Child custody is a very important part of any separation between parents, whether or not the parents were married. Custody problems can arise when the parties were never married, during divorce, or even after a divorce or separation when new information has arisen necessitating a change in the prior arrangement. Child custody arrangements can be very restrictive, detailing the dates and times each parent will have the child, or can be very relaxed allowing each parent to enjoy parenting time in a reasonable manner. It is of extreme importance to have an attorney to guide you through the process of a child custody agreement, as child custody involves many complex laws of which many people are often unaware.
CHILD CUSTODY IN AMICABLE DIVORCE
Even if you and your spouse are in agreement regarding your divorce, property settlement, and custody arrangement, it is important to consult an attorney to ensure that the custody arrangement serves the child’s best interests. One of our attorneys will guide you through reaching a settlement keeping in mind the best interests of your child and you in the current situation and in the future.
Although people often make amicable agreements with regards to child custody it is not rare for parents to disagree on issues such as school, extracurricular activities, health care, and details about your parenting time. It is important to consider all possibilities of contention in advance and to draft a custody agreement that adequately addresses these issues and ensures that the proper choices were made for your child.
CHILD CUSTODY IN CONTESTED DIVORCE
Often times during a divorce, your spouse will try to use your child as a pawn to gain leverage over you. They may threaten you with taking your child away from you in an attempt to keep you from filing for a divorce or from claiming your full rights.
When you file for a divorce our attorneys will also request from the court a temporary order setting child custody, possibly parenting time, and child support. This ensures that your child is being properly looked after during the stressful time of divorce and that your spouse will continue to support your child. This will also give you peace of mind as regards threats from your spouse about taking your child away from you.
When minor children are involved in a contested divorce, the Judge will order an investigation by the Friend of the Court (FOC). The purpose of this investigation is for a social worker to determine what would be in the best interest of your children. The social worker tries to accomplish this by conducting interviews with you, your spouse, and with your children, if old enough, as well as by administering psychological tests.
Friend of Court investigations can be very stressful and frightening, but we will provide you with explanations of the process and the instruct you on proper ways of handling any interviews and psychological testing. With such information you will feel more confident and ready, which will help your outcome.
Child custody determinations are based on twelve factors. The Judge will hear testimony from witnesses and decide whether each factor favors the father, mother, or if it is neutral. These 12 “best interest of the child” factors include:
1. Whether there is sufficient love and affection between parent and child.
2. The ability of a parent to give the child love, affection, and guidance and to continue the education and raising of the child in his or her religion or creed, if any.
3. The capacity of a parent to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care or other remedial care, and other material needs.
4. The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment, and the desirability of maintaining it.
5. The permanence, as a family unit, of the existing or proposed custodial home or homes.
6. The moral fitness of each parent.
7. The mental and physical health of each parent.
8. The home, school, and community record of the child.
9. The reasonable preference of the child, if the Judge believes the child to be of sufficient age to express preference.
10. The willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent.
11. Any domestic violence, regardless of whether the violence was directed against or witnessed by the child.
12. Any other factor considered by the court to be relevant to a particular child custody dispute.
Judges have much discretion in applying facts and determining whether a certain event or trait is something positive as in application to the 12 factors. A Judge’s political views and social associations are an indicator as to how a particular Judge will look at a person’s acts and behaviors. It is our job to know these preferences and argue your side in such a way as to present it in the most positive light.
CHANGES IN CUSTODY
It might be the case that after a custody arrangement has been set the parties may find that the agreement did not properly suit their intentions. At other times changes in the other parents life or their negative behaviors may be harmful to your child and you are seeking to change the current agreement.
In order to change an existing custody judgment the courts require the showing of a sufficient change of circumstances as pertaining to your child’s life. Often times a judge can see the changes as borderline, which is where the need for an attorney comes in.
Our attorneys take what you tell us and may conduct additional investigation to frame your argument in such a manner so as to maximize the possibility of the court finding that there was a sufficient change in circumstances to necessitate a new custody arrangement. At this point we will proceed to amend the current arrangement to something more beneficial to you and your child.
Child support is calculated based on a strict and complex formula. The factors considered in determining the amount of child support include: how many overnights the child spends with each parent, whether a parent has other children, how much each party earns, and other lesser factors.
Although the laws are strict on application of the formula, if we represent you we very well might be able to introduce a substantially different amount then what the court would order. This is accomplished by making an agreement with the other party and using specific wording in court documents, or by discovering through subpoena the other party’s additional hidden income.
If the other party’s income has increased our attorneys can investigate the amount of the increase and request that the court either increase or decrease the child support payments.
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AND PERSONAL PROTECTION ORDERS (PPO)
A domestic personal protection order may be obtained if you are the victim of harassment, intimidation, or violence by your spouse or significant other. If this is your situation we can help you acquire a protection order in a quick manner that would promptly prohibit the other party from having any contact with you. After obtaining the order we can notify the local police department of the existence of the protective order. If this is the case the other party will only be allowed to communicate with you by contacting our attorneys. If a person violates a protection order it will most likely result in jail time. We can also have your divorce conducted in a special courtroom with specially trained judges that regularly deal with domestic violence cases. We can also contact the police to request a domestic violence investigation and to potentially have charges filed.
Unfortunately at times personal protection orders are used as a weapon in a divorce or child custody matter. If a personal protection order has been unjustly issued against you, we can object to it or request a mutual restraining order. It is possible that a particularly malicious party might file false domestic violence charges against you. It is of extreme importance that you contact an attorney when you are charged with domestic violence. Domestic violence charges may result in jail time and will count against you if you are fighting for custody of your child. Additionally, if you have a domestic violence conviction on your record you are legally prohibited from owning firearms. Our attorneys will deal with the prosecutor with the intention of having the charges dismissed and if necessary we will conduct a trial to fight for an acquittal.
Family law involves many other aspects including: grandparent’s rights, adoption, guardianship, child support arrearage, and abuse/neglect. It is important to contact an attorney in any of these situations to learn what your rights are and what options may be available to you.
We accept major credit cards, payment plans, and package deals. Another option of payment if you do not have the necessary finances to cover our costs and the filing fees, may be to request that the court order your spouse to pay for your divorce, child custody case, or child support increase or decrease. The possibility of having the other party pay for your court costs is based on whether the other party has sufficient funds available to them and other relevant factors. If this is possible in your situation, we will file with the court requesting the money necessary for your court costs.