The simplest divorces are uncontested, in which couples have no disputes about property, bank accounts, spousal support or retirement income. If you are ending your marriage and are lucky enough to file for an uncontested divorce, you will save a lot of money on legal and court fees. However, for couples with children, an uncontested divorce is not the norm, as disagreements about custody, child support and visitation complicate matters.
If you have kids and are on the verge of filing for a divorce, there are some things you need to know about the process so you are not blindsided by what happens during court and the decisions a judge may make about your case.
Types of Child Custody
A major part of your divorce will be determining child custody. The most common types of custody include sole, sole physical, joint and bird's nest. If your spouse has a drug or alcohol dependency, is incarcerated or was found guilty of domestic abuse, you may be able to obtain sole custody of your children.
Depending on the specifics of the case, you spouse may be granted strict visitation rights so they can maintain a relationship with the children. When you have sole custody, you are free to make all decisions regarding your children.
If the judge feels that children should live full-time with one parent, one spouse will obtain sole physical custody. Generally the other parent will have generous visitation rights in sole physical custody arrangements. Judges grant this type of custody so children will have stability. The children will not have to change homes and schools, which are activities that could be disruptive to their lives and cause emotional distress.
When a judge determines that both parents can provide equally for the children, you may end up with a joint custody agreement. This is a common type of custody, and it enables both parents to have equal authority when making decisions for their children. Usually time is split equally between both parents. The children can live with one parent on a regular basis while the other has frequent visitation. The children can also go back and forth between living with each parent.
In a bird's nest custody agreement, the kids never leave their home, and it is the parents that move in and out based on the visitation schedule. For example, parents may alternate weeks or even months between living at the bird's nest residence with the kids.
How Judges Determine Custody and Visitation Rights
A judge will decide child custody arrangements based on numerous factors including the outcome of mediation sessions that you may be required to attend as part of the divorce proceedings.
Judges base their decisions on what they feel is in the best interest of the children. Their final judgment may not be satisfactory to either parent. Regardless of the decision, you are bound by law to uphold the judgment or else risk your parental rights getting terminated.
Factors that may influence a judge's decision include:
The ages and preferences of the children
The behavior of the parents. For example, if one parent is an alcoholic, the judge can cite this as an example of risky behavior that can put the children at risk.
The living accommodations that each parent provides.
Perceptions of how well the children may react to changes in schools and neighborhoods.
Proof of allegations of child neglect by either parent.
In addition to these factors, your state may have other specific criteria that the judge will have to consider. So when you hire a divorce lawyer, make sure that they have extensive experience in child custody cases in your state.
Obtaining Guardianship or Visitation of Unrelated Minors
If your spouse had kids before your marriage and you helped raise the children, you may feel an attachment to the youngsters as if they were your own. Unfortunately, because you are not the biological parent, you will probably not be able to obtain sole or even joint custody. However, do not be discouraged. You can request visitation rights so you can continue your bond with the children. Some states will grant visitation rights if you became the legal adoptive parent of the children during your marriage.
For more information, contact a lawyer like William Kirby, Family Law Attorney.