Child custody is a term that refers to rights and responsibilities for each parent and child. Custody is not a term used to indicate ownership, but rather a determination of the time a child is going to be with each parent and each parent's responsibility to make decisions on behalf of the child. Custody can be modified to accommodate significant changes in the lives of the children or the parents involved. The judge attempts to structure custody to promote a strong relationship between children and their parents. The only time this is not true is when the judge determines that custody with a particular individual would endanger the child's physical, mental, or emotional health.
Two common custodial arrangements are sole custody and joint custody. In a sole custody arrangement, the children live primarily with one parent. That parent is responsible for the care and control of the children as well as making decisions relating to the children's welfare. In a joint legal custody arrangement, the parents share in making the important decisions relating to the children. In addition, the parents may share physical custody of the children.
In custody matters judges are asked to decide who will make decisions for a child and when a child is going to be with each parent. If parents in custody cases have not reached an agreement, the judge is asked to determine when a child is going to be with each parent. However, parents in custody cases who decide to work together can decide the custody agreement with the help of their attorneys, the help of the friend of the court office, and/or the process of mediation. Parents can, on their own, also work through the court system to obtain or modify custody by filing the proper paperwork.
Before ruling on custody, the judge must determine whether an established
exists. The custodial environment of a child is established if over an appreciable time the child naturally looks to the custodian in that environment for guidance, discipline, the necessities of life, and parental comfort. The age of the child, the physical environment, and the inclination of the custodian and the child as to permanency of the relationship shall also be considered.
Some common child custody issues include the following: