Child Custody

There are physical and legal child custody arrangements. Co-parenting families may have joint custody or one parent has primary/sole custody.

This section contains answers to common child custody questions, describes different types of custody, explains what to do if problems arise, and details grandparent visitation rights. Additionally, this section provides state-specific child custody laws and forms.

Working out how to share custody of a child with your minor child's other parent can be difficult. Decision-making about parental responsibilities can be especially hard when parents struggle to get along.

Whether you're recently separated and want to learn about the basic types of custody available, or you've had an open case for years that needs changes, you can find resources here. FindLaw's Child Custody and Visitation section has information and resources on a wide variety of topics to help you through your child custody case.

Types of Child Custody Arrangements

Physical custody is sharing a home with a child and handling their day-to-day care. Legal custody is the right to make important decisions regarding your child's life. Legal custody involves major decisions related to health care, religious upbringing, education, and extracurricular activities.

Joint custody is when both parents share parental rights and their child's living arrangements. Joint legal custody means that parents equally share in the decision-making process regarding their child. Joint physical custody means the child will spend nearly equal time with both parents. This is usually close to 50-50, but not always. Courts generally prefer this type of custody agreement. They find it is in the best interests of the child in most cases.

Sole custody is where only one parent or guardian has sole physical custody and sole legal custody of the child. This custody order is appropriate when one parent's ability to care for the child is not in the child's best interest, possibly because that parent is unfit. This happens when, for example, a parent is guilty of domestic violence or child abuse. However, the non-custodial parent may still retain other parental rights, such as parenting time or visitation rights.

Although rare, it is also possible for a parent to have primary physical custody without having primary legal custody. This unique arrangement happens when the court determines such an arrangement is in the best interests of the child.

How To Get Custody of Your Child

In most states, family courts have the decision-making authority to determine the custody of the child. So, how is that decided? The courts look at a number of factors in determining what is in the best interests of the child.

Some factors the courts will consider to determine the best interests of the child include:

  • The needs of the child (including medical care)
  • Each parent's desire, physical health, mental health, and ability to care for the child
  • Each parent's emotional bond to the child
  • Whether the child must move to a new area
  • Whether either parent has a substance abuse issue
  • The child's wishes and preferences (if old enough)

However, this is not an exhaustive list. Each state considers its own factors to determine the best interests of the child on a case-by-case basis. Frequently, parents or other adults who seek custody or visitation of a child will be required by the court to take part in mediation. If domestic abuse allegations have been made, however, the parties will not be required to mediate.

In mediation, you can discuss what you want, any problems you've had exchanging the child, and anything else that's relevant to the situation. Hopefully, you can come to a resolution everyone can live with. Otherwise, the judge may make a parenting plan that neither parent is happy with.

Child Custody Problems

Several different types of issues may relate to child custody disputes. For example, issues arise when a parent keeps a child longer than agreed in the court order. Another example is when a parent claims a child on their taxes after establishing the other parent would claim the child, either by agreement or court order.

When custody disputes like these arise, you should keep in mind that it is never the solution to stop paying child support. Instead, you may need to modify a child custody decision. To modify your custody arrangement, you may need to allege grounds for applying for a modification.

For example, in Georgia, custody arrangements can only be modified if the modifying parent can prove grounds for the modification. The petitioning or motioning parent must prove that there has been a "material change in the circumstances that will impact the well-being of the child" since the previous court order was entered. If the motioning parent clears that hurdle, the court must still find that the change in circumstances is such that it is "in the best interests of the child" to modify the order.

Hiring a Child Custody and Visitation Lawyer

Going to court for anything can be emotionally draining. Still, for cases involving your child, it can be extremely difficult to keep calm and ensure that you cover everything you need to tell the judge. You're more likely to get your requested custody and visitation agreement with an experienced family law attorney advocating for your rights as a parent.

A family law attorney will provide valuable legal advice and guide you through the legal process. They can help you understand your custody and visitation rights and provide you with solutions to your custody issues.

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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