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Child custody basics

When a couple chooses to end a marriage, their assets and property is divided during the divorce process. In divorce cases involving minor aged children, decisions must also be made with regard to child custody and visitation. In the majority of divorce cases, parents are able to come to agreeable terms regarding child custody without court intervention. There are, however, cases in which parents are not able to agree on custody terms and a family court must intervene.

When deciding child custody matters, the court seeks to determine and evaluate what is in a child's best interest. In general, when deciding child custody matters, the courts aim to minimize the level of disruption to a child's life. The courts also consider a child's age and sex as well as both parents level of parental involvement, income, health, age and living arrangements.

In cases where one parent is granted sole child custody, in most cases, the noncustodial parent is entitled to visitation rights. A joint child custody agreement is when both parents share decision making responsibilities and have a say in matters related to a child's health, education, discipline and extra-curricular activities. Frequently, joint custody agreements also outline a schedule for when a child is physically in the custody of each parent.

Even after a child custody or visitation decision has been made, a parent may take action to modify the terms of an agreement. In cases where one parent fears for the safety or wellbeing of a child, he or she may seek a modification of child custody or visitation. Likewise, in cases where one parent's circumstances have improved, he or she may seek to gain additional child custody or visitation privileges.

Source: The American Bar Association, "Child Custody and Support," 2014