What to expect in a child custody dispute

Lawyers can help in or out of court

It was the split heard ‘round the world: Jennifer Lopez and husband Marc Anthony recently announced they're getting a divorce after seven years of marriage. Not long after the announcement, tabloid reports began surfacing that Lopez would seek full custody of the couple's three-year-old twins.

You might not be part of a Hollywood super-couple, but that doesn't mean you won't have the same types of custody issues if you get divorced.

Many couples who split up transition easily into joint custody, where both parents share in the physical and legal custody of their child. They might agree on one spouse having sole physical custody, where the child lives with only one parent, but the other parent might have visitation rights.

When there is a disagreement over custody, parents may be able to settle the matter between themselves without the help of the courts. Typically, there are two ways of doing this:

  • Informal settlement negotiations. Even though the court is not involved, it is wise for each spouse to hire a lawyer to help in these negotiations.
  • Out-of-court dispute resolution proceedings, such as mediation or arbitration. Attorneys will also be of great help during these proceedings.

"Although the court won't be directly involved in these proceedings, a judge will usually need to approve the agreement before it becomes final. This step is typically a formality," says attorney Martin Sweet of legal information website THELAW.TV .

However, in situations where the couple can't come to a custody agreement on child custody, the case will likely go to family court. If this happens, you should retain a lawyer to guide you through the process.

Divorce and child custody laws vary from state to state, but in virtually all cases the court will make a decision based on the "best interests" of the child standard. The goal is to foster the child's happiness, security, health and emotional development. There are several factors the court will consider, including:

  • Mental and physical health of the parents
  • Religious considerations
  • Schooling
  • Age and sex of the child

The court might also consider the wishes of the child. If the child is 18 or older, he or she is no longer a minor and can decide where to live. But even younger children can have a say in where they want to live.

"Children under 18 do not have any rights but the law instructs the Judge to take the child's wishes into consideration when determining custody issues," says Kansas City, Missouri family lawyer Howard Lotven .

Video: http://thelaw.tv/kansascity/Child+Custody+Law/CUS-1034

It is crucial to understand that what is in the best interest of the child at one time may change over time, as circumstances develop. One parent may change jobs or have additional children with a new spouse, and that may mean going back to court. Having a lawyer who understands the process and can advise a client before he or she takes action can be invaluable.

For more information about Child Custody and Family Law and to watch videos of Family Lawyers answering common questions on video, go to THELAW.TV .

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