What parents should know about child custody and visitation
In New York State family law cases, one of the most emotionally charged aspects is child custody and visitation. This is true in many situations whether the parents are on reasonably good terms or not. One minor disagreement can blossom into a full-blown dispute and cause challenges for an extended period.
The state has certain basics in place to try and give the parents a guideline to follow. Still, as the case moves forward, it is imperative to think about what the court will consider when making the order and the fundamentals of the determination.
How important are the best interests of the child?
The court will strive to serve the child’s needs. That means they will consider their best interests when making the custody determination and establishing a visitation plan. Contrary to what many might believe, there is not a list that the judge in the case will look at when deciding on the child’s best interests.
Every case will be analyzed on its own merits. If, for example, the child will be better served to live with the mother because the mother was the primary caregiver prior to the divorce, this could be a key factor. Other considerations can include the parenting abilities, if there are special needs, the parents’ health, if there are siblings, the child’s desires and more.
How should I prepare for a hearing?
With child custody, it is preferable if the parents can come to an agreement on their own and avoid the need to go to court. Although this is a goal, it is not always possible. The hearing will help the judge come to a determination as to who will have custody and what the visitation schedule will be. Both parties will give testimony. Depending on the circumstances, the court could need more information and order an investigation and report by professional agencies or entities.
What custody options are available?
Parents should also know the different types of custody. Joint legal custody lets the parents make the key decisions together about the child’s care. If there is sole custody, the parent who is given that responsibility will make all the decisions. When there is an order for joint physical custody, the parents will share the child equally.
With sole physical custody, the child resides with one parent more than half the time. Visitation will be based on a schedule. An example might be the child living with one parent for the school year and seeing the other parent on weekends. The noncustodial parent could have the child for the entire summer and on holidays.
Can I deviate from the agreement?
A common question people ask is if they can deviate from the agreement. For example, if a parent is late in picking the child up for visitation, they might want to keep the child. This would likely violate the agreement and could present legal problems. In fact, a judge could find the parent in contempt and penalize them. When there is a desire to alter or outright modify the agreement, it is better to negotiate with the other parent or ask the court to change the order.
Parents should have experienced, caring help with a family law case
Child custody and visitation is a sensitive topic that impacts every aspect of the parents’ and child’s life. With that, it is important to think about the child’s needs first and to understand how best to serve them. Regardless of the situation – amicable, somewhat contentious or outright acrimonious – having professional assistance can be essential to try and reach a fair outcome. Having help from the beginning, if disputes arise after the agreement is in place or to seek modifications is imperative.