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Children's Custody FAQs

Below are a few frequently asked questions about child custody law.

What are the different types of child custody arrangements?

There are four major types of child custody arrangements:

  • Joint custody, which is the preferred custody arrangement in many states, means that both parents share physical and legal custody of their child
  • Sole custody (also known as full custody) means that one parent has complete physical and legal custody of the child
  • Split custody means that one parent has custody of one or more children and the other parent has custody of one or more children
  • Non-parental custody (also known as third-party custody) means that custody of the child has been awarded to someone other than a parent

How does a judge decide which parent should be awarded custody?

The judge make a child custody decision based on what is in the best interests of the child. The judge looks at a number of factors in making that decision and may ask a professional child custody evaluator to talk to each parent and child, and then make custody recommendations.

What is a child support order?

A child support order is a court document that describes:

  • Which parent must pay child support
  • How much child support must be paid
  • How frequently child support payments must be made
  • When child support payments must begin
  • When child support payments must end

My children's mother has sole custody. What are my child custody rights as a father?

You should refer to the court's custody order, which you may know as a parenting plan or visitation schedule. This should outline:

  • The days, times, and holidays that your children are to spend with you
  • When and how you and your children can have contact while they are with their mother
  • How you can participate in your child's extracurricular activities
  • Whether you have access to your children's school and medical records

If you think your custody rights are being violated, try to resolve the issue in a friendly way with your children's mother. If that doesn't work, document the problems and speak to an attorney about how you can enforce your rights. (Some attorneys even focus on child custody for fathers.) Consistently violating the custody agreement may be grounds for changing the custody.

I have full custody of my child. Can I relocate?

It depends. You don't have to get permission for a local move from one neighborhood to another, for example. More significant moves, however, may require approval of the non-custodial parent or the court. State laws vary, however in defining a "significant" move. An attorney can tell you whether permission is required.