The standard used by the court to determine custody of minor children is the “best interest” of the children.
There are three (3) types of child custody orders that can be entered.
*Parents can be joint legal custodians of their children. This means that both parents make the major decisions together about their children such as education, medical care and religion. Parenting time is allocated between the parents, typically with one parent having primary physical custody and the other parent having secondary physical custody.
*Parents can have joint physical custody where the physical residence of the child is shared by the parents in a manner that assures that the child has substantially equal time and contact with both parents.
*One parent can have sole custody. This means that the parent with sole legal custody makes all decisions pertaining to the children alone without needing the agreement of the other parent. Parenting time is allocated between the parents, typically with the legal custodian having substantially more parenting time than the non-custodial parent.
Effective joint custody requires the parents to cooperate in decision-making and it must be
Each of these custody orders also involve the allocation of parenting time between the parents. Factors involved in determining parenting time include the age of the child, the relationship the child has with each parent, which parent has been the primary care provider, which parent is more likely to allow the child frequent and meaningful continuing contact with the other parent, the relative schedules of the parents and children, and whether their has been a history of abuse neglect, domestic violence, alcohol abuse, or drug abuse.
Co-parenting is encouraged by the courts, wherever feasible. This means parenting together as much as possible for the benefit of the children. Parents can take classes in co-parenting. The emphasis is on discussing and mutually agreeing upon matters pertaining to the children such as schooling, discipline, extra-curricular activities, diet, sleep habits, dress, types of entertainment, and a host of other issues that come up.
Free mediation through the Family Court of Conciliation is available and mandatory if there is any dispute regarding custody or parenting time.
In some circumstances a custodial evaluation and/or parenting time evaluation are ordered by the Court to assist the Judge in deciding what is in the best interest of the children.