There are many issues that need to be dealt with when a couple decides to divorce, but determining child custody and support is often one of the most difficult issues to deal with.
When dealing with child custody issues, these are the most common topics that need to be addressed:
- Physical custody: Determining where the child will primarily live and which parent will be responsible for the day-to-day responsibilities of taking care of a child (e.g. driving them to school, cooking dinner, helping with homework)
- Legal custody: Determining who will be responsible for making major decisions regarding the child’s schooling, religion, medical care, etc.
- Parenting time: Determining a schedule to specify where the child will be staying on weekends, holidays, etc.
- Child support: If one parent has primary custody, determining how much the other parent will pay the primary custodian in child support.
Nowadays, more and more parents are going for a joint custody approach, where parents split physical and legal custody 50-50. However, in some cases, particularly when parents live far away from each other, it is more practical for one parent to have primary custody while the other gets visitation.
Divorcing parents may work out custody issues on their own and sign a Consent Custody Order, which the judge will review and approve. In some cases, divorcing parents may not be able to come to an agreement on their own, and will bring their case in front of a judge, who will make a decision based on the facts presented by both sides. In either case, once the judge has determined what is best for the child, they will sign a child custody and support order, which both parties will then be legally obligated to abide by.
Modifying a Child Custody Order
Once an order has been finalized, one or both parents may find that the order is no longer practical and want to make changes. In such cases, the parent may file the necessary forms for a modification of custody/visitation. However, it is important to note that once an order is in place, it can only be modified if there is a material change in circumstances that will effect the best interests of the child.
A material change in circumstances may include:
- Loss of employment
- Increase in salary/wages
- Changes in health (parent or child)
- Desire to relocate out-of-state
- Domestic violence or abuse
- Changes with regards to parental abilities to provide for child
The party seeking the child custody/support modification is responsible for proving to the court that there is a material change in circumstances that warrants a modification to the agreement.
If the court determines there is no material change, a modification will not be granted. That is why it is so important for divorcing parents to take the initial custody dispute seriously and not count on the modification process to make changes later on. A family law attorney in your area can review your case, assist with the initial custody dispute, and help you file for a modification if necessary.