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Answers to Frequently Asked Child Custody Questions
What age can a child decide which parent to live with?
The laws vary from state to state but the standard for child custody determinations in most all states is the overall best interest of the child. The child's wishes or child's preference is generally one of many factors the court may consider if the child is of reasonable age and maturity to state a preference. The reasons for his/her wishes should also be considered.
Can parent take child out of state?
Whether vacationing or relocating out of state, you should always look closely at your court order to see if/how taking your child out of state is addressed. Further, you'd do well to consult a family lawyer to help you learn procedurally what the child custody laws are regarding out of state travel or relocations in your state and how that applies to your specific situation. The domicile or residence of a child typically cannot be moved out of state without written approval from the parent and/or without the prior approval of the court. If the custodial parent moves out of state with the minor child against the wishes of the non-custodial parent and without the permission of the court, then the court may sanction orders of contempt.
How is child custody decided when parents divorce?
The law for child custody determinations varies from state to state. In most states however the standard for child custody determinations is the overall best interest of the child. There are several factors the court must consider to determine the overall best interest of the child and how child custody will be awarded.
Do I need an attorney or lawyer to file for child custody?
No. However, you should at least consider consulting a licensed family law attorney in your jurisdiction who can inform you of the laws related to divorce and child custody so you are informed of your legal rights. A family law attorney can advise you of your rights and legal options. After consulting a family lawyer you can decide whether or not you want to retain one or represent yourself ('in pro per').
What type of attorney or lawyer do I need for my child custody case?
Although there are many attorneys that are general practitioners that handle divorce and child custody cases, a family law attorney who specializes in divorce and child custody cases should be more knowledgable and more experienced with divorce and child custody cases and more inclined to be up to date with the latest divorce, child custody laws and developments (i.e. family law attorney, family lawyer, child custody attorney, or divorce lawyer). Many family law attorneys devote 100% of their practice to family law. Others may be board certified by the state board of legal specialization as a Certified Family Law Specialist.
What if I want attorney assistance but don't want or don't need a full representation lawyer?
If you cannot afford to hire a full representation lawyer or simply don't want to pay for one but still want legal assistance you may want to find an attorney willing to work for a flat-fee or find an attorney who provides limited scope representation. Limited Scope Representation (also referred to as "unbundling" or unbundled legal services) provides a mechanism in which the attorney and client can enter into a contractual agreement that limits the scope of the attorney’s representation services he/she will perform for his/her client. In rare cases, an attorney may take your case pro bono (or for free).
Where can I get information to help me with my child custody issues?
A family law attorney in your area should be able to inform you of your legal rights and legal options. Family law attorneys are costly, but can be valuable when used appropriately. Your local family courthouse typically provides information, pamphlets, and forms that can help educate and inform you about filling out and filing your child custody papers and/or divorce papers. The Internet is an excellent resource for finding information about child custody. The How to Win Child Custody E-Book is an invaluable resource complete and full of information and strategies to enhance your child custody case.
I want to represent myself but need some assistance. What are some more options for help?
More and more people are choosing to represent themselves in family court (pro se or in pro per). The family court should provide you with all the legal forms you need. If you simply need assistance with completing your child custody papers and forms you can get help from a document preparation service. As mentioned above, unbundled legal services or a limited scope attorney can typically provide a lower-cost alternative for partial legal services than the traditional full representation attorney.
What is physical custody?
Physical custody or physical child custody has to do with where the child lives. If the child lives primarily with one parent that parent may have sole or full physical custody of the child while the other parent has visitation rights. If the child lives with each parent almost equally, the parents may share joint physical custody.
What is legal custody?
Legal custody or legal child custody has to do with decision making such as what school the child attends, what doctor the child sees, and other major decisions. It is not uncommon for parents to share joint legal custody even if one parent has sole physical custody of the child.
What is joint custody?
What is joint custody? Joint custody generally implies the parents share both legal custody and physical custody. Both parents are typically involved in major decisions regarding the upbringing and raising of their child and both parents typically have a parenting schedule that allows for frequent and continuous contact with their child.
What is shared custody?
What is shared custody? The term shared custody is synonymous with joint custody where both parents are involved in major decisions regarding the upbringing and raising of their child and both parents typically have a parenting schedule that allows for frequent and continuous contact with their child.
What is a child custody evaluation?
A child custody evaluation is an investigation of the families and children that are parties to a child custody dispute. Child custody evaluations are done by child custody evaluators that have been appointed by the court usually for the purpose of helping the judge determine what parenting arrangement would be in the best interest of the child.
What is a 730 evaluation?
A 730 evaluation is specific to California child custody evaluations. It is a child custody evaluation appointed under the California Evidence Code Section 730. Other states may have a different code for such custody evaluations.
What is a family law facilitator?
Often family courthouses provide a family law facilitator office to assist parents seeking help with family law issues such as child custody, child support and divorce. You may find some family law facilitator offices are staffed with both attorneys and paralegals -- But the family law facilitator cannot be your attorney or provide you with legal advice. Also, some offices limit services to assistance with completing forms and some may not be able to help with all aspects of child custody or divorce. To find out what services are available to you you'll want to contact your local family law facilitator office.
What is ADR?
Alternative Dispute Resolution or ADR is a means by which parents can informally work out disputes in a less formal environment without a trial. There are several forms of Alternative Dispute Resolution such as divorce mediation, collaborative law, and arbitration. Many courthouses provide no cost mediation services as a form of alternative dispute resolution via a family law facilitator.