If you and your soon-to-be-ex spouse share children, you’ll want to know what options you have when it comes to child custody. Often times child custody disputes are responsible for drawing out divorce paperwork. As always, it’s advised that you work with a family law attorney to help settle your divorce.
Reviewing Your Child Custody Options
There are different forms of child custody: legal custody, physical custody, sole custody, and joint custody.
Physical custody means a parent has gained the legal right (typically through a court ruling) to have a child live with him or her. Usually, if a parent has physical custody they also have sole custody of the child, which means the other parent has visitation rights.
There are two forms of sole custody a parent can have: sole legal custody or sole physical custody. Courts seem to be moving away from awarding sole custody to one parent as more information is coming out about the importance of having both parents in a child’s life. In cases where a parent has been deemed unfit due to a history of neglect or abuse, a known dependency on drugs or alcohol, or a new parent that has been deemed unfit, a court will usually award sole physical custody to one parent. It’s advised that unless a parent has demonstrated the above issues, that you do not seek sole custody, due to the importance of having both parents in a child’s life.
While the trend is to award joint custody, in cases where courts do award sole physical custody the parents still usually share joint legal custody (which means both parents are able to make legal decisions regarding the child), unless a parent has been deemed unfit to make those legal decisions.
Legal custody allows a parent to make decisions regarding various aspects of a child’s life, including education, religion, and medical care or legal issues.
Joint custody is able to be awarded to the parents if they are divorced, separated, no longer living together, or if they never lived together but still shared a child. The awarding of joint custody to both parents means each parent is able to make decisions regarding the child. Joint custody also comes in various forms, including joint legal custody, joint physical custody, or joint legal and physical custody. Usually, if a couple shares joint physical custody they also share joint legal custody. But if a couple shares joint legal custody they do not always also share joint physical custody.
Preparing for Your Child Custody Case Hearing
One you have filed your petition to be granted sole child custody you will receive a date for either a mediation session or a court hearing. You’ll want to be prepared going into this meeting. Here are some steps to prepare.
Work with Your Family Law Attorney
Your family law attorney will help you prepare for the mediation or court hearing. If you have been working with a family law attorney up to this point, chances are you have already built your case for why the other parent is unfit to raise the child or children you share. If you have not been working with a family law attorney, you will need to gather evidence of this on your own. We’ll discuss this more in depth further below.
Serve the Other Parent
After the petition has been filed, you’ll need to let the other parent know that you have done so and that you are requesting that a change be made to the current custody agreement. You can either work with your family law attorney to have the notification served, or work with a service company or the courthouse to have this done. Once the notification is served, the person who served the papers will need to provide you with proof that the other parent has been made aware. This is called “Proof of Service.” You’ll need to provide this to the court.
Family law courts prefer to award joint custody to both parents. Because of this, you will need to prove that the other parent is unfit and unable to handle custody of your child. This may be proven a number of ways. Here are a few examples:
- A history of abuse or neglect. Are there any police reports that have been filed against the other parent? Are there other pieces of evidence? Are there witnesses that can corroborate your story?
- Lifestyle. Does the other parent have a job? Is it a steady job that can ensure the other parent is able to financially take care of the child? Where does the other parent live? Is it a safe environment?
- Emotional and physical health. Is the other parent physically and mentally able to care for the child?
Once you have prepared all your evidence, either on your own or with the help of a family law attorney, you will be ready for the mediation or court hearing. If during the mediation session you are unable to come to an agreement, then the case will need to go before a judge. Hopefully, either through mediation or the court hearing, you will then be granted with sole child custody.
It should be noted that if a parent strongly disagrees with how the court has decided on the custody case, there is always an option to appeal.
Appealing Child Custody Decisions
Child custody cases are difficult due to the nature of the subject. A family law court will always rule in the best interest of the child. It’s important to note that an appeals court will not review a case just because one party disagrees with what the judge decided. If you feel your child custody agreement was arrived at because the court made a substantive error (either procedural or legal) you are able to appeal the court’s decision. Here’s how to appeal a child custody ruling.
Work with a Family Law Attorney
Working with a family law attorney will help you prove your case. In the case of appealing an already decided agreement, the family law attorney will need to prove that the previous decision was arrived at inaccurately due to a legal error or a procedural error.
Rules of Your Jurisdiction
Every state has different rules that given child custody cases and appeals. A family law attorney will be familiar with the rules of your specific jurisdiction and will be able to help guide you through the process. If you are not working with a family law attorney, you will need to research the rules on your own. These jurisdiction rules govern what your timeline is for filing an appeal to your child custody case, as well as exact guidelines for what should be contained in the petition to appeal. You can find these rules online or at your local courthouse.
Prepare an Appellate Petition
Next, you will need to prepare an appellate petition. This petition outlines why you are appealing the current child custody decision, as well as lists the errors that the lower court made when deciding on your child custody decision. If you are not working with a family law attorney, you might want to have the petition you fill out reviewed by one, just to ensure it has been done correctly. Next, you will file this petition with the court, as well as have a notification of the filing served to your opposing party.
Review of Appellate Petition
The court will then review the appellate petition and decide whether or not to hear your child custody appeal. If the court decides to hear your case, you will need to prepare a brief that explains your reasons for appealing the initial child custody agreement. This brief should include the lower court’s rules, case law, and all the facts that were presented in the initial custody hearing. A judge will review this and offer a final decision.
When parents live in different locations, either different states, countries, or even towns, the issue of child custody can become very difficult. It’s not uncommon for parents to request move away court orders.
Working with A Family Law Attorney
When it comes to child custody decisions, you’ll want to work with a skilled family law attorney. There are a number of things that need to be considered, namely the best interests of the child, but also what type of custody you are hoping to acheive. Working with a skilled attorney can help ensure you get a fair case. For advice on divorce, child custody determinations, setting up a co-parenting agreement, dividing marital property, and spousal support you need the expert law firm of Divorce Law LA. Schedule a consultation today.
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