If you are preparing for divorce proceedings and you have one or more minor children, a family court will have to make a ruling on the custody of your children. The family court will encourage you to mediate any disagreements with your spouse. Child custody laws vary from state to state.
Child custody proceedings can be intrusive, especially if custody is contested. The operative legal standard in every state for determining child custody is the "best interests of the child." A family court may order an investigation of your social life, your drinking habits, your sex life and even your housekeeping prowess. However, a bad habit will not necessarily defeat a custody petition; a 2001 South Dakota child custody ruling determined that the mother's online "cybersex" relationships did not disqualify her for custody because they were unlikely to affect her child.
Physical versus Legal Custody
Two types of custody exist: physical custody and legal custody. The child lives with the parent who is granted physical custody. A parent with legal custody is entitled to make legal decisions on behalf of the child, such as choosing among medical treatment options or enrolling the child in a private parochial school. The same parent may be granted both types of custody, or one parent may be granted one type of custody and the other parent granted the other type of custody. The parents may also share legal custody by making decisions that affect the child's welfare on a consensus basis. They may also share physical custody, with the child alternating residence between both parents throughout the year.
Despite the "best interest of the child" standard, a family court considers the preferences of the parents with regard to custody, especially if they reached a mediated agreement. When recommending custody arrangements to the judge, it is best to carefully consider the consequences. Joint physical custody, for example, may leave the child without a "home base," especially if the parents live far apart. Differing practices in the parents' respective households might exert a detrimental influence on the child's development. Even minor lifestyle differences, such as the time the parent wakes up every day, might exert a detrimental influence on a young child.
A common child custody problem that may not arise during initial custody proceedings occurs when one parent moves out of town. If the distance is far enough, visitation arrangements might need radical revision. Serious discord might arise if a parent with physical custody is transferred out of state by his employer. Additionally, visitation over long distances might impose an impossible economic burden on the parent without physical custody.
References & Resources
- Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images