The guiding principle in child custody decisions is “the best interests of the child.” Between parents, there is no presumption that custody should be awarded to the mother, and absent a finding of unfitness, it is a widely held view that it is in the best interests of a child to have both parents involved in his/her life. In determining custody, a court must evaluate all relevant factors as to who best promotes the interest and welfare of the child. If the parents resided together with the child, courts will consider how parenting duties were divided between the parties: who got the kids up in the morning, gave them breakfast, took them to doctor visits, met with teachers, bathed them, and got them ready for bed. Courts will also consider how well the parents get along now: can they effectively co-parent?
Custody can be broken into two components: physical custody and legal custody.
Physical custody refers to with whom the child lives and can take shape in a multitude of different arrangements. In some circumstances, the child resides primarily with one parent while the other parent (the “noncustodial parent”) has “visitation” every other weekend. If the noncustodial parent works weekends, he/she might exercise time two weeknights instead. The noncustodial parent may also get a weeknight dinner or overnight. If parents do not reside close enough to each other to accommodate an alternating weekend schedule, the noncustodial parent may instead enjoy less frequent but longer periods of time with the child during school breaks such as Thanksgiving, winter, spring, and/or summer break. On the other hand, parents could enjoy equal time with the child, alternating weeks at a time, or implementing one of the other common parenting schedules below:
Legal custody refers to decision making authority. Generally, the parties have the authority to make day-to-day decisions concerning the minor child while that parent has physical custody. For decisions addressing major issues such as medical and health needs, education, extracurricular activities and religion, a court may give one parent exclusive authority, may assign a parent authority for specific issues, or may require the parents to resolve issues by mutual agreement.
Contact our firm today if you have questions about custody or visitation or if you think you may need assistance getting a parenting schedule into place.