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Child Custody Attorney Overview

Family Lawyers Work With Parents to Decide Legal and Physical Custody of Children

When a child’s parents are not in a relationship, they may disagree about how the child will be raised or who the child will live with. Disputes over child custody can be one of the most contentious issues that arise during divorce, but they may also arise if the parents are separated or were never married.

There are typically two forms of child custody: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody describes how decisions will be made about a child’s education, medical care, and upbringing. Physical custody describes which parent the children will live with. Different states use different terminology to describe legal and physical custody, and the laws regarding child custody can vary from state to state, so it is important to work with a family law attorney who understands state laws.

Sole or Joint Custody

While parents may be able to agree on how to divide custody of their children, if they cannot reach an agreement, the matter may be left up to a family court judge to decide. Depending on the situation, a judge may grant sole custody to one parent, or parents may share joint custody. Sole legal custody means that some or all areas of responsibility for children are granted to one parent, while joint legal custody means that parents will share in decision-making responsibility.

In terms of physical custody, children may primarily reside with one parent and spend visitation time with the other parent, or they may divide their time between both parents. In cases of joint physical custody, one parent will typically be named the primary residential parent for purposes of school registration.

When making decisions about child custody, a judge will base their decisions on what is in children’s best interests. Each state has its own laws that determine what a judge should consider when deciding what is in children’s best interests, but will typically look at factors such as:

  • Each parent’s current and past relationship with their children, including who typically made decisions, the types of care they provided, any agreements made between the parents, and how they conducted themselves in the past.
  • Parents’ ability to provide for their children and meet their needs, including the suitability of their home environment.
  • Children’s medical, educational, and mental health needs.
  • The wishes of the parents and the children.
  • Whether either parent has a history of domestic violence or substance abuse.

When working to resolve issues related to child custody, an experienced family law attorney can help parents understand their rights and advise them on how they can obtain a favorable decision in family court.

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