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Children and Divorce

Presently the divorce rate is increasing at an astounding rate, and close to 50% of children are growing up in a single parent environment. Children need their parents in order for them to develop physically, mentally, and emotionally. If the bond between the parent and the child is broken, negative consequences can be a result and can be traumatic for a child.

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What you need to know:
  • Introduction: Get a general overview of what children in divorce experience and how the parental relationship plays such a significant role.
  • Making the Best of It: When it comes to the children, divorce does not come with a how-to manual. Ending a marriage with children means the spouses face the new and perplexing reality of divorced parenting.
  • The Children Come First: Most parents strive to protect their children from the dislocations associated with a breakup, but to their dismay find the task a very difficult and challenging achievement.
  • Telling the Children You Are Getting Divorced: Telling the children that you are going to get divorced can be a very difficult obstacle to overcome, but it is something that must be done in order for the children to begin to accept this dramatic change in their lives.
  • Preparing Children for Divorce: When a couple decides to end the marriage, telling the children is without a doubt one of the most difficult steps. The logistics of the breakup - that is, which parent leaves, which parent stays in the family home, the timing - vary from couple to couple.
  • The Children's Perspective on Divorce: Sometimes it can be beneficial to look at things through "the eyes of a child." This helps to give the parent some perspective on how the child views things.
  • The Different Age Stages as They Relate to Divorce: How your children adjust is directly related to how you as the parent are adjusting to the divorce.
  • Helping Children During Divorce: During a divorce - the time between separation and the legal end of the marriage - the loss of established routines upsets the lives of everyone involved.
  • Short-Term Effect of Divorce on Children: To one degree or another, all children feel the short-term effects of divorce. In a low-conflict divorce, children may sense that their parents are not happy but not be particularly troubled by it, so when the parents announce their intention to part, the children lose their footing.
  • Long-Term Effect of Divorce on Children: Divorce is a fact of life. Every year, some 1.25 million marriages end in divorce, plunging over a million children under 18 into life in a broken family.
  • Creating and Understanding Parenting Plans: It is important for a family to design a parenting plan to insure a focused family environment.
  • Guidelines for Parents and the Rights of Children: When looking at the sticky subject of divorce and how the children are affected, one should consider that the correlation between the parent's coping skills and the child's coping skills is very different.
  • The Effects of Divorce on Children: Regardless of the situation, children often worry about what is going on in their lives, and they often see divorce as something very traumatic.
  • Managing Your Single Life With Children: You are now divorced so now what do you do? You start over.
  • Child Care After Divorce: Today, child care is most commonly used by single parents who work or go to school during the day.
  • Children After Divorce: According to North Carolina State University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the short-term effects of divorce can be dealt with when parents jointly and cooperatively by resolving post-divorce conflict and anger.

Child Custody by State
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Alaska
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Wash. DC
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Idaho
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Tennessee
Texas
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Vermont
Virginia
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West Virginia
Wisconsin
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Child Custody and Visitation

