During the divorce process, the court system attempts to make sure any children involved have their needs taken into primary consideration above all else. Both parents and their children are granted legal protections that vary from state to state in their specifics but follows the same broad outlines. Here are some things to keep in mind about how child custody rights are awarded.
Some states make it easy for couples for divorce by allowing them to file a joint request to end their marriage. This requires both parents to cooperate in creating a written separation agreement detailing how they will handle every aspect of their separation. Child custody rights are among the most important issues to discuss in detail. There are two basic kinds of rights parents have over their children:
• Physical custody refers to how much time a child spends with each parent.
• Legal custody refers to who gets to make decisions on a minor child’s behalf concerning religion, education, medical treatment and other important aspects of their upbringing.
Sole child custody rights mean only one parent can have the child stay with them, while joint custody refers to parents who spend equal amounts of time with their children. Most couples can arrive at some form of joint custody agreement in which a child spends most of their time with one parent while regularly visiting or staying with the noncustodial parent. Similarly, parents must decide how much input each will in any major decision made on their child’s behalf.
Because the child’s best interests are at stake, in many states a judge can order couples to attend a mediation session if they are in disagreement over any issue concerning their children. Mediation to resolve disputes over child custody rights can also be undertaken voluntarily. In the vast majority of divorces, these issues will be decided by a couple with or without the help of a neutral third party rather than having to be settled by a judge.
In some cases, the court may decide that a child needs a pro bono lawyer to represent them in especially contentious divorces. A judge may also order therapeutic mediation in cases where parent-child relations have been damaged. Additionally, states allow for children of sufficient age and maturity to express a preference about how they would like for custody to be arranged.
When two spouses complete a separation agreement detailing their resolution of all issues surrounding child custody rights, a judge may either approve it or order that part or all of the details be written. This can occur if the proposed terms are inequitable or otherwise in violation of the law. However, couples who can cooperate in drafting a separation agreement are far more likely to have a mutually acceptable solution become legally binding than to have a judge disregard their wishes.
It is extremely unlikely that a parent will not be able to visit with their child at all. Visitation rights are generally only denied to spouses with a consistent history of domestic abuse.