A 2020 Guide to Divorce, Child Custody, and Emancipation

Deciding to end your marriage is difficult, even more so when you stop to consider divorce and child custody issues. Still, if a marriage is filled with deceit and anger, it may be time to move on.

Though divorce law and custody determinations are complicated, this guide can help you better understand the process. Don’t let the intimidation of court or custody paperwork keep you trapped in an unhappy marriage.

Even if you were blindsided by your partner’s request for a divorce, it is essential to focus on divorce and child custody issues, prepare documentation, educate yourself on the process, and ensure you walk away with everything you deserve.

One of the hardest parts of a divorce is understanding and accepting child custody arrangements. This guide will help you to gain an understanding of what’s to come in your divorce proceedings.

How is Custody Determined?

Some judges still have a few outdated views on issuing custody. This is why there are so many stories about men who raised their child as a single parent for years, only to have the mother shows back up suddenly and win custody.

The horror stories do hold some truth, but many judges focus their custody choices on the things that truly matter:

  1. Main caregiver for the child/ children
  2. The best parent to handle the child’s needs
  3. History of abuse or violence
  4. Parent-child relationships
  5. The child’s wants (sometimes)

If you have a long list of arrests, history of domestic violence, or issues with drug abuse, it is unlikely the courts will permit you any custody rights. Still, with appropriate stipulations, you may be allowed limited visitation rights.

Visitation rights and applicable laws vary from state to state, but a good divorce lawyer can help ensure you are allowed to spend some time with your children.

Will I Have Visitation Rights?

To understand visitation rights, it is important to recognize the difference between custody and visitation.

Physical Custody

Physical custody refers to the living arrangement of the child. If a parent has physical custody, it means that the child lives in their home either full or part-time. If parents share joint physical custody, the child splits their time between the homes.

Legal Custody

Legal custody refers to having the right to make decisions for a minor child. This includes decisions regarding education, religion, medical situations, and more. Parents can share legal custody and both have the authority of guardianship. When legal custody is jointly shared, both parents must come to an agreement on major decisions.

Visitation Rights

Visitation rights can be given to a parent that does not have legal or physical custody of a child. If a parent was deemed unfit to have the child live in their home, they may still be granted an appropriate way of spending time with their child, like supervised visitations.

If you have been granted partial physical custody of your child, you automatically have visitation rights because your custody days are your visitation days. Though, you may have extra visitation days on nights the child doesn’t stay in your home as well. Those details are all part of a well-crafted custody plan.

Can My Child Choose Where to Live?

When it comes to learning about divorce and child custody issues, questions regarding a child’s right to choose a household are often mentioned. The answer, unfortunately, is too complicated for a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

There are no explicit laws that state a child of a certain age can choose where they would like to live; however, many courts begin considering the requests of a child that is at least 14 years of age.

Custody lawyers also have a hard time navigating the grey area of a child’s right to choose when it comes to visitation.

Sometimes, an older child may refuse to visit or stay with one of their parents. In these situations, a judge may agree that you cannot force a teenager to go somewhere they don’t want to. Unfortunately, you may still find yourself in a tangled mess of trouble for violating a custody order if you allow your child to miss the other parent’s court-mandated visitation days.

Understanding the complexity of these vague corners of custody law is vital to surviving the stressful life that is shared custody.

How is Child Support Calculated?

Though guidelines for child support vary from state to state, there are a few general rules for support calculation that stretch across family law.

  • The cost of basic needs including insurance, education, child care, and special needs
  • The needs of the custodial parent concerning care for the child
  • The noncustodial parent’s income level and ability to pay support
  • The lifestyle and standard of living the child is used to

Many of the guidelines for child support can be black and white, which may result in a support requirement you find unfair. In this case, exercise your right to request a modification. However, it is important to note that court battles are expensive, so if your ex doesn’t agree with the modification, you may not want to pursue getting the court order altered.

How Long Will I Pay Child Support?

A frequent topic that comes up when discussing divorce and child custody issues is child support payments. If your child lived in your home with you full time, you would be legally required to provide for them until they turn 18. Likewise, child support is paid until a child is either emancipated or deceased.

Changes to aspects of your life like unemployment may give you grounds to request a temporary lowering of child support, but you’re overarching responsibility to pay support only ends at one of the two previously mentioned times.

In some states, child support responsibilities can be pushed beyond emancipation if:

  • Your child is physically/ mentally disabled
  • Your child is attending college
  • You owe back child support

What is Emancipation?

Emancipation is the legal transition of a dependent child to an independent individual.

Naturally, a child becomes emancipated when they turn 18 (19 if still in high school), and therefore the parents are no longer legally required to care for them. However, children under the age of majority can become emancipated through court approval.