  • Child Custody: The Wisdom of Solomon: Child custody, the arrangement divorcing parents make for the care and nurturing of unemancipated children, tests the wisdom of judges who must decide what is in the best interest of children when the parents cannot or will not.
  • Custody, Visitation and Child Support: Custody refers to the court-approved living arrangements of minor children, the legal supervision and protection of the child until he or she reached a majority, however that term is defined in a given jurisdiction. Custody is a coin with two sides -- legal and physical, and it is always subject to modification as circumstances change.
  • The Best Interests of the Children in a Divorce: The phrase the best interest of the child is the discretionary and foremost legal standard that pertains to support, visitation and custody. In marriage and family law and in divorce actions, all custody decisions must meet the best interest standard.
  • Children's Bill of Rights: The best interest of the children means what a judge says it means, but courts go to extraordinary measures to protect a minor child. For example, in many jurisdictions the judges tacitly or explicitly consider what is called "Children's Bill of Rights" in contested custody decisions.
  • Guardian Ad Litem - A Neutral Party: The guardian ad litem (GAL) is a court-appointed adult, usually a trained social worker, counselor, or other professional who represents the non-legal interest of minor children in a couple's divorce.
  • The Children's Wishes, Keeping Children Together: Not all states consider the wishes of a child when it comes to awarding custody. If a child's wishes are considered it is only at a certain age and at the discretion of the court.
  • Modification of Child Custody: Child custody is not set in stone. Courts sometimes modify custody when either of the parents request it with good cause. Modification leaves intact the general purpose of the order but amends its details.
  • The Custodial Parent - Usually the Mother: The custodial parent is the parent a child normally lives with, and often the one who makes legal decisions concerning the child if she has sole legal custody. When parents dispute custody, usually the courts award it to the mother.
  • The Noncustodial Parent - Usually the Father: The noncustodial parent is the parent who does not have physical custody of the child and who typically is paying child support for the child. In most divorces, the father becomes the noncustodial parent, who is sometimes called the NCP.
  • Visitation: When custody is split, one parent normally enjoys visitation. The terms and conditions of visitation are spelled out in a parenting plan, which in some jurisdictions is part of the divorce paperwork.
  • Child Relocation: Child relocation and child abduction are two frequent problems associated with child custody. Modern American life, with its abundant opportunities for fresh starts in a new place, means that minor children of a failed marriage often move.
  • Father's Rights: No facet of a divorce is more volatile than child custody, particularly when a child is removed a great distance from the home and the environment he or she knew when his or her parents were married.
  • Child Abduction: The abduction of children is a far more serious problem than child relocation because it involves criminal behavior by one parent, often the noncustodial parent, illegally taking or removing a child in defiance of a court order, either across state lines and abroad or both.
  • Custody Evaluations: A custody evaluation includes interviews, psychological testing and home visits often undertaken by a mental health professional who is called a guardian ad litem or court investigator.
  • Custody Law: When parents cannot agree about custody, state law guides judges in the placement of children in disputed custody cases. Custody laws are state specific. No lawyer can ever guarantee how a judge may apply custody law in any specific custody case.
  • How the Judge Makes a Custody Decision: Child custody lawyers know that they can never guarantee the outcome of any disputed custody case. All manner of factors influence custody decisions. Smoking, school districts, athletics, religious differences, ages of the children.
  • Paternity: Sometimes the paternity of a child becomes a factor in child custody cases when the mother goes to court for child support of a child born out of wedlock.
  • Custody Battles: Nothing more clearly demonstrates the sadness and sorrow of divorce than battles over child custody, legal and physical. When Mom and Dad fight for their children, the children become caught in a crossfire known as a custody fight.
  • Abuse and Neglect: Child abuse happens when a parent or care giver of a minor child allows, inflicts or permits physical or sexual abuse or allows a situation where there is a risk of physical injury.
  • Going to Court: Child custody disputes -- whether they are part of divorce actions or stand alone cases -- can become exhausting and expensive. The actions involve allegations that cut to the core of human relations: that one person is unfit to be parent of a child he or she has produced.

Types of Child Custody

  • Legal and Physical Custody: At some point a judge may decide the terms of legal and physical custody. Legal custody means the legal right and responsibility to raise a minor child and to make decisions on her or his behalf.
  • Joint Physical Custody: Parenting in Divorce: Nothing taxes the wisdom of a family court judge so much as custody and visitation. When divorcing spouses do battle, generally they make war over the terms and conditions of the marital property settlement and/or child custody and visitation.
  • Shared or Joint Physical Custody: What it Means: Joint physical custody means both parents share physical possession of the child and both have an equal stake in making decisions about the child's welfare, education, health care and religion.
  • Joint Physical Custody: The Advantages: The obvious advantage of joint physical custody is that living in both households allows a child to maintain a strong relationship with both parents.
  • Joint Physical Custody: The Disadvantages: Joint physical custody is not without disadvantages. The child migrates between two homes, "never settled in one place." (Some parents avoid this by doing what is termed "nesting," whereby the child stays in the family home and the parents rotate their residency with him or her.
  • Joint Physical Custody: The Caveats: Joint physical custody demands a great deal from the former married partners. After all, it is something of a stretch to imagine that a couple whose marriage crashed can somehow rise to the heights to make cooperative parenting work.
  • Joint Physical Custody: Making it Work: When two women came before King Solomon to resolve a dispute about which of them was the real mother of a child, he suggested cutting the child in two.
  • Joint Physical Custody: The Cultural Politics: Men's and father's rights advocates argue that joint physical custody works to alleviate the inequalities of the traditional custodial-noncustodial parent routine, but many feminists contend that this argument masks an attempt by men to avoid paying child support.

