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What is Custody and Visitation Law?

When parents divorce, or when unmarried parents live separately, disputes often arise regarding which parent the children will live with and how the other parent can maintain a relationship with the children. When these disputes are brought into the legal system, they are decided based on child custody and visitation law.

Parents are usually expected to develop their own plans for custody that include joint custody or visitation rights for the non-custodial parent. However, when parents disagree about who should have primary custody of the children, or when parents live far away from one another, a court may have to step in and resolve the dispute.

In especially bitter divorces, one parent may also attempt to block the other from obtaining joint custody or visitation rights. An attorney can provide much-needed support in all of these cases, whether helping broker a mutual compromise on custody or advocating in court for your right to visitation.

The Child's Best Interest

Courts make custody and visitation decisions based on the best interests of the child. The court may consider a number of factors when making these determinations, such as which parent has acted as the child's primary caregiver, each parent's mental and physical health, and the wishes of the parents and child, among others. Many parents consult an attorney to help form their best arguments for each of these factors in order to get the custody and visitation arrangement they prefer.

Terms to Know

  • Sole Custody – One parent being awarded the responsibilities of care and maintenance of a child, including the right to direct the child's activities and make decisions regarding the child's upbringing
  • Joint Custody – The sharing of the responsibilities of care and maintenance of a child by both parents
  • Best Interests of the Child – The standard that every state uses to determine whether to award joint or sole custody or visitation rights
  • Visitation – Access to a child granted to a parent who does not have primary custody (also known as parent-time in some places)
  • Divorce – The dissolution of a legally valid marriage
  • Child Support – Money payments usually made by a non-custodial parent to a custodial parent to cover the non-custodial parent's share of the child's necessities. It is possible, though relatively uncommon, that the custodial parent is the payor

For more legal definitions, visit the FindLaw Legal Dictionary.

Other Considerations When Hiring a Child Custody and Visitation Lawyer

Parents aren't the only people who can get visitation rights. Grandparents and siblings who have played an important role in a child's life may also be awarded visitation rights, depending on the circumstances and state. A court may even consider granting full custody to a grandparent if doing so is in the best interests of the child. Even if you are not a parent, consult with an attorney to discuss your possible visitation rights.

Different states have different preferences for awarding custody. Most states prefer to award joint custody to both parents to ensure that the child maintains the closest possible relationship with them. A lawyer in your state will be able to help you determine which laws apply to your particular situation.

If you are facing a child custody or visitation issue, you may want to contact a custody and visitation lawyer to explore your legal options.

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