Understanding Child Custody
Child custody is actually an umbrella term for two different issues: legal custody and physical custody. All the relevant orders must be in the best interest of the child before the Court, and while there is nearly always a broad and general agreement in this area, it is not uncommon for these same issues to trigger child custody disputes.
In brief, this term refers to the ability to make important decisions on behalf of minor children. In general, the primary custodial parent has the authority to make legal decisions and the visiting parent has the right to make input into these decisions. To minimize the number of future disputes, many orders are fairly specific in this regard, especially with respect to:
- Moral upbringing: While an order like “the children must attend synagogue every week” is probably both unreasonable and unenforceable, orders like “the children shall be raised Jewish” are quite common.
- Choice of school: In a similar vein, judges frequently issue orders like “the children shall attend Christian private schools,” especially if the parties agree.
- Choice of physician: Some parents take children to multiple clinics or doctors to avoid questions about repeated trauma injuries, while others “doctor shop” to find practitioners that conform to their expectations.
In either case, a simple list of names effectively solves the problem.
All of these things can be changed either by informal agreement between the parties or, as a better practice, a motion to modify.
It is a popular myth that “joint custody” means that the children spend alternating weeks with either parent. While such an arrangement may be proper for children over 10, most research indicates that younger children need a primary attachment figure. In other words, they need to live with one parent on a full-time basis and visit the other one on a regular basis.
For very young children, weekend visits are probably not appropriate. This is especially the case if the noncustodial parent has little or no experience when it comes to taking care of infants and toddlers.
Instead, “joint custody” really refers to sharing parenting time, as well as decision-making, to the greatest extent possible, and most everyone agrees that such an arrangement is ideal for most families in most circumstances.
Contact a Child Custody Attorney
If you are having child custody issues or any other family law problems, contact an experienced child custody attorney, like a family lawyer. Whether you are facing a first-time custody battle or have a modification or other issues that need to be addressed.