Disputes often arise concerning parenting rights. These disputes often result in litigation over which parent, or even grandparent, will have care, custody and control over their children or grandchildren.
BEST INTEREST STANDARD
The term "Best Interest of the Child" is the benchmark for determining the rights of the parents. Parents oftentimes will overlook this standard and pursue what is in their own best interest, to the detriment of the children and the other parent.
Most courts now require that parents involved in either a divorce proceeding, a paternity action and initial child custody determination, or modification of child custody matter attend a workshop on parenting. This course is used to remind parents of the underlying standard of what is in the child's best interest. And to discuss ways to deal with the emotions involved in custody litigation.
Parents are always encouraged to work out an amicable parenting arrangement without court involvement. But many times, due to emotions or inability to communicate, parents must seek legal assistance and court involvement to resolve ongoing child custody disputes. A parenting plan is a written court ordered judgment that enforces parent's custody rights.
The terms of the Parenting Plan include issues of Physical Custody and Parenting Time (term used in Joint Custody arrangements for both parents) or Visitation Rights (term used in Sole Physical Custody arrangements for the non-custodial parent), Legal Custody, Child Support, Dependency Deductions, Health Insurance coverage for the children, transportation issues, and relocation notice, along with any other issues the parties or Court believe need addressing concerning the upbringing of the children.
Physical Custody is the actual placement and parenting time of each parent.
Legal Custody is the ability of a parent to make legal decision for the child. Legal decisions include areas such as education, health, welfare, and day to day legal decisions.
CHILD CUSTODY MODIFICATION
Sometimes after a Court has entered a Judgment concerning the custody and support of minor children, it becomes necessary to modify the arrangement. To succeed in a Child Custody Modification action, the moving party (the party wanting the change) has the burden to prove that "substantial and continuing change in circumstance(s)" between the custodial parent and the children are occuring to justify the child custody modification.
However, a change in the parenting time of a Joint Physical Custody arrangement does not require this same stringent standard. A showing that it is in the children's best interest is required to modify an exisiting joint custody arrangement when parenting time is the issue.
GUARDIAN AD LITEM
A Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) is a lawyer dedicated to looking out for a child's best interest. Oftentimes the GAL can be used to assist parents in reaching a compromise parenting plan. The GAL will interview the children, the parents, educators, and other influential adults in the children's lives. At the conclusion of their investigation, the GAL will prepare a report and make a recommendation to the parties and the Court.