Many mothers and fathers worry about what will happen to their rights to their children if they were to get a divorce. In the majority of cases, both parents will still have rights to see and maintain a bond with their children. In a small number of cases where there are extenuating circumstances, one parent might be awarded sole custody and the other parent might not be allowed to have contact with the child. There are also arrangements that fall somewhere in between these two scenarios. If you’re wondering what your divorce will mean when it comes to your relationship with your children, read on for general information and suggestions for what you can do to boost your chances of a positive outcome.
Different Types of Custody
In many cases, both parents will have custody of their children. This is called joint custody. There are two types of joint custody, physical and legal. Physical custody means that the child lives with you. If parents share joint custody, then the child will spend substantial amounts of time at each parent’s house. This does not necessarily mean that the time will be split 50/50, though that can be a goal. Depending on where the parents live, whether the children are in school, the parents’ work schedules, and other factors, joint physical custody could have one parent getting more time with the child than the other parent.
Legal custody is the other type of custody which might be shared. This means that the parent has the right to choose the child’s school, religious upbringing (if any), and doctors. They will also be able to access medical and educational records, go to school meetings, and make other types of decisions for the child. When parents share joint legal custody, they will work on these decisions together. In many cases, one parent is designated as the “tie-breaker” in one or more categories. For example, if the parents cannot agree on which school the child will attend, the mother might be the tie-breaker vote and will make the final decision. At the same time, the father might have the tie-breaking vote when it comes to which medical professionals to use.
When parents don’t have joint custody, it is because one of them has sole custody or full custody. This means that the child lives with them and they are responsible for making legal decisions. The other parent usually will have rights to visitation, which means that they will have the child for some days each week or each month.
Situations That Could Result in Loss of Custody
In most cases, a child benefits when he or she has a close relationship with both of his or her parents. Children tend to do better in all facets of life when they can bond with both the mother and the father. Unfortunately, there are some cases where a parent can lose custody. Some of the most common scenarios where this might happen include:
- If a parent is abusive, either to the child or to someone else in the household, they might not be able to have custody of their child. Sometimes visitation (often supervised) will be allowed, and other times the parent will be ordered to have no contact with the child.
- Drug or alcohol addiction. If a parent is addicted to drugs or alcohol and is not willing or able to pursue recovery, it is possible that they will lose custody of their child. In many cases, a parent who goes through a rehabilitation program and takes strides toward staying clean will be able to have visitation or might even be able to regain joint custody later.
- Untreated mental illness or mental disabilities. The requirement to be a custodial parent is that you can keep your child safe and taken care of. If untreated severe mental illness or a mental disability hinders you from doing that, you might not be able to have custody of your child. In some cases, visitation, supervised or unsupervised, is a possibility.
- Child neglect or abandonment. A history of abandoning or neglecting the child will often be a reason that a judge gives the other parent sole custody.
Custody and Visitation Agreements
Once it is decided that a parent has either joint custody or visitation rights to their child, it is important to make up a parenting plan that includes a schedule. This schedule will specify who will care for the child at any given point. It will include not only weeks during the school year but also weeks during school breaks and holidays such as Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, Passover, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and the child’s birthday.
There are many ways that you can structure your custody or visitation agreement. Sometimes, a judge or a guardian ad litem (GAL) will recommend or require a particular agreement. Usually, however, parents can choose to come up with their own agreements. It is important to have it in writing and approved by the court so that it is enforceable.
A common joint custody agreement is five days on/two days off. This means that the child will be with the mother for five days (including a weekend), then the father for two days. The following week, the arrangement will switch, with the father having the child for five days and the mother having the child for two days.
Another is to have the child switch each week, spending Saturday through Friday with one parent, then the following Saturday through Friday with the other parent.
A common visitation schedule for a non-custodial parent might be every other weekend. Many times that will also include an evening (perhaps not a sleepover) during the week, too. For example, a non-custodial parent who can have unsupervised visitation might have the child every other weekend plus every Tuesday evening from 3:00 pm until 8:00 pm.
These are just examples; parents are often free to come up with their own solutions that will work with their schedules and also take into consideration the best interest of the child.
If you need to talk to a legal professional about what divorce means for your rights to your children, contact National Family Solutions today.