When parents get divorced or choose to separate, one of the primary concerns that they will need to address is how they will share custody of their children. For a parent who is used to spending every day with their children and putting in the effort to make sure their needs are met at all times, it can be difficult to adjust to the idea that they and their children will be spending less time together and that they will not be fully in control of how children are raised.
Because these cases can lead to drastic changes in family relationships, they may involve contentious child custody disputes. Parents will often disagree about how they should divide or share the responsibility to make decisions for their children, the amount of time children will spend with each parent, and other related issues. In many cases, the parents’ expectations are so different from each other that it can seem like these disputes will be impossible to resolve without going to court and asking a judge to make a ruling.
Fortunately, child custody cases can be resolved much more smoothly by working with a family law attorney. A parent who secures representation from an experienced attorney can be sure that they understand their rights, and they will have a legal advocate who can help them make decisions that will protect their children’s best interests.
In many cases, parents are encouraged to work together to create a parenting plan or parenting agreement that determines how matters related to child custody will be handled going forward. An attorney can help negotiate and draft this type of agreement and make sure it addresses all issues related to their children, including:
Parental Rights and Responsibilities
The term “legal custody” usually refers to parents’ right to make decisions regarding their children and share in the responsibilities of raising them. There are multiple different areas of responsibility that a parenting agreement will need to address. These include choosing which doctors children will see and the medical treatment they will receive, where children will attend school and whether they will receive tutoring or other forms of additional education, whether children will practice a certain religion or receive religious training or education, and what activities children will participate in outside of school.
In most cases, courts prefer for parents to share in parental responsibilities, although this does not necessarily mean that each parent will always have an equal say in decisions about their children. Depending on how the parents handled decision-making for their children while they were together, their parenting plan may give certain responsibilities to one parent while specifying how that parent should consult with or notify the other parent about the decisions made. A family law attorney can ensure that a parenting plan fully describes how these responsibilities will be shared or divided, while outlining the processes and procedures the parents should follow as they work together to raise their children.
Visitation and Parenting Time
The other half of the child custody equation involves “physical custody,” which addresses where children will live and when they will spend time with each parent. The time when parents have physical custody of children may be referred to as “visitation” or “parenting time,” and during this time, a parent will be responsible for caring for children, protecting their safety, and addressing their needs.
A parenting plan or parenting agreement should fully detail how parenting time will be divided. It will typically include a schedule for when children will be in the care of each parent on a regular, day-to-day basis, while also describing how children should be transported between parents’ homes and any special procedures followed during pick-ups and drop-offs. It should also address any days that fall outside of the regular schedule, including school vacations, holidays, or special dates such as birthdays.
Even if parents will share equal amounts of parenting time, one of them will typically be named the primary residential parent for purposes such as school registration or to designate a child’s permanent address. A divorce lawyer can make sure a parenting agreement includes all of the necessary information about how parenting time will be handled while also describing the process that will be followed if changes will need to be made to the arrangements based on adjustments to parents’ or children’s work or school schedules. This can help parents avoid conflict in the future and determine the best ways they can work together to care for their children.
Financial Support Obligations
Parents always have the legal obligation to support their children financially and make sure their needs are met at all times. Parents who are separated or divorced will be required to provide child support, and in many cases, one parent will pay support to the other that is intended to cover children’s basic needs and other necessary expenses.
The amount of parents’ child support obligations is usually determined based on the amount of income that both parents earn. In addition to these obligations, parents may also be required to divide some of the other costs involved in providing for children’s needs, including health insurance premiums, child care expenses, and the costs of activities the children participate in. Divorced parents may also be required to help their children pay for the costs of a college education.
A divorce attorney can ensure that all sources of income for both parents are considered when calculating child support. They can also ensure that a parenting plan includes all of the expenses that may need to be addressed and make sure these expenses are divided correctly between the parents.
Legal Help Resolving Child Custody Disputes
The legal issues involved in child custody cases can be very complex, and parents may struggle to reach compromises or agree on how these matters should be resolved. A skilled attorney can help parents understand their legal options, including using mediation to work together to create a parenting agreement. If disputes are highly contentious, or if either parent has concerns about children’s safety, a lawyer may recommend that a parent ask for a guardian ad litem to be appointed to investigate the case and offer recommendations to the court about how to protect the children’s best interests.
While divorce and family law cases involving children can seem difficult to resolve, a parent can protect their parental rights and their children’s best interests with the help of an experienced attorney. A family law attorney can assist in creating a parenting plan, and they can provide representation in court when necessary.
About Author: Attorney Sean P. Sullivan has over 10 years of experience in the fields of family law and business law. He and the DuPage County divorce attorneys of SBK Law Group provide dedicated representation for clients, helping them resolve highly contested disputes and find effective solutions to their legal issues.