Child Custody, Visitation and Support

What You Need to Know about Custody, Visitation and Child Support 

Custody refers to who has legal decision-making authority in the life of a child. Custody really pertains to matters affecting decision-making authority and access (visitation) refers to time spent between child and each parent. These are separate legal issues. It is possible to have high access to your child but not custody, i.e., authority for decision-making. 

Joint custody may be requested if both parents agree on major issues (religion, education, health and activities) and there is not a concern regarding the parenting judgment of either parties. Joint custody suits situations of low to moderate-level conflicts.

In the event of more than moderate levels of parental conflict, concerns of abuse, violence, drug or alcohol abuse, mental illness or poor judgment, then decision-making authority may be vested in one parent only.  This is to limit risks in the life of the child.  Referred to as sole custody, the sole-custodial parent has legal authority to make unilateral decisions affecting the life of their child.  However, and as noted above, this still remains separate from issues of access (visitation).

Child Visitation Rights

The topic of child visitation is often a sore spot for split parents.  Being explicitly clear of the rules and expectations regarding visitation avoids confusion and frustration for both parents and the child.  The nature of the visitation order often sets those rules.

Is the visitation supervised or unsupervised? Long distance or out of state? What about summer vacations and holidays visitations? What are the grandparents visitation rights?

Children at some point in time will resent the visitation schedule and refuse to go see the other parent. This in turn puts the custodial parent in an uncomfortable position. Do you make them go or do you skip the visitation?

A visitation plan lends structure to children's lives, predictability to your life and allows the best chance for harmony in split-parenting.

Child Support

For most split families, custody and visitation were set up simultaneously with child support. You see them as part of a package. However, child support is a legal separate determination and has nothing to do with either custodial or visitation determinations.

Custody is only the preliminary factor in setting up child support. The non-custodial parent must pay it to the custodial parent. Time your child spends with both of you has nothing to do with child support. But beyond that, what happens with your parenting plan has no impact on child support.

Child support is a set amount that only fluctuates when it is increased or decreased by court order. The amount of time each of you spends with your child does not affect it, unless you have a complete change in custody, or go to a shared parenting plan where you each have equal time with your child.

The way you share medical, educational, and other expenses also does not change based on your parenting schedule, and if you are the one that takes your child to the doctor and the other parent is the one who is responsible for medical costs, he or she should reimburse you for the expense.

When children are involved it's especially important to make the right decisions and avoid the Seven Common Mistakes of Child Custody, Visitation and Support.