The determination on how parent’s will share custody, both legal and physical, must always be focused on the best interests of the child.
The concept of custody encompasses two concepts: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody concerns decision-making with respect to decisions impacting the child, and physical custody determines parenting time.
If one parent is awarded sole custody, that parent generally has complete responsibility with respect to important decisions in the child’s life. Most often, the parent who is not awarded custody will have visitation rights, sometimes referred to as parenting time.
Where the court awards joint custody of the children, the parents share in the decisions that will impact their children. These decisions may include things such as where the child will go to school, choices related to medical care, religious practices and others. An award of joint legal custody does not impact child support. It deals only with the legal rights related to decision making. When joint legal custody is awarded, a parent may or may not also have joint physical custody of the child. This does not always mean that both parents will spend exactly the same amount of time with the child.
Visitation is typically ordered to ensure that the parent who does not have physical custody is still provided time with the child. As a general rule, the court strives to ensure that both parents are present in the lives of the children where appropriate.
When considering visitation rights the court will enter an order that provides visitation taking into account the age of the child. The parents, however, can vary this if they are in agreement. Of course, if a parent does not make an effort to see the child, the court can not force them to do so. Typical visitation schedules take into account the weekday routine of the child, weekend time, and holiday and vacation issues.
In rare instances, supervised visitation can be ordered.. This means that when the non-custodial parent spends time with the child, someone else must be present. This type of arrangement is most common where there is a history of violence, substance abuse or poor parenting skills. It is intended for the protection of the child.
Importantly, child support issues do not impact visitation rights. Even if a parent is having difficulty paying support, the other parent is not entitled to deny visitation. Issues of support are separate and apart from visitation and custody. Similarly, a parent who is ordered to pay support cannot withhold it because of issues with visitation. Rarely will a Court order that a parent is not to have contact with a child. Such an order is uncommon and would be used only to protect the child where serious harm or abuse had occurred or was likely to occur.
Contact Davis Miles McGuire Gardner to discuss a custody arrangement that would be in your children’s best interest.