For divorcing parents, issues of custody are front and center. There are a lot of decisions to make: Will parents share joint custody, or will one parent have sole custody and the other visitation? Will they share decision-making, or will one parent have the final say on things like medical treatment and education? What’s the best way to divide parenting time?
All state courts decide custody based on the best interests of the children. Judges are supposed to make decisions based on this alone, but it is not that simple.
One parent, generally termed the “custodial parent,” will receive custody of your children from the court. Your children will live with this custodial parent and visit with the “noncustodial parent” for short periods of time (hours or days). One exception to this rule is the “joint physical custody” arrangement.
Under joint physical custody, the time is divided more evenly or equitably. Your children will spend significant amounts of time with each parent, often weeks at a time. Obviously, should you live in different states or towns – or sometimes even just school districts – a joint physical custody arrangement can be quite complicated for both the children and the parents.
Less than 2% of all custody disputes end in trial. It is best if a mediated arrangement can be reached between you and your spouse. Studies indicate that custody disputes that go through mediation and reach a mutually agreeable arrangement can do much to lessen the trauma suffered by children and have a greater chance of long term success. Judges, for the most part, welcome a mediated arrangement. Judges realize that no one knows a family better than the parents, so they would prefer the parents to continue to make all the decisions for the family and the children. When parents do end up going to trial over custody, often times the court’s decision is not necessarily favorable for one parent over the other. The judge will grant an order that attempts to please both sides