Child custody should be thought of as two separate components: legal custody and physical custody. Each aspect of custody is discussed below.
Legal custody is the name given for a parent's right to have input on how a child is raised. This includes weighing in on all the big life decisions like education, health care, religion, and extra-curricular activities. In most cases, as long as both parents meet very basic requirements of being "fit and proper," then they both will be legal custodians of their child.
Physical custody (as it is called in Missouri), also known as residential custody (in Kansas), is what most people think of when they hear the word "custody." This refers to the place a child will live and with which parent will they spend most of their time. Obviously, child custody is usually of utmost importance for unmarried, separating, or divorcing parents.
When Parents Agree on Child Custody
Fighting over children isn’t good for anyone—not for the parents, and especially not for the children. That's why it's always best for parents to reach an agreement about their children's custody arrangements. Sometimes parents can manage to do this on their own, even if they've both hired an attorney. A lawyer can help in this process by offering experience and knowledge to advise parents on how to reach an agreement, and what terms are best for all parties, especially the children. If the parents themselves (with or without the assitance of their attorneys) cannot reach an agreement, most courts will order the parents to attend mediation. Frequently mediation can faciliate a custody agreement, and should be approached with an open mind. The bottom line is that the parents–and not a lawyer, not a counselor, not a mediator, and not a judge–are the best people to make custody decisions.
When Parents Don't Agree on Child Custody
If parents don't agree on a child custody, then it is up to the court to determine which parent would be the better primary custodian of the children. Custody is the most frequently contested issue in a family court case, even more so than child support, and even more so than the separation of property in divorce cases. For most parents, going to trial and having a judge decide (there are no juries in family court) is a mistake. But there are some instances where it is warranted. But the bottom line is that, again, the parents are the best people to make custody decisions if they're able. And if a judge has to tell the parents how they're going to parent, nobody is going to walk out of the courtroom happy.
Need a Child Custody Lawyer?
If you, a friend, or a loved one needs help understanding their custody rights, The Flynn Law Firm can offer its experience and advice to educate parents on making the best possible custody decisions for their children. Don't hesitate. Call or email today because children are too important to wait.