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What Are the Questions I Need to Ask My Lawyer in a Child Custody Case?

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b2ap3_thumbnail_16.jpgChild custody cases can be some of the most contentious. They can also be complex, and the way that they are decided varies from each state and region. To better prepare for a custody dispute, parents may retain the services of family law lawyers to help advise them of the process entailed in a child custody case.

What Is the Difference in Sole Custody and Joint Custody?

The family court may order sole custody or joint custody. Sole custody is when one parent has nearly all of the rights and responsibilities related to raising the child. Some states differentiate between physical and legal custody. Legal custody means the right of the parent to make decisions for the child. In some cases, one parent receives physical sole custody and both may receive legal custody. In sole custody cases, the other parent may have visitation rights with the child or supervised visitation. The non-custodial parent may be responsible for financially contributing to the child’s upbringing through child support.

Joint custody means that parents more equally share the rights and responsibilities of raising the child. However, their time may not be exactly equal. Additionally, even if parents have joint physical custody, one parent may still be ordered to pay child support to the other.

How Does the Court Determine What Type of Custody to Award?

Generally, the court will consider the best interests of the child when determining to whom and in what manner to award custody. The factors that the court looks at are usually based on a family law that specifies relevant factors or case law in which judges have stated in past cases what factors can influence their decisions.

The court may consider factors specific to the child, such as the child’s age, sex and development. The court may also consider how close the child’s bond is to each parent and to siblings. If the child is old enough, his or her preferences may be considered by the court.

Courts also look at the lifestyle of each parent to determine which one would provide a better home environment for the child. The court can consider how involved the parent has been in parenting, whether each parent can cooperate with the other, the emotional, physical and financial stability of each parent and any history of domestic violence on the other parent or another member of the household.

Do I Have to Go to Court?

The way that custody cases are approached vary in each jurisdiction. Some states require parents to attend mediation before a court will hear the case. Through mediation or private conversations, the parents may be able to reach a decision regarding such issues as child custody, visitation and child support. The judge may give greater deference to agreements reached by the parents. However, some states do not require the judge to make an order consistent with the agreement if he or she does not believe that the agreement is in the child’s best interests or if the child support is not in line with state laws.

Reaching an agreement outside of court can be preferable on many levels. For example, visitation schedules can be made to specifically coordinate with the parents’ work schedule. Additionally, legal expenses tend to be less when lawyers do not have to argue the case in front of a judge.

However, if the parents are not able to come to an agreement, they will likely have to go to court for a hearing in which the judge will make decisions regarding custody. He or she will document decisions by making an order that states his or her mandates in writing.

Can I Change an Order?

Typically to change an order, the parent who wants to change the order, he or she must show that a material change in circumstances that justifies making such a change.

How Much Experience Do You Have?

Child custody laws can be complex and usually require the assistance of an experienced family law lawyer. It is important that parents know about the experience and background that a family law lawyer can lend to assist with the case.

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