No one likes to see a family torn apart by divorce or death. When these circumstances occur, the first concern is often what will happen to the children in the family. Custody issues can get very complicated, especially if a divorce is bitter and one parent tries to use his or her child as a weapon against the other parent. In this case, child custody attorneys can play a significant role in helping to protect the rights of children as well as the rights of their parents. According to the Allegheny Attorneys at Law, P.C., there are several types of custody.
Legal Custody and Physical Custody
The person or persons with legal custody of a child have the right to make legal decisions that affect that child’s life. These decisions can include the right to accept or refuse medical treatment on the child’s behalf, the right to enroll the child in school, and the right to take the child to religious institutions. Physical custody refers to the person with whom the child actually lives.
Both legal and physical custody can be shared or joint. For instance, a mother may have physical custody of her children from Monday through Thursday, and the father might have physical custody from Friday through Sunday. The parents may share legal custody so that either the mother or the father, for instance, could take one of the children to the doctor for care.
According to the Legal Information Institute, a court will sometimes award child custody exclusively to one parent. The non-custodial parent is often granted rights to visit the child on a regular basis. If the family court judge believes that the non-custodial parent cannot be trusted around the child, the judge may order supervised visitation to take place in an environment like a police station or a social services agency.
No Parent Available for Custody
If both parents have died, or if neither parent is deemed fit to raise a child, the family court may give another family member or a family friend custody of the children. In cases where both parents have died, they may have left a will specifying whom they would like to raise their minor children. If no member of the family or family friend is willing or able to assume custody, the child or children may have to go into the foster care system.
Child Preference and Custody
According to the American Bar Association, there are two states – Georgia and West Virginia – where a judge must take into account the preferences of children over the age of 14. In other states, judges are not required to take the preferences of children into account, but many do anyway. Children under the age of seven are usually deemed too young to make an informed decision. Older children, though, especially those who seem aware of the issues and are able to articulate sound reasoning, can be very helpful to a judge trying to make a custody decision that is fair and beneficial to all those involved.
It is sad when a family, for whatever reason, cannot stay together. When children cannot continue to live with both parents together, however, it is the job of family courts to find an equitable way to resolve the situation. They are aided in this by child custody attorneys who are responsible for protecting both the rights of their adult clients and of the children involved in the situation.