How to Establish Child Custody after Divorce: US Laws
Divorce is stressful on the entire family, but hardest on the kids. To minimize the impact of divorce, the United States has devised laws that protect children and designate child custody to maintain consistency, wellbeing, and safety for the children after divorce.
If clear custody guidelines have not been established during the divorce or situations change after divorce and one parent wants to establish even partial custody, they have to go back to court to fight for it.
What is Child Custody?
Child custody is the legal right of one or both parents to make decisions about healthcare, education, religion, and other life events, for a minor (younger than 18 years old) child. Although it varies a bit from state to state, the core objective of child custody laws is based on what is in the "the best interests of the child.” Some states even interview the child and consider their wishes in the decision.
The parent who has custody is called the custodial parent. The other parent may have visitation rights or other legally shared responsibilities.
U.S. Child Custody Laws Overview
Parents can decide, but the courts must approve any parental custody decisions made during a divorce. There are four types of custody.
Sole Physical Custody - this is when the children live with one parent, and he or she is responsible for supervision, meals, clothing and living arrangements. The other parent may or may not have visitation rights.
Joint Physical Custody - this situation refers to shared physical custody where the kids live with one parent some of the time and the other the rest of the time. Schedules must be decided upon and kept consistent for the child’s wellbeing to avoid psychological complaints among children.
Sole Legal Custody - is when one parent has the entire legal right to make decisions for the child regarding health, education, religion, and wellbeing. The other parent may or may not have visitation rights.
Joint Legal Custody - is when the legal responsibility of all decisions pertaining to the child is shared equally between both parents. The courts prefer this option the best, but it can be difficult if parents do not get along.
How to Establish Child Custody
A parent or other family member may decide that it is in the best interest of the child for custody to change. Therefore they may choose to petition the court for sole or partial custody. These are the steps someone must take to get custody of a minor child after divorce.
Step 1 - Speak with a Lawyer
Although you don’t necessarily need a lawyer, one can help in matters such as these. The lawyer will know the laws and the ins and outs of getting custody. Prepare how to talk to the lawyer to obtain the best legal representation. Even if you don’t hire them, you will leave with some helpful information.
Step 2 - Know the Laws in Your State
Research the state laws on custody and make sure you comply with them all. Most states have a website you can consult to read the statutes and download forms. In some cases, you can even file online.
Step 3 - File a Petition with the Court
You must file a petition with the court to request custody. Be sure to fill out the forms completely and honestly. In some cases, you will have to have your paperwork notarized before filing. Drop it off at the courthouse for filing.
Step 4 - Prepare for Your Case
Be prepared before you step foot in the courtroom. You may only have 15 minutes to speak but write down some notes and be prepared with answers to questions that the judge may ask you. They will want to know you can handle taking care of a child, have gainful employment and a safe place to live.
Step 5 - Attend the Hearing/Present Your Case
Show up on time for your court hearing and present your case to the judge when called. Dress professionally and speak respectfully to the court staff.
Step 6 - Wait for the Decision
After all the evidence is presented, the judge may want to take time to make his or her decision. You will have to wait and be notified through the mail. It might be hard to be patient and if the judge rules against you, do not get emotional. You can appeal the court’s decision again later if your situation changes.