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Child Custody FAQs


What is child custody?

Child custody refers to a legal decision that determines which parent will have physical and/or legal control over a child in the event of a separation or divorce. Child custody may be awarded to one parent or shared by both. Often, parents will have a say as to who is awarded custody, except in cases where the parents do not have an amicable relationship. When parents cannot reach a decision, the courts will intervene.

What are the different types of child custody?

Child custody types consist of legal and physical custody. Legal custody refers to the right to make all decisions, such as religious affiliation, education, and medical care, concerning a child's upbringing. Physical custody refers to the right to provide a physical home for a child. Both legal and physical custody may be awarded to one parent (sole custody), or the parents may share some combination of the two (joint custody).

What are visitation rights and what are the different types of visitation?

Visitation rights entitle non-custodial parents (parents who do not have custody) to spend time with their children. Typically, the parents jointly determine visitation schedules, although in cases where hostility exists between parents, a court might order fixed visitation (predetermined schedules, such as every weekend). In cases where a parent has a history of violence or substance dependency, a court might order supervised visitation, which requires a court- and custodial parent-approved adult to be present during all of the non-custodial parent's visits with the children.

What is child support?

Child support refers to the payments, usually monthly, a non-custodial parent makes to clothe, feed, educate, and entertain his child. The amount is usually determined by the court and must be paid until the child marries, turns 18, enlists in the military, or moves out on his own.

Who is legally obligated to pay child support?

Unless they terminate their parental rights, both parents are required to provide child support. The custodial parent meets his or her obligation by accepting legal and/or physical custody, while the non-custodial parent must provide child support in the form of monthly payments to cover the child's basic expenses.

Stepparents are not required to pay child support unless they legally adopt a child.

How are child support amounts determined?

The federal Child Support Act of 1984 establishes that child support amounts are to be determined by:

  • The cost of the child's needs (education, medical care, etc.)
  • The custodial parent's income
  • The non-custodial parent's income and expenses
  • The child's standard of living before the divorce or separation.

To be sure that fair amounts of child support are awarded, courts require both parents to complete a financial statement that includes their monthly incomes and expenses.

Contact an Attorney

If you have additional questions regarding child support, please contact an attorney in your area.

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