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Custody & Visitation

Custody is the overarching term for the arrangements parents have, by court order or agreement, for the care and parenting of their minor children. Custody of minor children can be a contested issue in the context of divorce, but also in the context of parents of a minor child who have never married.

Custody determinations made by the court are based on what the court determines is in the best interest of the minor children after taking into consideration a number of factors including, without limitation, age and number of children, the willingness of the parents to share custody, the relationship established between the child and each parent, the geographic proximity of the parental homes, the demands of parental employment, the ability of the parents to communicate and reach shared decisions, and other factors. These same factors influence custody agreements as well.

Custody of minor children is broken down into two parts: physical custody and legal custody.

Physical custody means where the minor children reside and when they spend time with each parent. Many terms are used to describe this: residential custody, parenting time, time-sharing, visitation, and access. Parents can have a joint physical custody or equal (50/50) time-sharing arrangement; however, that is not the case in every family. Joint physical custody, which is also called shared physical custody, is a range of schedules, typically from 5 out of 14 overnights (or 128 overnights per year) to 50/50 (or 128.5 overnights per year) to 9 out of 14 overnights (or 237 overnights per year).

In some instances, one parent will be awarded sole physical custody. For example, the children reside primarily with one parent and have access with the other parent according to a particular schedule.

The visitation/access arrangement sets forth the specific time-sharing arrangement under which the children spend time with both parents. Time-sharing arrangements vary widely from family to family based on the family’s circumstances and the particular needs of the children in terms of amount of time with each parent, the particular rotation of days, and the division of holiday and summer vacation time.

Legal custody governs the manner in which parents make major decisions regarding the children’s education, religion, medical treatment, and general health and welfare. Joint legal custody means that both parents have equal say in major decision making. One parent can be awarded sole legal custody which allows that parent to make major decisions without the agreement of the other parent. In between joint legal custody and sole legal custody lies a concept called “tie-breaking authority.” In some cases, the parents will be joint legal custodians with one parent having tie-breaking authority in the event the parties are unable, after a period of time, to reach a joint decision.

The court makes determinations regarding physical and legal custody at a Custody Merits Trial. The court’s decision is set forth in a court order. If parties are capable of reaching a custody and parenting agreement, it often allows more flexibility and detail than a court order. Each family is unique in terms of the custodial arrangement that will serve the best interest of their children. Our firm is skilled in handling all types of custody disputes. We can artfully negotiate a custody and parenting agreement or develop a thorough strategy to litigate the most complex and contentious custody case.