In an ideal world, you and your spouse will agree to the terms of your legal separation or divorce. This is often not the case, though, when both parties are looking to protect their rights and assets as best they can. If you and your spouse can’t come to an agreement about terms, it will be necessary to work closely with your family law attorney to move the process forward.
Terms involving children of the marriage are often the most disputed. It can be especially challenging and emotional to decide how your child’s life will be affected when you divorce. The two most important terms that need to be settled for a divorce agreement are child custody and child support.
Custody is defined as the responsibility for the care and control of your child. Custody is different from visitation.
There are two parts to custody: legal and physical. Legal custody refers to the right to make major decisions about your child, such as where your child goes to school. Physical (or residential) custody is the day-to-day care and supervision of your child.
Child support is the money that is intended to be used to cover the food, clothing, shelter, and other basic expenses of a child under 21 years of age. It does not include medical insurance, uninsured medical expenses, child care, or college costs.
If you and your spouse disagree on child custody and/or child support, the courts will need to get involved.
The goal of the court in the determination of custody is to satisfy the best interests of the child. During the hearing, the judge will get information about the details of the situation, including the child’s age, the relationships with both parents, and both home environments. People in the courtroom may include witnesses, a caseworker, and a lawyer for the child, in addition to yourself, your spouse, your attorneys, and the judge.
Neither parent has more of a claim than the other without a custody agreement in place.
The courts may award one parent sole legal custody or give both parents joint legal custody. If you and your spouse share joint legal custody, you will also share the responsibility for making major decisions in your child’s life. You will need to be in regular communication with your child’s co-parent and be willing to compromise as needed.
Sole physical custody may be awarded to one parent, who may also be referred to as the child’s “primary caretaker” or “custodial parent.” Shared physical custody (also known as residential custody) means that your child will live with both parents, with time split equally or as otherwise determined by the court.
Child support is generally filed for after the child custody agreement is in place. The court needs to take into account where the child is living and the expenses associated with that care. It may take several court visits to work out a child support agreement if you and your spouse do not agree on the terms. The judge will need to get a full picture of your financial situation, looking at the incomes of both parents and making calculations based on a variety of factors. A temporary order of support may be issued before a permanent order of support is put in place.
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All parents are looking for the best possible post-divorce outcomes for their children. Child custody and child support rulings will determine how much time you can spend with your child and how you will be able to sustain their care. If you and your spouse can’t agree on the terms of child custody and/or child support, it is imperative that you enlist the help of an expert family law attorney. Call Bates Family Law today at (585) 433-4661 to schedule your free consultation.