Child custody and visitation are just two of many concerns when facing a divorce. When couples are in the divorce process, many questions may arise that pertain to child custody such as visitation, decisions made by the court, how to deal with co-parenting with your ex-spouse and the stress of such an ordeal, how the process will affect children, among many other issues.
When the court issues its decree, a Parenting Plan will outline the rules and regulations concerning who the child will live with, as well as the stipulations of visitation pertaining to the non-custodial parent. Most often, parents will work out the children’s living arrangements amongst themselves, with the assistance of an attorney or through a mediator. In the case that the parties simply cannot come to an agreement on which parent will have primary custody of the child(ren), the court will make a decision based on the best interest of the child.
When the court is deciding who will be the custodial parent, they take into consideration the child’s wellbeing and stability, as well as many other factors. The custodial parent must adhere to the court’s ruling and visitation schedule of when the non-custodial parent will see his/her child. The court will normally appoint both parents as joint legal custodians to allow both parents to be involved in major decision making for the children. Many parents will opt for joint legal custody of the child which requires cooperation between each parent. However, the court may not award joint custody unless both parents can openly demonstrate that they are capable of getting along and making joint decisions for the child.
The court also takes into consideration several factors when deciding who will have primary custody. The court will ultimately determine which parent will be best suited to take care of the children and the children’s best interests. Although at times this may be a difficult decision to make, the court may rely heavily on which parent has been the child’s primary care taker. When deciding custody and the child’s best interest, the court usually considers:
- The preference of the child, if over the age of 14;
- The mental and physical health of both parents;
- The need for a stable home environment;
- Support from family members, as well as interaction;
- Adjustment to schools and community;
- Age and sex of the child;
- Parental use of excessive discipline or emotional abuse; and
- Evidence of alcohol or drug abuse.
Once the child’s primary residence is established, the court must decide the amount of visitation the non-custodial parent will have with the child. A Parenting Plan includes visitation for weekends, holidays, summer visitation, birthdays, and other important holidays.
Only in extreme situations, the court may order supervised visitation for the child. This is usually the case if there is any sign of family violence, or evidence of alcohol or drug use/abuse. For example, if the non-custodial parent has been found to have neglected or abused their former spouse or child, the court may only allow them to see their child while under supervision. The individual chosen to supervise the visits can be someone agreed upon by both parents, a paid supervisor, or a court-appointed individual.