The emancipation of a minor is a lengthy process with lots of rules and guidelines based on juvenile law. To have emancipation considered, the petitioner must:

  1. Be at least 14 years old
  2. Be able to prove emancipation from parents is in their best interest
  3. Be able to prove financial independence and stability
  4. Continue receiving education or acquiring GED

Settling a Disagreeable Divorce

You and your ex’s lawyer don’t want to go to court. The judges don’t even want you to go to court. In a perfect world, all your issues would be settled before ever stepping in front of a judge.

Over 91% of custody cases don’t require going before a judge. In fact, most forms of civil litigation are resolved outside the courtroom. Just like personal injury cases (where only 4% of cases go to trial), there are methods for preemptive settlement that are meant to benefit everyone involved – including your children.

We know, no matter how much you may want to settle things amicably, your ex may not always be as receptive to the idea. A lack of amicability may be one of the most common divorce and child custody issues. Luckily, mediators exist for those exact situations.

What is a mediator?

A mediator is a professional who leads an unbiased, interactive consultation between you and your spouse. They will create a fair environment for communication and help foster an attitude of resolution.

In most cases, custody schedules, asset dispersal, and more are easily settled through mediation. However, if your spouse refuses to come to an agreement in mediation, you may be forced to have a judge make decisions instead. Luckily, your partner’s refusal to cooperate in mediation will not bode well for them in that situation.

Top Divorce Tips

When you have children, preparing for a permanent separation from your spouse can feel overwhelming. Divorce and child custody issues are an unfair add-on to the emotional burden that comes with ending a marriage.

Though it may be obvious that you should hire a divorce or child visitation lawyer, here are a few other tips that you may find equally beneficial.

  • Consider your child’s best interest over your own
  • Consider reversing stepchild adoptions
  • Keep records of everything
  • Try to stay cordial
  • Get a paternity lawyer, if necessary

Consider your child’s best interests

Don’t let emotion take hold. You may feel it is unfair to have to give up time with your child, but maintaining visitation with both parents is the best choice.

Consider Reversing Adoptions

This may sound cruel, but there are situations where reversing adoptions are the right thing to do. If your partner asks you to adopt their children, then quickly files for a divorce, you may have fallen into a child support scam. If this is the case, you can petition the court to reverse your adoptions, simply contact a child adoption attorney.

Keep Records

Did your ex bring the kids two hours late for visitation? Is your phone filled with threatening and abusive messages from your ex? Do you have proof of your involvement in the kid’s life?

Maintaining meticulous records can help you push for additional custody down or even save you from being punished for lies told by your ex. Remember, it is better to have documented too much than not enough.

Stay Cordial

This is one of the most difficult aspects of overcoming divorce and custody issues.

Divorces can be bitter, and nobody wants to spend the rest of their life bound to someone they dislike. Still, maintaining a respectful relationship with your ex can help to settle issues out of court.

Staying friendly with your ex is also important for the mental and emotional health of your children.

Paternity Lawyers

There are many divorce and child custody issues you will have to deal with after a separation, and we hope finding a paternity lawyer isn’t one of them. Still, if your relationship ends due to infidelity, don’t be too embarrassed to ensure paternity before being legally required to pay child support for 18 plus years.

What if I Can’t Afford a Lawyer?

Finding a way to afford legal representation might be one of the most common divorce and child custody issues. Luckily, there are some alternatives to expensive family lawyers.

Try Legal Coaching

Legal coaching provides you with the opportunity to discuss needs, tactics, and the legal aspects of divorce and child custody issues, without paying high lawyer prices. This is because you will be responsible for all paperwork, filing of documents, court and mediation representation, and other tasks.

Taking the legal coaching route can save you a lot of money. Some lawyers charge hundreds of dollars to make a few copies of a document. Legal coaching helps you avoid those additional costs.

Search for a Pro Bono or Low-Cost lawyer

Some lawyers offer Pro Bono representation, which means their services are offered for free. While helpful, finding a free lawyer isn’t always a practical plan of action. Low-cost lawyers, on the other hand, are much easier to find thanks to companies like Legal Aid.

Make your Ex Pay Your Fees

If your ex filed for divorce, was unfaithful or committed another offense to force separation, you could consider asking for court fees in your divorce demands. While this is a cruel trick to pull during an amicable divorce, there are situations where the request is completely reasonable.

Keep Your Head Up

Dealing with divorce and child custody issues is hard. Often, it can feel like you are alone as you jump through hoops to maintain normalcy in your life.

Though the process is hard, it is important to remember that you will reach a new sense of normalcy that will be better in the long run. If you are having trouble emotionally coping with divorce, be sure to reach out to a therapist for additional support.

Over time, things will slowly calm down. Soon, you will get into the routine of your custody arrangement, begin to heal, and finally find a new normal.

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