Child Custody Evaluations

  • Dilemmas Solved with Custody Evaluations: The number of contested custody cases has steadily risen in most western countries since the mid-1980s because courts recognize that "joint custody" is the preferable way for rearing children of divorced families. So out of this dilemma, a whole new legal challenge emerged - the contested custody case, and more of them, due to that increasing number, being litigated.
  • What is a Custody Evaluation?: A custody evaluation should be a very thorough examination of all family members and a recommendation to the court about a parenting plan in the best interests of the children. A parent who is properly informed about the structure and purpose of a custody evaluation is in a much better position to select the right custody evaluator and has the best chance that the evaluation will be done properly and comprehensively.
  • Selecting a Child Custody Evaluator: Needless to say, a custody evaluation depends on the training, skill and experience of the custody evaluator, the thoroughness of the work, and the degree to which the custody evaluator maintains his or her objectivity. Absent competence, thoroughness and objectivity, parents risk a poorly conducted custody evaluation.
  • When the Court Chooses an Evaluator: Sometimes the judge selects the custody evaluator. This happens when the parents are unable to agree on a custody evaluator (or the judge operates this way). When this happens, the parents are somewhat limited for obvious reasons.
  • The Custody Evaluation Process: A complete evaluation can be accomplished only when the evaluator interviews both parties of the custody dispute. The evaluator should consider meeting with the parents together at least once if the parents consent to it.
  • Caveats of the Evaluator: The function of evaluator in a child custody dispute is different from that of a therapist in a traditional, clinical setting. The practitioner must keep these roles separate. Trying to be both the therapist and forensic evaluator for the same children or family is inappropriate and complicates both the therapy and the evaluation.
  • Considerations Common in Custody Disputes: A number of issues are common to custody disputes. Addressing these issues with the children and family can result in the creation of a clinical database that is helpful to the evaluator in giving opinions and recommendations.
  • Anatomy of a Child Custody Evaluation: An evaluation is not confidential because neither the parents nor the children are the clients of the evaluator; the court is. All material gathered by the evaluator is potentially discoverable by attorneys and the evaluator is subject to examination and cross-examination if the case goes to trial.
  • How to Approach Your Evaluation: A parent should discuss the evaluation with his or her attorney, and try to remember that the evaluator wants to known as much about the family as possible.
  • What to Tell Your Children: Parents often wonder what to tell children about the evaluation, particularly since the children have some degree of awareness of the conflict in their parents’ marriage.
  • What Can You Expect from the Recommendations?: One of the main differences between an evaluation and settlement techniques like mediation is that the evaluator makes recommendations about the family. Typically, recommendations will fall in several categories.

Cigarette Smoking and Child Custody

  • Effects of Smoking Cigarettes Around Children: In recent years, public opinion about cigarette smoking has shifted dramatically. No longer seen as an issue of personal choice, smoking is now often viewed as a widespread social problem whose costs and consequences are shared by all.
  • Effects of Smoking on a Child Custody Case: Courts have already taken judicial notice of certain facts and issues pertaining to smoking cigarettes around children. Those facts and issues can be used in court cases to help determine a child custody case.
  • Proving Harm to the Child During a Custody Case: Generally, for a child's exposure to secondhand smoke to become a custody issue, it must be shown that the child suffers from some medical problem, and that this problem is caused or exacerbated by secondhand smoke. To date no cases have restricted a parent's smoking or based a custody decision on a parent's smoking absent these two factors.
  • Proving a Change in Circumstances: Smoking Before and After the Divorce: The smoking routines of spouses during the marriage are a consideration. The courts have tended to treat the issue under a "change in circumstances" analysis. Under this standard, courts have dismissed the issue where the smoking parent smoked before the divorce.
  • Weighing Smoking Against Other Issues in Child Custody: In most instances smoking becomes a critical issue when the parenting skills of the parties are equal and the court is searching for factors that may tip the scales in deciding custody. Some courts, however, have given limited weight to this issue.
  • Constitutional Issues of Considering Smoking in a Child Custody Case: There have been courts cases that have addressed the constitutional issue of whether or not a parent's right to smoke could be restricted for child custody purposes.
  • Smoking by Third Parties to Child Custody: Cigarette smoking can become an issue in a custody case even where the smoker is not the parent of the child. Parties have raised ETS as an issue when stepparents, paramours and other persons who smoke come into regular contact with the child.

Useful Online Tools
  • Custody JunctionTM - Easily schedule, track and monitor current and future custody, visitation, and support arrangements.
  • Online Parenting Plans - Our Online Parenting Plan Service will allow you to create and execute your very own personalized parenting plan.
  • Mandatory Parenting Class - This service if for you, whether you are court mandated or if you simply want the best, up to date information about how to keep your kids healthy and safe throughout the divorce process.

Suggested Reading
How to Win Child Custody How to Win Child Custody
This is not your basic child custody book like most you will find in a bookstore. This book is for people who are in the middle of a custody dispute or feel as though there is a possibility of one in the future. This is a resource for those parents who are fighting for their rights and/or custody of their children.

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Featured Download Parent's Ability and Willingness to Cooperate: The Friendly Parent Doctrine, As a Most Important Factor in Recent Child Custody Cases

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