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Five Common Misconceptions in Child Custody Cases

Child custody cases are challenging. Laws surrounding child custody are complex. Emotions that tend to be associated with these types of proceedings can be intense. These realities oftentimes are further aggravated by common misconceptions associated with child custody cases. There are five child custody case misconceptions that are particularly commonplace:

  • Child custody pertains only to where a child is going to live
  • Courts focus is on the interests of parents in making child custody decisions
  • Child custody arrangements can be changed as often as parents desire
  • Courts in the United States have a uniform child custody scheme
  • A child's desires are primary when custody decisions are made
Child Custody Pertains Only to Where a Minor is Going to Reside

Time and again, when people hear or read the term "child custody" they think of where a child is going to live in a divorce case. The reality is that when custody is the issue, physical or residential placement of a child is only part of the equation.

In all U.S. states, there exist two "kinds" of custody considered in a divorce, paternity, or some other types of family law proceedings. There is the matter of physical custody, which in basic terms is where a child lives. The second part of the equation is what is known as legal custody.

Legal custody is which parent has the authority to make major life decisions on behalf of a child. Even if one parent has primary residential custody of a child, both parents might share in legal custody. Examples of primary life decisions include:

  • Education
  • Medical and healthcare
  • Religion
Courts Focus is on the Interests of Parents in Making Child Custody Decisions

Another misconception associated with child custody is that courts focus on the interests of the parents, cases are resolved based on the rights and desires of the parents. While the interests, rights, and desires play some role in custody determinations, this is not the primary focus of the law anywhere in the country.

The primary consideration in a custody case in all U.S. jurisdictions is determining what is in the best interests of a child. The best interests of a child standard require a specific consideration of the facts and circumstances of a particular family situation to ascertain what is in the best interests of a child. It is not a one-size-fits-all process.

Child Custody Arrangements can be Changed as Often as Parents Desire

Another relatively persistent myth is that child custody arrangements can be changed as often as parents desire. The reality is that some states have even developed structures that require a specified period of time to pass before a change of custody can be sought (barring some type of emergency).

Custodial arrangements cannot be changed on the whims of the parents. Children benefit from stability in their lives. Changing custody lends at least some, if not a great deal, of instability to the life of a child.

Courts in the United States Use a Uniform Child Custody Scheme or Template

Mention has been made previously to child custody being determined on the specifics of a particular case and family situation. A common misconception is that there is some sort of uniform scheme or template regarding custody, akin to what is used to generally determine child support. The fact is that courts in the United States simply do not utilize a uniform, cookie cutter approach to imposing a child support arrangement in a particular case.

A Child's Desires are Primary Considerations When Custody Decisions are Made

The manner in which a child's desires regarding child custody arrangements is considered varies from one state to another based on the laws in a particular jurisdiction. With that said, generally speaking, a child's desires can be important considerations in a custody case. However, a child's opinions usually are not the primary consideration when custody determinations are made.

Depending on the laws of a particular state, a court will consider a child's age when getting input from a minor. More importantly, a court will consider a child's emotional and intellectual development and maturity when contemplating a young person's custody preference.

Because of the complexity of custody cases, a parent facing such a proceeding is wise to consult with an attorney. If you have any questions concerning child custody, call the Law Offices of Peter Van Aulen at (201) 845-7400 for a free consultation.

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