What is child custody?

Child custody is the legal term for care of children. If you “have custody” it means you have both the right and responsibility to care for your child.

Where I practice, we have two kinds of custody. First there is the time the child spends living with or visiting each parent. Second there is the right to make important decisions involving the child, such as decisions about schooling, medical care or religious upbringing.

What kinds of custody arrangements are there?

When it comes to time, most people are familiar with an arrangement where children live mostly with one parent and then spend time at the other parent’s house on every other weekend. In recent years, children spending one week in one home and the next in the other has become increasingly more popular. There are no rules on scheduling. I encourage parents to use their own and their children’s schedules to guide them.

Decision making is something that parents should share. Sharing means keeping the other parent informed of what is happening and talking to each other about what needs to be done. There are situations where decision making is not shared, but that is very unusual.

Do I have to go in front of a judge to get custody of my children?

Custody is frequently worked out by agreement of the parents. Attorneys can help with the process or the parents can do it on their own with attorneys writing the agreement into a form a judge can sign. In addition other people such as mediators can assist with the process. If the parents cannot agree, then most courts will schedule an informal meeting with a court officer to assist them in reaching an agreement. If that does not work, the case is listed for a formal court hearing with a judge.  Regardless, the best people to decide child custody arrangements are the parents, the people who know the children best.

Are children consulted in deciding custody arrangements?

Older children are often asked about their relationships with their parents and even their preference as to who they would rather live with and in what arrangement.  Younger children are less able to articulate their opinions and also are more likely to be influenced by their parents in what they say, thus they are less likely to be consulted in the process.

I heard they always give custody to the mother, is that true?

The answer is no.  What is more accurate is that a mother is still more likely to have the children more of the time because statistically mothers still tend to spend more of their time and energy taking responsibility for child care then fathers do.  Parents enter the legal landscape on equal footing and then the circumstances of each family are looked at.  I personally know of a number of fathers who have primary care of their children.