, primary physical or sole custody will be awarded to the mother of the children. Fewer than ten percent of all child custody rulings award primary or sole custody to fathers.
The two most common custodial issues are legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody refers to who will make the major decisions that will affect the life of the child. These major decisions can include choices made about religion, education, health care, dental care, emergency care, extracurricular activities, child care arrangements, etc. Physical custody refers to who the child will live with and often the schedule will be a detailed part of the order/agreement for same. Consideration for most situations will be undertaken, including time spent with either or both parents during extended school breaks, summer, holidays, and vacation periods.
The family court system will purportedly consider the following issues when evaluating the custodial arrangements, including but not limited to: the age of the children, recent parenting history, household stability, history of any risks to the children (abuse or other), and logistical issues (proximity to schools, doctors, extracurricular activities, etc.). There are many paths that may be taken in order to make a decision. In rare cases and depending upon their age, children may also testify in child custody cases. In most cases, younger children (under 12 years old) will rarely be seen to testify, but may have a private session with a judge or other people related to the case. Oftentimes, around the age of 12, the court will allow them to voice their opinion about the matters and take them into consideration. However, that is not an age where a child “gets to choose who to live with” – a common misconception, particularly among the high-conflict personalities.
Parents almost always have the option of working out a parenting plan together, which is so much preferable than having a judge decide. An agreed-upon parenting plan will almost always be approved by the court, provided that there are no extenuating circumstances that would prove detrimental to the child.
Join us and allow us to help you devise a parenting plan that works for you and the children. Then, take that plan to a qualified attorney and start working on how to get your plan implemented.