Child custody is complicated. Because of the level of emotion attached to it, the process can be very stressful, and as a result people can make very poor decisions. Custody is an issue that affects everyone involved – parents, children and even other family members. Regardless of any bad situations you’ve been in or choices you have made in the past, you are still entitled to your rights as a parent. Usually the child custody arrangement you make will depend on the relationship you have with the child’s other parent. Quite often an arrangement is based on a compromise reached between the parents.
Typically, child custody issues can be resolved one of two ways, either by a mutual agreement or by a judge when parents can’t agree on a situation. The good news is you most likely won’t have to go to court to settle a child custody agreement. A solid 90 percent of cases are settled outside of court, saving time, money and unnecessary stress. Speak with a family law attorney as soon as possible to see how you may be able to resolve your child custody issue through an agreement.
Before the 20th century, believe it or not children were regarded as the property of their biological father. Custody was easily awarded, as children were considered the father’s rightful “property.” But sentiments have changed, and over time family courts came to favor mothers in child custody cases. It was presumed that under normal circumstances, children were better off when placed in the sole custody of their mothers.
Public opinion and the laws are constantly changing, however, and now the legal system understands that in many cases children benefit the most from having both parents in their lives. Even so, many family courts still hold the belief that the primary caregiver during a marriage should remain the primary caregiver following a divorce. That’s why it’s so important you speak with a lawyer who knows child custody laws inside and out and can help with your unique family situation.
There are two types of child custody in Minnesota:
Parents granted legal custody of a child are responsible for and obligated to make fundamental decisionsregarding the child’s health and welfare. This includes decisions about how to raise the child, from education to religious training and influences. It also includes the health care that is provided to the child or children.
Physical custody is the parent’s right to make decisions about where the child lives and the child’s routine day-to-day activities. It refers to which parent the child is living with for most of the time. In divorces these days, many courts tend to award parents joint custody, unless it’s proven that joint custody is not in the child’s best interest.
One parent can have either sole legal custody or sole physical custody of a child. Courts generally won’t hesitate to award sole custody to one parent if the other is deemed unfit. Visitation rights may still apply even if sole custody is granted. Joint custody is the preferred conclusion, however, and if you want sole custody you will have to convince the family court that it’s not in your child’s best interest to be with the other parent.
Joint custody, also called shared custody, is granted to parents who don’t live together but share the decision-making responsibilities and/or physical control of their children. It can be awarded if the parents are divorced, separated or no longer cohabiting, even if they have never lived together. Joint custody can be legal, physical or both. Parents who share physical custody typically also share legal custody.
The most important thing to understand about visitation rights is that the judge has complete control of those rights for either parent. In most cases “standard visitation” is awarded, which usually entails an alternating weekend plan, one to two nights for dinner, or sometimes equal time for each parent. Standard visitation also often includes alternating holidays such as Christmas, Thanksgiving, spring break and a week or two in summer. Keep in mind that even when sole custody is awarded by a judge, visitation is usually also granted.
Grab the judge’s attention. All day long he or she is hearing from parents how the other “didn’t make Little Jimmy brush his teeth,” or that “Susan doesn’t have to pick up her toys at his house.” Judges are people like us, and you need to keep them engaged. Find something tangible you can use to show them: Pictures of you with the child, calm and collected text messages to your partner (or ex-partner), anything that a judge probably doesn’t see on a regular basis.
You aren’t a great parent in the judge’s eyes if no one knows about it. You can say you’re a good parent all you want, but if there is no evidence to support your claim, it may just go in one of the judge’s ears and out the other. You need to find the people that have direct contact with you when you’re with your kids and have them vouch for how great of a parent you are. These people can be teachers, daycare workers, neighbors, coaches, etc. The key is to not be an invisible parent!
Lastly and most importantly, hire a good lawyer. The family law attorneys at Flakne Law pride themselves on getting to know you as a person and not just another case. We’ve cultivated strong relationships with parents in the past, and we believe that leads to better results. We won’t talk down to you and we won’t make judgments. We are here to listen and to provide you with all of the information you need to build a solid case for the sake of you and your children.