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Basics about Child Custody and Visitation Rights

basics-about-child-custody-and-visitation-rights

Among the difficult questions facing separating or divorcing parents are who will have custody of the children and what visitation rights will be given to the spouse without custody. Here are some basics about child custody and visitation rights that can help resolve these questions.

Child Custody

If the parents agree on who gets custody, the court usually accepts their choice. If the parents cannot agree, the court decides. It bases its decision on what's best for the child and considers various factors, including the child's preference, his or her health and welfare, and which arrangements will provide the most and best contact with both parents.

There are various child custody arrangements to choose from. Here are the main forms.

* Sole custody. In this traditional custody arrangement, one parent is designated as custodian, both legally and physically. The child lives with the designated parent, who has all legal rights and duties for the child and makes all parental decisions (though the other parent may have some input on decisions).

* Joint legal custody and sole physical custody. Joint legal custody means both parents make major decisions about the child together. This arrangement works better when the parents are on cordial terms. In many joint custody arrangements, one parent has sole physical custody.

* Full joint custody. In this arrangement, the separating parents are equal partners in raising the child. This too works better if the parents are on cordial terms. Under joint physical custody arrangements, the child usually spends the same amount of time with each parent.

Variations on these arrangements can be agreed upon by the parents or ordered by the court. Also, existing custody arrangements can be later modified. Changes agreed to by both parents are usually accepted by the court. If the parents cannot agree, the parent seeking the change can ask a judge to make it. Generally, the parent must show that there has been a significant change in circumstances and that the proposed arrangement is in the child's best interest.

Visitation Rights

When one parent is awarded sole physical custody, the other usually gets visitation rights. If the parents cannot agree on visitation privileges, a judge decides for them. Visitation rights typically consist of one or two weekends a month, each parent having the child for some of the major holidays, and several weeks or a month during the summer.

The parent with custody needs good reason to deny the other parent visitation rights. If the parent with custody thinks the other parent's conduct will be bad for the child, he or she can ask the court to stop all visitation rights or to require that a third person be present at all visitations.

As with most matters involving divorce and separation, child custody and visitation rights present difficult issues. Legal assistance should therefore be obtained in resolving such matters. It should also be obtained when parties want to properly enforce or modify existing arrangements.

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