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What Should You Expect In Family Court Custody Cases?

Family Court Custody

In Family Court custody cases of divorce or separation, both parents retain custody of their children unless the parties were never married. Most states make a distinction between children born from a legal marriage/union versus never married parents. This essentially means that married parents have “equal” rights to custody of their child(ren). It also implies that these parents can choose to make decisions regarding their child(ren) without conferring with the other.  Decisions with respect to that involve the child’s upbringing, development, religion, etc. are all subject to this parental authority.  However, when the parties don’t agree on any of these things are likely to turn nasty. Once this happens, the parents have several options to resolve their disagreements.  However, if these attempts are unsuccessful, which they occasionally are,  the decision will be left to the Family Court custody discretion.

What exactly are  Family Court custody battles?

Family Court Custody disputes typically involve the child’s mother and father, but they can also involve a third party, such as a grandparent.  In addition, some extended family member who may be attempting to gain custody of the child/children as a result of the death of the child’s or children’s parents or as a result of an extenuating circumstance related to the parent’s inability to care for the child/children can also sue for custody. Family court have historically followed the belief that a biological parent is usually the best person to care for the welfare of the kid or children. However, that trend is starting to shift allowing more latitude in who can indeed get custody.

Custody battles can be resolved amongst the parties, with the help of other professionals or on their own.  If this occurs, the agreement can be made an integral part of any final resolution in court. In any case, the court will make certain that the proposed arrangements meets the state’s best interests of the child factors. These factors are intended to ensure that the child’s mental/emotional, intellectual/developmental and physical wellbeing are given priority. In some state, the family court custody process may take into consideration specific issues like the role of grandparents and other prominent individuals in the child’s life.

Do Family Courts have jurisdiction over divorce?

Although Family Court is created by statute, it has full jurisdiction over divorce and child custody.  Family Court addresses conflict amongst families, but the intervention of government is quite extensive.  The judge steps into the role of the parent in Family Court, called parens patriae, to ensure the safety of the children.  It is because of this concept, that judges can override parents’ authority to make decisions for their children.

The Family Court is responsible for the following categories of cases:

The following topics are covered: adoption, Divorce, child custody and visitation, domestic violence, foster care approval, guardianship, juvenile delinquency, paternity, and persons in need of supervision, Child and/or Spousal Support.

What should you expect in Family Court custody cases?

You should expect to endure a very lengthy and intense process when you are embroiled in a custody battle. The more the parents disagree, the more in-depth the process.  Custody battles last for 2-3 on average.  However, if there is a resolution or settlement any time before trial it can be shorter.  At the same time, if there are issues of abuse, substance abuse, custodial interference, mental health issues, etc. the custody battle can drag on for longer.

The process usually involves the parents, and their lawyers if they choose to, but can also incorporate the assistance of other related professionals.  Mental health professionals, social service agencies, financial experts and so on, can all be included as part of the process.  The judge will decide to employ any of these professionals based on the issues it deems “material” to the best interests determination.

The costs to pursue or defend a custody battle can range anywhere from $5,000 all the way up to $100,000.  The costs depends on the issues, the evidentiary procedure, etc.

It is important to fully understand all the available options to pursuing or defending a custody battle in Family Court.  It can be as emotionally/mentally taxing as it is financially taxing.

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