Child Custody and Visitation

Q:        How does child custody and visitation work?

A:        Joint legal custody means both parents share the right and the responsibility to make decisions relating to the health, education and welfare of the child(ren). Physical custody means that the child(ren) spend(s) most of their time living with the custodial parent. There is also the possibility of joint physical custody which is equal, or nearly equal, custodial time to each parent.

If you and your spouse agree, or the court orders, one parent to have physical custody of your child(ren), the other parent may acquire reasonable rights of visitation. There are no set rules as to what constitutes “reasonable” visitation rights. Each case is decided on its particular circumstances. The court will approve a visitation plan agreed to by you and your spouse. A mediator is available through the court system to assist in establishing a child sharing plan. Additionally, recommendations from private professionals may be considered by the court in reaching a decision on these issues.

A child custody and visitation order may call for either specified or unspecified visitation times. A specified order states specific days and times when visitation is to commence and end. An unspecified order leaves such arrangements to the parties.

Final custody and visitation orders may be modified upon a showing of a material change in circumstance affecting the child(ren)’s welfare and that the modification will be in the child(ren)’s best interests.

Usually, the best solution is for you and your spouse to agree on custody of your child(ren). In most cases, a judge will approve a custody plan that both parents want. To facilitate agreements between you and your spouse, the court provides a mediator through the county’s Family Court Services Department who will meet with you and your spouse to assist in arriving at a custody arrangement which is appropriate. Absent an agreement, the mediator will make recommendations to the judge which will be considered in making a custody order. If you desire, the court will also consider the recommendations of a private mediator.

If you and your spouse are unable to reach an agreement regarding the custody of your child(ren), a judge will establish a custody/visitation order for you.

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