Frequently Asked Questions – Custody
What is Joint Legal Custody?
The term generally refers to the status of all parents having equal legal rights relating to the child. During marriage both parents have the equal right to be at all school functions and teacher meetings, attend all extracurricular activities, participate in all health decisions, right to travel with the child without restrictions. Separation and divorce does not change that status. The Court takes a dim view of a parent that interferes or alienates the other parent’s joint legal status. Joint custody does not normally say where the child lives though.
Mom’s always get the kids right?
No. The tendency of the Court today is that in the absence of circumstances that make it impractical or too disruptive for the child, a shared custody arrangement wherein the parents are getting equal time (same number of overnights) is becoming the new normal. That usually means alternating every couple of days or at most every other week. Alternating every month or couple of months is rarely done. Obviously if parents live in different counties or States that is not practical so the old normal of Primary Physical custody with one parent and Secondary Physical custody (weekend visitation) with the other is still an option for the Court. The Primary parent would be the primary caretaker for the child particularly during the school year, while the Secondary parent typically exercises visitation every other weekend and shared vacation (not all summer every year) and holiday time.
They can’t take the child across the State line without my permission can they?
Yes they can. If they could do it during the marriage without your permission, your separated or divorced status does not give you any greater rights to control what the other parent does during their time with the child. Now if they keep the child with them during your designated time that creates a problem the court can deal with.
I am moving away, the child goes with me, right?
Not so fast. You are asking to change the routine, friends, home, and lifestyle of the child based upon your personal change of circumstances. The Court is more concerned with the impact on the child; not you. Unless you both agree as parents, that is a decision for a Judge to make after hearing the case. A lot of parents have ended up losing physical custody by taking that decision into their own hands because they alone thought it was in the child’s best interest. It is important therefore not to wait until the last minute to pin this issue down. Getting into Court in less than one or two months is not likely to happen. Plan ahead and consult an attorney as early as feasible.
I am in the military and I am deploying so what are my options?
There is a provision in the law to deal with temporary adjustments to the existing custody arrangement but you must file a motion with the court or reach an agreement to address the issue in advance of your deployment. It allows for the other parent, a stepparent or family having custody or visitation for the duration of the deployment. The military requires a family care plan to be in your military records but understand that such a military plan or even a Power of Attorney DO NOT have authority over the Court on the issue of custody.