Any parent going through a divorce is probably going to have a lot of child custody questions. Here are three of the more common ones.
Here are 3 child custody questions that you need to know about-
Is there a difference between physical and legal custody?
When people talk about custody, they have two different things in mind.
First, there is a concept of “legal” custody. That involves the responsibility for making decisions related to the child’s interests.
This includes things like religious training, education, medical care, and dental care. A couple that shares legal custody will usually decide together what school a child will go to, for example. Parents are almost always going to be awarded joint legal custody unless something goes wrong.
If parents cannot agree on anything, a judge may give one parent the legal custody, or a parent can lose legal custody for issues like domestic abuse.
Physical custody is more obvious. A child lives with the parent (or guardian) that has physical custody.
It is not uncommon for a divorced couple to share legal custody, but have one parent with full or primary custody.
Who decides custody?
The process is a little different in every state, but generally, it is a local judge. Some states have their “general jurisdiction” courts making this decision.
That means the judge may deal with criminal cases, civil lawsuits, and family issues all in the same day. Other states have specialized family-law courts with judges that focus on issues like custody.
Who will get custody of my kid?
This is the most critical of all the child custody questions. There is no easy way to answer this question, unfortunately. Courts are generally not supposed to show favoritism to either parent (mothers were favored in the past). Instead, courts generally look the best interest of the child if they have to make a decision.
In the vast majority of cases, the parents of the child agree to a custody arrangement. Fighting it out in court and then having a judge decide is too costly and unpredictable for most people.
Note that judges do not just blindly accept an agreement of the parents in all cases. If a child objects, perhaps not wanting to go back and forth every two weeks because it would disrupt school activities, then the judge might overrule an agreement between the parents because the judge decides it is not in the child’s best interests. These are important factors to consider when thinking about the child custody questions.
If a court must decide, they generally have a long list of factors they must consider, but few guidelines for their decision. In Wisconsin, just as an example that is similar to most states, a court has 16 factors to look at. This includes things like the wishes of the parents and the wishes of the child. Relationships with siblings and other family is important.
School, health care, religious, and community facilities are listed factors as well. Obviously, issues like child abuse and criminal behavior can be used to block custody. The stability of a home can be considered, so the “dating relationship” of a parent can suddenly become the subject of an awkward legal inquiry. In short, this is a messy decision that defies easy prediction.