Custody, Support, Visitation, Grandparent Visitation, Father's Rights, Adoption, Relocation, Domestic Violence
What is joint custody, shared custody, split custody and sole custody? What is a court likely to order and which is best for me and my child? Do moms always get custody? Are my concerns for the child the same as what the court considers important? ■ Whatever term you want to use, and yes the above terms each have a distinct meaning, the court’s focus, and therefore your focus, needs to be on what is in the best interest of the child. Parents have strong opinions about this. Even parents who cannot get along should both want what is in the best interest of their children. However, they may not agree on what is best. An attorney can help focus your case on what will be important to the judge. Also, laws differ from state to state, so what you may have heard from family, friends and co-workers is not always the same as the information and advice you would receive from a Kentucky attorney who is experienced in the area of the law most important to you.
Do I have to pay child support? How much will the court make me pay? ■ Child support is based on Kentucky statutes. A child support worksheet is used determine the amount payable under the child support guidelines. However, the amount may be too much or too little, based on whether the numbers that you use are appropriate to your situation. Judges approach the issue of child support differently, and some may or may not allow the parties to agree upon an amount that does not follow the child support guidelines. Therefore, the court where your case is filed may impact your ability to reach an agreement with the other parent that does not follow the guidelines but is nevertheless acceptable to the court. The right attorney will be able to advise you in this regard. A party may be entitled to child support during the litigation, after the litigation, or both or neither.
How is visitation different than custody? ■ While custody refers to decision-making authority of the parents or guardians, visitation refers to the time the children spend with each parent or guardian. If the parties are able to work together, there does not have to be a set schedule, but having one to fall back on may be preferable to having to go back to court if a problem arises. Some courts have adopted visitation guidelines, but you may prefer a schedule that takes into account the needs of the parents and children, rather than a court-imposed schedule that treats every family the same, and perhaps creates a weekend mom or dad by default. If the parties are unable to agree, however, the court will make a schedule that both sides will have to live with, whether they like it or not.
I have heard that grandparents have no rights to visitation? ■ This is a popular misconception based on a well-publicized court case, which struck down states’ rights to put automatic grandparent rights into law. However, the more involved a grandparent is in their grandchild’s life, the more likely the grandparent will be able to have some rights established by the court. It is important to act quickly. You do not want a natural parent to threaten to, or actually, cut you off completely from any contact with your grandchild. You should speak to a lawyer as soon as this becomes a concern. The attorney may be able help the extended family reach an enforceable agreement before their relationships deteriorate beyond the point of compromise. Acting quickly will also give you your best chance to establish some legal rights in court, despite the objection of the natural parent.
I think my child would be better off with me. The other parent is threatening to never let me see my children again. I am afraid what might happen if I don’t give the other parent what they want. ■ The law does not allow either parent to have automatically superior rights based on whether they are the father or the mother. Both parents need to focus on what is in the best interest of the child. Having a lawyer standing up for you, who will speak up in court and not let the legal process or the other lawyer roll over you, will help ensure that the judge will hear your concerns and base the court’s decision only on what is in the child’s best interest.
Adoptions may be initiated by blood relatives, step-parents or by placements of children with non-relatives by the court or Cabinet for Health and Family Services. Adoptions are one of the few cases that come before the court that are not the result of a disagreement between the parties. However, some natural parents may wish to contest the termination of their parental rights. Whichever side you are on, the legal process to change your legal relationship to the child must go through the court system, even if you have the consent of all necessary parties. In contested cases it may be particularly difficult to terminate the fundamental right of the relationship between parent and child.
For divorcing partners who are also parents, one of them may wish to relocate with the children. That parent’s only connection to the area in which they currently live may have been the other parent or a job. They may want to relocate once they become re-married, due to a change in employment or other reasons. The parent who wants to move with the child may feel very strongly that he or she has been the child’s primary caregiver and the child would be best served by staying in their home. The parent who may be left behind does not want to have his or her relationship with the children severely restricted due to the choices of the parent who wants to move. Whether or not the court will be able to intervene on behalf of either party may depend on the current relationship of the parents to the child, how the issue was addressed in any prior order, the amount of time that has passed since that order, where the case is able to be brought, etc. These cases are fact-specific.
Protective services are available for children who may be dependent, neglected or abused. One or both parents may be to unable to care for a child. A parent may intentionally harm a child or risk harm to that child, or otherwise fail to protect a child from harm or the risk of harm. Sometimes the parents and children are able to get the help they need to successfully reunify the parent-child bond. Other times the court may find that the child’s best interest would be better served by allowing someone else to step into the parenting role while the natural parent gets help. If you know a child in trouble, you may have a duty to report it. If your child is being taken away from you, the best time to obtain legal help is before you agree to anything and before the court decides anything. The better you document your case, the stronger it will be. You need to take photographs of any visible injuries and allow a doctor to document the injuries. A psychotherapist may be appropriate.