Child Custody Laws in the U.S.
Divorce is a cruel fact of life where a marriage gets dissolved. When the divorced couple has minor children, then the issue of child custody comes into play. Unless both parties agree, the custody of the child would become an issue. It is estimated that there are 23 million single-parent households. Child custody is an important aspect to be decided while the divorce is finalized.
Child Custody – How is it Done?
There are different arrangements that can be done for child custody. This will determine who will have custody of the child after the divorce – the father or the mother. There are different forms of custody that are possible. These are:
1) Physical Custody: This refers to who would have the actual custody the child/children, i.e: with whom the child would stay. Physical custody can be of different types that include:
- Sole Physical Custody: This is where one parent has complete custody of the child. The parent who gets to keep the child is referred to as the custodial parent. The other parent would be given visitation rights. This would enable him/her to visit the child regularly. This is convenient for a child, who can stay at one place permanently and thus schooling is easy. The details would be finalized by the judge once the divorce decree is awarded. The parent with visitation rights is not allowed to take away the child without permission. Apart from the parent, the court can also allow grandparents and even step-parents to have visitation rights. The details of how many days or hours visitation is allowed and whether the parent can take the child home during the visitation time is decided at the time of judgment. This can be worked out mutually and a parenting plan can be made and submitted to the judge. If the parents can’t work it out, then the judge will decide.
- Joint physical custody: In many cases, joint custody is awarded to both the parents. How much time a child would spend with each parent is mutually decided or as per the order of the judge. It is not necessary that both parents will get 50% access. This is decided based on the factors involved in the case. This is convenient for both the parents as both can participate in the upbringing of the child. It is, however, inconvenient for the child who has to shuttle between two homes and makes travel to school difficult.
2) Legal Custody: While physical custody outlines with whom the child would stay, legal custody is about who is legally authorized to make decisions for the child. There are many decisions parents make for their children. This includes decisions related to schooling, healthcare, religious practices, etc. Legal custody also may be joint with both parties required to take joint decisions. The court may even award sole legal custody, where one parent can take all the decisions.
3) Third-party Custody: In certain cases, the child’s custody may be awarded to a third party. This could be a relative or someone else nominated by the court. This is done in cases, where the parents are not in a position to take care of the child.
The decision on the child’s custody may be taken keeping in mind factors like:
- Age of the child and the child’s preferences
- The financial situation of the parents
- Issues related to child abuse or neglect
- Relationship of the parent with the child
The decision may be taken through mutual consent, mediation, or by an order of a family court.