Child Custody
Summary in Divorce

Some of the thorniest questions in many divorces involve child custody, the arrangement divorcing parents make for the care and nurturing of unemancipated children.

Ideally, the parents know their children best, so they are best equipped to decide child care arrangements. When parents cannot or will not do this,
courts do it for them based on the gold standard of child welfare -- the best interest of the child. In reality, the phrase means what a judge says it means and courts consider a variety of factors in deciding a child’s best interest.

At one time, judges routinely granted legal and physical custody to the mother, who became the custodial parent; the father, who became the noncustodial parent, paid child support and visited his children on a schedule. Today many courts favor joint legal custody if the parents can cooperate. Courts are receptive to a variety of child care arrangements as long as the parents can cooperate.

Parents battling over custody damage both themselves and the children. If the battle between spouses becomes pitched, the court may require a custody evaluation. In this, a custody evaluator -- a mental health professional such as a psychologist, or a guardian ad litem, who is a lawyer representing the children -- makes recommendations to the court about the best interest of the children. The child custody evaluation can be very invasive and difficult.

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#79: The length of a divorce will vary between 2 to 18 months depending upon the state rules, local rules, spouse participation, and the number of issues that are in dispute. The less contested a divorce is the shorter it will be.
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