When parents of young children divorce, they must address child custody. This is a complex issue even in cases of relatively amicable divorce. In a high-conflict divorce, resolving child custody matters can be very difficult and emotional.
Child custody process
Some parents can agree on parenting time, decision-making and all the other issues of child custody and submit that agreement to the court for review and approval. Others need the court to decide.
To start a child custody case, one parent must file a petition for custody with the court and serve the other parent a copy of the petition and a summons. They will have an opportunity to respond to the petition.
The court will hold a hearing where both parents can present evidence, witnesses and state their position about child custody. The court’s primary consideration is the best interest of the child. The court may review factors such as the child’s age, the child’s relationship with each parent and the ability of each parent to meet the child’s needs.
The court will issue a court order outlining which parent will have physical and legal custody, as well as child support payments. Both parents are required to comply with the court order.
The term “legal custody” refers to the parent’s right to make decisions on the child’s behalf, such as their education, religion, healthcare and other aspects of their upbringing. If parents have joint legal custody, it means they share decision-making authority for the child.
“Physical custody” refers to where the child lives. If the parents have joint physical custody, it means the child will spend time living with both parents.
Best interests of the child
Child custody matters can be very difficult for children. Courts make their child custody decisions based on their understanding of the best interests of the child. Likewise, when parents are negotiating these matters out of court, they must keep their children’s best interests at the front of their minds.