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Child Custody and Visitation

Working out a parenting agreement that covers child custody and visitation can be difficult, especially when there is animosity between parents. Whether you're recently separated and looking to learn the basics of types of custody or you've had an open case for years that needs modifications due to life changes, you can find resources here. FindLaw's Child Custody and Visitation directory contains information about many local attorneys who can help you through your child custody and visitation case.

What Is Child Custody?

Child custody refers to a situation in which a parent (or parents in cases where there is joint legal or physical custody) is charged with the responsibility of raising and protecting their child. During bitter divorce or separation proceedings, or in cases where abuse is alleged to have occurred (either against the child or against a spouse, or both), custody hearings may be brought to court.

What Is Visitation?

Visitation refers to the schedule set out (either mutually by the parents, or by the order of the court) by which the noncustodial parent may be able to see their child. In some cases, there may be zero visitation allowable at the discretion of the custodial parent or the courts, typically in cases of abuse.

Visitation can be supervised or unsupervised, depending on the context of the visitation agreement and schedule, as well as the relationship shared between the custodial parent and the noncustodial parent. Supervised visitation is strictly monitored from a legal perspective, and any violations of agreed-upon or mandated supervision may result in the loss of visitation.

What Do Judges Look For in Child Custody Cases?

Custody can be determined by the parents themselves in non-aggressive or non-acrimonious divorces or separations free of abuse or other aggravating factors, or by the courts themselves in cases where neither parent can mutually agree to terms beforehand.

If a custody case proceeds to court, the judge will consider things such as the child's welfare and best interests. The judge will look at the health and habits of both parents, their ability and history of being a primary caregiver, their living arrangements (new romantic partners, suitable quarters for a child, environmental concerns), and so on. The wishes of the child may also be given some weight, depending on the age of the child and the circumstances surrounding the case in question.

How to Change Custody and Visitation Terms

Custody and visitation terms are easy enough to change in amenable arrangements where both parents are on speaking terms and fine with moving the schedule around. Some paperwork may be involved via each parent's respective attorneys if there is a formalized schedule that needs to be updated.

In more contentious cases, custody and visitation terms may be changed by court order, generally requiring a hearing from both parties. The reasoning behind any potential custody or visitation change (a change in job hours, ability to take care of a child, living environment, allegations of abuse or similar) may be considered, and the opposing party will have the opportunity to defend themselves against any such claims as well as to reiterate their own stance.

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