For couples who have kids, child custody is an important part of a divorce. This process requires that couples face tough decisions about who gets to live with the child and who gets full custody, among others. 

Child custody battles are never easy. According to Laura Gillis, a child custody lawyer in Phoenix, “Legal decision-making, previously known as child custody battles, could be emotionally draining for parents. It is often a divisive and difficult process and only works best when parents put the needs of their child first” This article contains all you need to know and how to prepare for custody battles. 

What Is Child Custody?

Child custody is having to care for, control, and offer the support that a child needs daily. Helping with custody agreements is one of the ways a family lawyer can help during a divorce. Children should be able to spend time with both parents, but once a couple is divorced or separated, they need to decide on child custody. When both parents want custody, the court must decide which option is in the child’s best interest. 

However, it is important to note that there is a difference between custody and access. Access means you can visit your child, especially as a non-custodial spouse. You also have the right to know about your child’s education, health, and well-being. The access order may specify your visitation dates and locations and some other conditions. 

Types Of Custody

Physical custody and legal custody are the two basic types of child custody in the United States.  

  1. Legal custody gives a parent the right to make all these major decisions about a child’s upbringing, such as those related to the child’s general education, healthcare, and religious education. If a judge awards joint legal custody, it means that both parents have an equal say in major decisions involving their child. One parent may be granted sole legal custody of a child in a situation where that is in the child’s best interest. 
  2. Physical custody: Physical custody refers to the place where the child spends the majority of his or her time daily. Physical custody could be joint or sole. Joint physical custody, like joint legal custody, means that the child splits their time roughly equally between the two parents. On the contrary, one parent may be granted primary physical custody of the child, and the other may be granted visitation rights. 

How Child Custody is Decided

Child custody in divorces in the United States is governed by state law rather than federal law. Thus, each state has its laws. State laws vary, but most are similar.

The major determinant of child custody after divorce is the child’s best interests. Mothers and fathers are equal by law. Neither parent’s sex determines custody. “Joint custody” and “sole custody with visitation” are the main options for child custody.

Unless it is suspected the child will be harmed by the parent, the parent who doesn’t have custody is allowed to see or spend time with the child.

 Extraordinary circumstances like child abuse or major mental illness must be shown to deny a parent contact with their child. A court may still allow supervised contact in such cases. 

Factors in Deciding Custody

90% of most child custody cases are resolved by parents’ agreements. However, when an agreement cannot be reached, a judge weighs many factors before making an order. Some of the factors include:

  1. The major roles played by a parent: One parent’s role as the child’s primary caretaker is a major factor in granting primary custody to that parent. Young children need this factor more than older ones. However, if both parents actively raised the child, the factor is less important.
  2. The child’s perspective: A judge may talk to the child alone to find out how they feel about each parent and if they have any preferences. The value of the child’s preferences depends on their level of maturity and the quality of their reasons.

Child Custody Battle Preparation

Child custody battles require preparation. Here are some Preparation tips that could help:

  1. Hire an Experienced Family Law Attorney: A custody battle begins with hiring an experienced family law solicitor. A solicitor can explain your rights, recommend a strategy, and represent you in court. 
  2. Keep detailed records: Writing down your interactions with the child, your co-parent, and any other important events can help your case. Document important dates, events, and conversations.
  3. Be Involved: In a custody battle, you must be involved in your child’s life. Attend your child’s school extracurricular activities and doctor’s appointments, and stay close.
  4. Don’t fight with the other parent: In a custody battle, it’s important to avoid fighting with the other parent. Avoid criticizing the other parent in front of the child and speak respectfully.
  5. Obey Court Orders: Custody battles require court orders. Disobeying court orders can hurt your case and lead to losing it.