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What is Custody and Visitation Law?

When parents divorce or when unmarried parents live separately, disputes often arise regarding which parent the children will live with and how the other parent can maintain a relationship with the children. These disputes are decided based on child custody and visitation law.

Parents are usually expected to develop their own plans for custody that include joint custody or visitation rights for the non-custodial parent. However, when parents disagree about whose house their child should spend the majority of the time, or when parents live far away from one another, the court may have to step in and resolve the dispute. In especially bitter divorces, one parent may also attempt to block the other from obtaining joint custody or visitation rights. An attorney can provide much-needed support in all of these cases, whether helping broker a mutual compromise on custody or advocating in court for your right to visitation.

Courts make custody and visitation decisions based on the best interests of the child. The court may consider a number of factors, such as which parent has acted as the child’s primary caregiver, each parent’s mental and physical health, and the wishes of the parents and child, among others. Many parents consult an attorney to help form their best arguments for each of these factors in order to get the custody and visitation schedule they desire.

Terms to Know

  • Sole Custody – One parent being awarded the responsibilities of care and maintenance of a child, including the right to direct the child’s activities and make decisions regarding the child’s upbringing
  • Joint Custody – The sharing of the responsibilities of care and maintenance of a child by both parents
  • Best Interests of the Child – The standard that every state uses to determine whether to award joint or sole custody or visitation rights
  • Visitation – Access to a child granted to a parent who does not have custody
  • Divorce – The dissolution of a valid marriage
  • Child Support – Money payments made by a non-custodial parent to a custodial parent to cover the non-custodial parent’s share of the child’s necessities

For more legal definitions, visit the FindLaw Legal Dictionary.

Other Considerations When Hiring a Child Custody and Visitation Lawyer

Parents aren’t the only people who can get visitation rights. Grandparents and siblings who have played an important role in a child’s life may also be awarded visitation rights, depending on the circumstances and state. A court may even consider granting full custody to a grandparent, if doing so is in the best interests of the child. Even if you are not a parent, consult with an attorney to discuss your possible visitation rights.

Different states have different preferences for awarding custody. Many states prefer to award joint custody to both parents to ensure that the child maintains the closest possible relationship with them. However, a few states lean toward awarding sole custody. Wyoming, for example, prefers sole custody because awarding joint custody depends on the cooperation of the parents, and when the parents don’t get along, only the child suffers. A lawyer in your state will be able to help you determine which laws apply.

If you are facing a child custody or visitation issue, contact a custody and visitation lawyer immediately to explore your legal options.

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