Parents often disagree about many aspects of child custody, including parenting time, decision-making, extracurricular activities, education, religion, etc. Sometimes, it is advisable to go through mediation rather than fight in court. However, both parties need to enter the process with an open mind.
Child Custody Hearings
Parents who agree on physical and legal custody, visitation, and child support do not need a judge to make decisions. However, many parents need help settling their differences and a judge’s input. A family court judge will determine custody and visitation arrangements in these cases. The judge’s primary consideration will be the best interests of the children. It may require a review of your co-parent’s background and an examination of their parenting abilities. Some states allow judges to consider the wishes of the children if they are old enough to express them. A judge may mandate home studies or supervised visits if they think the child is old enough to make an informed decision. They may also appoint an Attorney for the Child (AFC) to represent the child’s viewpoint.
Find a child custody attorney to prepare you for negotiations, mediation sessions, and court hearings. They can also assist you in locating and hiring professionals who can bolster your case, like guardians ad litem and custody evaluators. They can help you present evidence logically to the judge and ensure that your arguments are clear and concise. They can also teach you proper courtroom etiquette and advise what to expect from your opposing counsel or the other parent’s attorney.
Child Custody Agreements
A child custody agreement, also known as a parenting plan, stipulates how parents will share time with their children. It can address legal and physical custody of the children, holidays, vacations, school schedules, notices, activities, and more. Lawyers and mediators encourage parents to include as much detail as possible to avoid misunderstandings or future disagreements. A parenting plan can also address decision-making. A parent would be required to ask the other parent for permission to make certain decisions, such as choosing a primary care physician, making dietary choices, and making emergency medical decisions. Parents often opt for joint legal custody, which gives both parents the power to decide these critical matters. Nonetheless, one parent may be given sole legal custody if it is in the child’s best interests.
Parents can often agree to a plan through mediation, which is private and confidential and generally costs less than filing a family court case. However, sometimes, a custody dispute cannot be settled through mediation, and the matter must be heard in family court. Family court cases are public record, can take years to resolve, and may require a judge who does not know you or your co-parent to make a decision that will affect your life forever. It is not ideal for anyone involved, particularly your children.
Child Custody Evaluations
A child custody evaluation is a process that a trained mental health professional conducts to assess a family and recommend how parenting time should be divided between parents. The “best interests of the child” standard is applied by courts when deciding who gets custody, and an assessment can assist the judge in reaching a more knowledgeable conclusion. Custody evaluations can also be used to help the parties come to their settlement agreement. During an evaluation, the evaluator will interview each parent individually and may conduct observations of the children with each parent in their home (depending on the age and maturity of the child) to evaluate their environment and the parent-child relationship. The evaluator will also gather information from outside sources, including school personnel, therapists, and governmental agencies. Evaluators must often report their findings and recommendations to the court.
It is essential to be clear with the evaluator that you support both parents having an ongoing meaningful relationship with your child. If you show that you only want to see your children spend time with one parent, this will be a strike against you in the evaluator’s assessment of you. It is also essential to remember that the evaluator is not required to record full transcripts of their testimonies and can base their conclusions on feelings and general impressions rather than hard facts.
Child Custody Representation
Child custody mediation, alternative dispute resolution, and informal negotiations effectively resolve many custody disputes outside the courtroom. It’s true if the parents can agree on legal and physical custody. Before a court hearing, parents may be required by some states and counties to attend a child custody mediation session. The mediator can help the parties settle issues related to the child, including but not limited to legal and physical custody, visitation schedules, and methods of communication between the parents and the children. The mediator is generally not there to promote one parent’s wishes for custody but instead will focus on the child’s best interests. The process is typically more cost-effective and less emotionally taxing than a full trial.
If the parents cannot agree on a custody agreement, a judge will decide the issue in a court hearing. While some judges may rely on the mediator’s recommendation, most will not. When deciding, the judge will consider several factors and may interview the child or children to determine their wishes and needs. A qualified attorney can represent a client during these proceedings and often make a stronger case than the other party. The lawyer can protect a client’s rights by properly presenting their interests to the judge.