Child custody often is a very contentious part of family law, especially with parents who don't get along anymore. Parents living apart usually have very different ideas from the other parent of how their children should be brought up. When parents just can't come to an agreement, the courts are the only recourse, and navigating the family court system can be bewildering and time-consuming on one's own.
There are two (2) aspects of child custody: the amount of time each parent physically spends with his or her child, known as physical custody, and the role each parent plays in making decisions affecting his or her child and that child's upbringing, known as legal custody. Physical custody involves whom and where the child(ren) resides and visitation, while legal custody involves essential decisions such as the child(ren) 's education, medical, and religion.
Nevada law presumes that joint physical and legal custody is in the best interest of your children. Joint physical custody means that your children spend no less than 40% and no more than 60% of their time with you. Joint legal custody means that both parents have access to their child's educational records, medical records, and religious training, but also that both parents must share information with each other about their child and must be able to cooperate if their child needs services such as therapy or psychiatric care. That's not as easy as it sounds.
Many parents who don't get along with one another seek sole custody of their children. Sole custody is where one parent has physical custody 100% of the time and is the only decision-maker where the child is concerned. It is incredibly rare for a family court judge to award sole custody, even if the other parent is incarcerated, but it is not impossible.
The middle ground between joint physical custody and sole custody is called primary physical custody. The children spend more than 60% but less than 100% of their time with the parent having primary physical custody of them. The other parent has visitation rights, meaning that the children spend their remaining time with that other parent. Primary legal custody does not exist; either parent share decision-making responsibilities, or one parent alone is responsible.
When a judge is asked to decide between joint and primary physical custody, there are a dozen or so factors that the judge must consider. Some of those factors include a child's preference, the presence of violence in the home, financial stability, a parent's mental and physical health, the ability of the parents to cooperate, and even how a parent's parents. But, a child's choice is not the overriding factor. While a judge may interview a child to provide insight, the judge is who decides custody and visitation, not the child. That is even true for teenagers. Although some parents believe in "teenage discretion," the view that at some point in their children's lives, the children should decide how much time they want to spend with each parent, that is not the law in Nevada. Rather, there must be a visitation schedule in place that permits the child to deviate from it, and both parents must agree to the child having discretion. Even then, if the judge decides that such an agreement risks the child's health, safety, or welfare, the judge can reject or modify it. On the flip side, you won't be able to undo teenage discretion for just any old reason once the judge approves it, so think long and hard before agreeing to it.
The sad truth of child custody disputes is that many parents, inadvertently or otherwise, attempt to use child custody as a weapon against the other parent. Some of these parents are downright ruthless and vindictive. There have been a number of instances where a parent has been falsely accused of child abuse or neglect. Not only does this have the potential to damage a child, but it almost never succeeds. More likely than not, the family court judge punishes the false accuser by shifting custody to the other parent. No matter how badly you feel you want to hurt the other parent, NEVER MAKE FALSE ACCUSATIONS OF ABUSE! It will only hurt you and your children in the long run.
For the same reasons, DO NOT WITHHOLD YOUR CHILDREN FROM THE OTHER PARENT! If you violate a custody order, even if the other parent hasn't paid his or her child support, the family court judge could alter the custody order to shift custody to the other parent.
Some parents are hurt by the other parent moving on with their lives and entering into new relationships. It's natural for a protective parent to become fearful of an unknown, strange presence around his or her child. Unfortunately, this can lead to an overreaction where the protective parent seeks to keep the new person away from the child. Legally, the court has difficulty doing this, primarily because the new person is not a party to the custody proceedings. However, if you have strong, truly heartfelt suspicions that the new person in the other parent's life is a danger to your child, you should contact Child Protective Services first. Before a family judge entertains restricting this person from being around your child, you will need to have practically absolute proof of the danger.
But in the ordinary course of things, once a custody order is in place, it is not likely to be changed. The reason for this is to encourage stability in the lives of the children. To modify a child custody order, the law requires that there be a substantial change in circumstances for your child or that it would be in the best interest of your child. Age and your child's wishes don't qualify. If your child starts having problems at school or with his or her behavior, for example, that's a different story, especially if there's evidence that the other parent might be the cause.
That's why you need an excellent custody attorney. Whatever custody arrangements are set by a judge it may be the arrangements you and your child(ren) will have until adulthood, and judges, being human, all have their pet peeves. The Law Office of Warren G. Freeman knows the judges and can advise you on how your case is going to proceed with a measure of accuracy. Not only that, but Attorney Freeman has over a decade of experience communicating with other family lawyers, like the one the other parent may have hired. If you're serious about doing what's best for your children, call our office for a consultation right now! It's never too soon to do the right thing for your kids.