If the biological parents of a child are going through a divorce, they have the right to seek child custody, or parenting time, also called child visitation. The parents of a child can seek custody or visitation, regardless of the fact whether they were ever married or not when the child was born. When courts take a decision, that decision is taken based upon the best interest of a child. Usually, courts are required to take a decision in cases related to disputed child visitation, or custody cases where the parents were never married.
Types of Custody
If you are going through a custody battle, you need to be familiar with the different custody types as defined under law:
- Legal Custody - The parent who has legal custody has the right and responsibility to make decisions about the welfare of the child. That parent will have the ultimate authority to decide issues like which school will the child attend, what religious training will the child get, what medical care and treatment should the child get and so on.
- Physical Custody - The parent who has physical custody has the right to have the child live with them. Therefore, that parent has the responsibility to take care of the child's everyday needs.
- Sole Custody - When only one parent has legal custody and/or physical custody, then that parent is said to have sole custody of the child. That parent has the sole responsibility to make all decisions about the child's upbringing.
- Joint Custody - As the name suggests, joint custody is where both parents have equal rights over the child after separation or divorce. They share legal and/or physical custody and share the decisions about the child's upbringing.
For the court to be able to take a decision about child visitation, it is presumed that the child will benefit when both parents are involved in his or her life. However, a parent may not get right to visitation or custody if evidence indicates otherwise. To be able to reach a decision regarding child visitation, which is in the best interest of the child, the court needs to take the following steps:
The first and most important step is that the father has to establish paternity. Once paternity is established, then the father will legally gain access to father's rights. The process of establishing paternity is a legal one where the court will order DNA testing in order to decide whether the man in question is actually the biological father of the child or not.
Negotiate a parent agreement
Once paternity is established, the parents need to work on a parenting agreement, also called a parenting plan. They can decide the visitation periods, and take other important decisions related to the child such as education, health care, religion, and so on. If a parenting plan cannot be reached by the parents, then the court will have the final say.
Court orders on visitation
If a parent feels that the parenting plan was unjust, they may request the court through a contested hearing. This is also true in cases where one parent feels that the other parent may cause harm to the child, such as after an episode of domestic violence, drug problems, or even a drunk driving case.
Whatever the case, it is advised to seek help from an experienced family lawyer who understands the child custody laws in your state and can help you with your child visitation case.