Child custody and visitation issues arise when couples with children decide to divorce or separate from one another. There are two types of child custody, “legal custody” and “physical custody.” Legal custody concerns the right to make decisions about the health, education, and welfare of your children, including choosing your children’s school, religion, medical and psychological care providers, extracurricular activities, etc.

In a typical case, both parents are awarded joint legal custody of the children. This means that the parents share the responsibilities of parental decision-making and must agree on things such as which school the children will attend, the children’s medical doctors, non-emergency medical treatment, extracurricular activities, etc.

Physical custody and visitation both refer to the time the children spend with each parent. Physical custody may be Joint, Primary, or Sole. Joint physical custody means that each parent has significant periods of physical custody with the children. Primary custody means that the children live with one parent and the other parent has visitation. Sole physical custody means that the children live with and are under the supervision of one parent, subject to the power of the court to order visitation.

In most cases, the parents share physical custody as well. The custodial times allotted to each parent are contained in a custody schedule often referred to as a “parenting plan.” Generally, courts will sign off on any parenting plan that reflects the best interest of the children. Thus, even in litigation cases, parents can devise their own parenting plan. Some of the factors to consider when devising a parenting plan are the age of the children, the parents’ work and other schedules, and proximity of the parent’s residences to each other and to the children’s school.

There are a number of common parenting plans that allow parents to share physical custody with their children in varying proportions. For example, a plan that works well with older children has the children spending alternating weeks with each parent. For younger children, a parenting plan that has the children spending two days with each parent on a rotating basis is more likely to reflect the children’s best interest. The attorneys at Youngman Reitshtein, PLC have two decades of experience in helping their clients craft practical, customized parenting plans that reflect the best interests of the children as well as the needs of the parents.

If parents are unable to reach agreement on custody or a parenting plan, the court will determine custody according to the “best interest of the child.” The health, safety, and welfare of a child are the court’s primary concern in determining the best interest of children when making any orders regarding the physical or legal custody or visitation of children. The court must also take into account incidents of abuse or domestic violence, substance abuse, and abandonment in determining the best interest of the child.

Family law courts exercises a significant amount of discretion in determining custody. The Court will base its custody orders off of written declarations, oral argument, and sometimes testimony from third party witnesses and experts. Accordingly, litigating custody requires significant preparation and comprehensive knowledge and understanding of custody statutes and case law. The attorneys at Youngman Reitshtein, PLC have such knowledge and understanding of the law and procedure, from experience seeking contested custody orders and defending against contested modifications for their clients.