Custody Issues & Disputes
The sole controlling factor in determining appropriate custodial arrangements for children who are under the age of 18 is the “best interests of the child.” All relevant circumstances will be considered to the extent they contribute to making this determination. Although parents remain responsible for the support of their children until age 21 unless earlier emancipated, at age 18, children are entitled to make their own decisions regarding where they live and, therefore, are able to determine their own custodial arrangements.
Parents may determine the custodial arrangements for their children by mutual agreement. If parents are capable of agreeing to a custodial arrangement for their children, the courts will usually respect and confirm the determination of the parents, should a formal determination be appropriate. In divorce matters, custody is determined by the Supreme Court, and in non-divorce matters, custody is determined by the Family Court.
If the parents are unable to agree on custody, or if the court is not in agreement with the custodial determination of the parents, the court is charged with the responsibility of weighing all relevant factors, determining what is best for the child and establishing an appropriate custodial arrangement. In many disputed situations, the court will appoint an attorney to act as the legal representative of the child. Under certain circumstances, the court may also require that various investigations and/or evaluations be made by third parties to assist in making a determination of custody.
There are three primary types of custody:
- Sole Custody—the child resides with the “custodial parent” and visits with the “non-custodial parent” at determined times; the custodial parent is primarily responsible for all major decisions affecting the child.
- Joint Custody—the child resides primarily with the “primary-custodial parent” and resides temporarily with the other parent at determined times; both parents are equally responsible for all major decisions affecting the child.
- Shared Custody—the child resides with each parent (often equally or approximately equally) at determined times and both parents are equally responsible for all major decisions affecting the child.
Under all custodial arrangements, both parents are required and expected to consult with each other in reaching major decisions and determining what is best for the child. Where the safety and/or best interests of a child may demand, the court may also require visitation to be supervised or curtailed entirely. Further, under extreme circumstances, the court may determine that neither parent should have custody of the child and that the child’s best interests dictate that custody be granted to a different person.