Child Custody and Visitation
Ideally the parents agree to what the best situation is for the children. There are many traditional and creative options to meet the family needs in raising the children. The best interest of the children should be the primary factor in making the decision, and there are many ways to meet the children’s needs. We work with parents by offering advice and recommendations based on our extensive experience..
If the court has to make the child custody decisions, they will do it based on what they think is in the “best interest” of the child. In making custody decisions, the court considers the happiness and welfare of the child, taking into account whether the child’s present or past living conditions have a negative impact on his/her physical, mental, moral or emotional health.
If both parents agree, the court may award joint custody unless the court finds that joint custody isn’t in the best interest of the child. If the parents want to share custody, but can’t reach an agreement, they must submit a proposed shared parenting plan to the court. Visitation awards to the non-custodial parent are within the discretion of the trial court judge. In the case where the parents cannot develop a parenting plan, they can ask for assistance from the court. Since we believe that the parents are in the best position to know what is best for their children, we work hard to facilitate an agreement to avoid undue stress to the children.
Child custody arrangements can include any of the following arrangements:
- Legal custody – legal custody of the minor child belongs to both parents, providing for joint decision-making by the parents. Legal custody can be joint or with one parent.
- Shared physical custody – each parent exercises physical care and control of the child for periods substantially in excess of a normal visitation schedule. The aim is to have equal parenting time.
- Primary physical custody – Parents may share joint legal custody, while one parent has primary physical custody.
- Split custody – If there is more than one child in common and each parent is the custodial parent of at least one of the children, it is split custody.
- Temporary custody – Due to unforeseen circumstances, (neglected or uncared-for dependent child or youth)an appointed custodian takes responsibility for the child.
- Visitation schedule – When one parent has primary physical custody, the other parent has a visitation schedule that defines when the children will be with that parent.
Child support is based on a formula determined by the court. The factors in the formula include:
- Gross income of the paying parent
- Number of children the parent must support
- Ages of the children
The guidelines amount is presumed to be the correct child support amount, unless it is unjust or inappropriate. A court can deviate from the guideline amount when:
- The parent paying support has other minor children, and the amount of financial resources is limited.
- The parent paying support has extraordinary expenses, such as travel-related visitation expenses, uninsured medical expense, and so forth.
- There are other unusual circumstances.
Changes to a child support order are based on a substantial change in circumstances, and the change is in the best interest of the child. An example is a big increase or decrease in either parent’s income.
In certain cases, parties do not wish to get divorce but are living separately for justifiable cause. In those cases, a party can file a Complaint for Separate Support. The court has the power in those cases to grant a physical separation, alimony, child support, health insurance, payment of expenses, and certain other financial orders. This option, not commonly used, provides protection when a party does not desire the dissolution of the marriage or final division of property. This option is often chosen by seniors who have no plans to remarry. It can also be chosen for religious beliefs, estate planning needs, and emotional reasons.
Each situation in which children are involved is unique and requires attention to meet the needs of each child. Once the parents decide to divorce, they must decide where and with whom will the children live? Who will make important decisions about their lives? What contact will they have with each of the two parents? How will their financial needs be met? In the best situation, the parents together agree on the best possible arrangement for the children. If not, hopefully the situation can be negotiated between the attorneys. If not, the custody issue must go to court. No matter how it is resolved, the best action the parents can take is to constantly convey love to their child and assure them that the divorce has nothing to do with them.. It does help for the parents to show respect for each other.
Legal custody defines who makes the major decisions about issues such as education, health, medical care, emotional development, and religion. Joint legal custody, in which the decision-making responsibility is shared by both parents, is quite common.
Physical custody refers to the actual time the child spends with each parent. Usually one of the parents is awarded sole physical custody which means that the children will live with the custodial parent. The other parent is the noncustodial parent and has visitation right which can vary from a few hours each week to several nights each week plus vacation time. In addition, a holiday schedule is usually determined for the parents. It is more uncommon to see joint physical custody where the child may alternate spending considerable amounts of time with each parent. Supervised visitation may be ordered if there is any concern over the child’s safety.
In considering custody arrangements, it is important to focus on the needs of the child and who can best meet those needs while continuing a relationship with both parents. Factors that are considered in custody actions include the child’s well being; adjustment to family, school, and community; relationship with the parents; history of abuse, drugs or abandonment; and which parent has been the primary care-giver.
Contact the Law Offices of Lisa J. Graff for a confidential consultation. We’re located in Sudbury, Metro West Boston, Massachusetts and service the following counties: Middlesex, Worcester, Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Plymouth and Bristol Counties.