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What Goes in Child Custody Agreements and Orders?

May 14, 2018

Throughout the years, our expert lawyers have worked on numerous cases involving custody and parenting issues. Each situation is unique and complex, and each case tends to differ in some way from all the others. However, in each case, there are similar decisions that have to be made and details that must be taken into consideration.

When it comes to legal issues that involve children, an agreement has to be made; otherwise, the court is required to decide what’s in the best interest of the child or children. These topics can be discussed in a number of ways: in a collaborative law case; during a settlement negotiation; in mediation; or in traditional litigation.

Residency and Custody

In terms of determining child custody, there are two distinct areas to consider:

1. Where the child or children will live.

When the child is going to live, for the majority of the time, with one parent, that means that the parent has residential custody.

2. Who will make decisions for the child.

Legal custody is when the parent (or parents, in joint custody cases) can make decisions on behalf of the child. These can include medical decisions or education decisions, for example.

The same parent won’t necessarily have both residential and legal custody of the child. Both of these issues have to be agreed to for the custody agreement to be finalized.

Sole Custody

If one of the parents has sole custody of the child, that means that the child will live with that parent for a majority of the time and that the parent will also have decision-making power for the child. This means that the parent has both residential and legal custody of the child. Even though the parent with sole custody is able to make decisions on the child’s behalf, the custody agreement may state that it would be best for the parent to discuss their decision with the non-custodial parent first. However, the custodial parent will have the final say.

Shared Custody

Sometimes sole custody is not awarded, and instead one parent has residential custody and both parents share legal custody. This means that the child will live for a majority of the time with one parent, but that both parents will have to agree on decisions for the child. If there’s a disagreement between the parents and they cannot come to a decision, it’s likely that one will have more natural power than the other and that their decision will be final. Legally, though, no one parent has the power to make the final decision all on their own.

There’s also something called joint custody with spheres of influence. This means that the parents share legal custody of the child, but that the decisions they can make are segmented into groups, and that one parent is responsible for one type of decision-making, while the other parent is responsible for another type. For example, the father may be able to make decisions about what school the child will go to, while the mother can make decisions regarding the child’s healthcare. These spheres can be broken down into smaller categories, too, such as extracurricular activities or religion.

It’s also possible that the custody agreement will include shared residency and legal custody, which means the child will live equally with both parents, possibly splitting the week down the middle or spending alternating weeks at one parent’s home. Additionally, both parents would share decision-making power on behalf of the child. If the parents can’t decide on shared residential or legal custody ahead of time, it’s likely that the court will decide which parent should have custody.

Situations Where Mutual Consent is Necessary

When one or both parents have legal custody, that means they can make important decisions on behalf of the child. These decisions may include those related to healthcare, education, religion, development and extracurricular activities. With joint legal custody, both parents have to share the decisions and come to some sort of an agreement. When parents decide to share custody, this means that they usually both play an engaged role in their children’s lives. If the parents cannot come to an agreement, they may decide to take the advice of a professional, like a teach for education-related decisions or a doctor for medical-related decisions.

Time Spent with the Child, Plus Access and Visitation

There are a lot of specifics that have to be worked out for a custody agreement. Parents will need to know who gets to spend time with their child during the week and on the weekends; who will have them or have access to them when their school is on holiday or vacation; who will spend time with them during the holidays; and what happens during summer vacation.

Families vary greatly when it comes to parenting time and scheduling. Parenting time will lay out when the non-custodial parent will be able to spend time with the child. Each set of parents will have a schedule that’s unique to their availability and needs; no two parenting time schedules are alike.

Sometimes, visitation schedules aren’t very specific, because the parents think it’s better to figure out schedules as the time approaches. Other parents have very detailed schedules that are made well ahead of time. What works best for you is based on a number of factors, from work schedules to how well parents get along.

Most of the time, the custody agreement will have a provision that says the non-custodial parent can interrupt the usual parenting time to have one or several vacation weeks with the child per year. This provision can go back and forth between the parents. For example, every other year, the non-custodial parent may have priority when it comes to vacation time.

Help With Child Custody Agreements

Do you need help with a child custody agreement? It’s best to have a lawyer you can trust on your side. Contact our Long Island divorce lawyers today to discuss your case and learn about your options.

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