The Family Court will base any decisions of custody on what is in the best interests of the children involved, and the Court will address two distinct forms of custody: legal custody and physical custody.
Legal custody pertains to major decisions involving a minor child, such as non-emergency medical treatment, religion, choice of schools, advancement or retention in school, participation in extracurricular activities, the management of any substantial monies received by the child, decisions involving serious discipline problems of the child, and so on. Physical custody, on the other hand, pertains to the actual day-to-day care of a child, and involves the daily decisions relating to such care, like bed-time, meals, clothes to wear, doing homework, and so on. Legal custody and physical custody can be awarded either jointly to both parties, or solely to one party. With respect to physical custody, the non-custodial party will have rights to visitation, which may be every other weekend or, in certain instances, more extensive. If there are concerns about the ability of a parent to safely spend time with a child, the Family Court could order that such a parent only be allowed supervised visitation.
The Family Court, with the agreement of the parties, may appoint a custody evaluator to assist in determining what is in the children’s best interests. The custody evaluator will then interview parents, teachers, relatives, and other significant parties and thereafter report to the Family Court a non-binding recommendation on custody.
Child support is awarded pursuant to standard Child Support Guidelines, and is usually paid by the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent. Child support, under certain situations, may continue until a child completes college
If the parties are involved in a divorce proceeding, there may be a need to immediately determine child custody and support. This is done through a Motion for Pre-Decree Relief, which will determine the rights of the parties temporarily, pending the final divorce decree. Sometimes, following a divorce, the parties may seek a change in the custodial award set forth in the divorce decree, or they may otherwise seek to enforce the divorce decree in terms of custody, visitation, or child support. This is done through a Motion for Post-Decree Relief, which will determine the rights of the parties in a post-divorce setting.
All of the above is only a very brief sketch of what is involved in a Family Court dispute involving child custody. Every case is different, and every mother or father has unique issues that can only be addressed by sharing the details of a parent’s situation with an attorney, and obtaining a specific assessment with respect to issues of custody, visitation and child support.
If you are a mother or father and you would like to discuss your rights and options pertaining to custody of your child or children, please contact us for a free consultation so that we can determine the best way to protect your interests as a parent.