Child custody laws in the state focus on the best interest of the child and, by extension, the comparative fitness of each parent. What this means is that, besides some exceptional facts (like one parent being an illegal substance abuser or having a criminal record), the parent who can persuade a judge that the child’s best interest will be served by residing primarily with them wins custody.
It is crucial to get an experienced family law attorney on your side before engaging in any child custody battle. A Columbia child custody and visitation lawyer has the experience and skills needed to ensure that you and your child’s best interests are heard.
Basic Information about Determining Child Custody
Courts must order a co-parenting schedule that allows both parents to enjoy the maximum participation possible in the lives of their children. However, maximum participation does not mean that every parent gets an equal amount of visitation. A parent’s time with their child is maximized according to what is best for that child.
If the parents of a child decide to get a divorce and both parents are equal in their ability to take care of the child, a judge is likely to order a 50/50 parenting schedule. However, if the divorce is pending and one parent is changing their address to several hours away, despite being on equal footing in their parenting abilities, judges will not order equal parenting time in this situation.
A judge could determine that the child needs to stay with the parent who is not moving, as that is the environment the child is familiar with would maintain stability for the child. After determining this, a judge could decide that the parent who moved has the majority of summer and holiday breaks with the child in an effort to maximize that parent’s time with them. A knowledgeable child visitation and custody attorney in Columbia could help ensure the co-parenting schedule is fair for the parents and child.
What Could Influence a Judge’s Custody or Visitation Decision?
A judge determines what is best for a child by applying the facts heard in court to the “best interest” factors listed by the legislature. After determining what is best for a child, the court then maximizes each parent’s time with the child accordingly.
In addition to the location of the residences of the parents and the child’s need for stability, the law instructs courts to look at all relevant factors, including:
- Each parent’s relationship with the child
- The emotional needs and developmental level of the child
- Each parent’s past and potential for future performance of parenting responsibilities
- The moral, physical, mental, and emotional fitness of each parent
- Each parent’s ability to provide food, clothing, medical care, education, and other necessary care
- The child’s interaction and interrelationships with siblings and other relatives
- Each parent’s emotional ties with the child
- If any abuse or neglect is occurring
- The reasonable preference of the child if twelve (12) years of age or older
- Each parent’s employment schedule
A skilled Columbia attorney could work with a court to ensure that the child’s and parents’ needs are being met through a determination of custody or visitation.
Changing Custody and Visitation in Columbia
There is an important difference between changing custody and changing visitation. Changing custody refers to changing the primary residential parent, while changing visitation maintains the statuses of the parents as primary residential and alternate residential, but instead alters the amount of time a child spends with each parent. Generally, it is more difficult to change custody than visitation.
Changing custody and visitation after a divorce can be as easy or difficult as the parties make it. Parents can, by mutual agreement, change their parenting plan with relative ease. However, if one parent wants to make a change to the child custody or visitation schedule that the other parent opposes, they can consult with an accomplished Columbia attorney during the initial development of the parenting plan.
Whether a parent seeks to modify custody or visitation, the standard is the same: the parent wishing to make the change must prove that there has been a material change in circumstances that drastically alters the child’s well-being. A diligent legal team could help someone determine if this standard is meat to alter a parenting or visiting schedule for a child.
Material Change in Circumstances
The first thing to prove is that there has been a material change in circumstances. This question is broken down into whether the change occurred after the entry of the order seeking to be modified, was not known or reasonably anticipated when the order was entered, and is one that affects the child’s well-being in a meaningful way.
If the answer to any one of the above elements is “no,” then there has not been a material change and a court will not modify custody or visitation. If the answer to all questions is “yes,” then there has been a material change in circumstances and the court will advance to a best interest analysis.
Parenting Plans in Columbia
The best interest analysis for a custody dispute is broad, and because of this, each parent can usually find some factors that favor them. It is quite rare for a judge to hear a custody battle that is “one-sided.” The key to success is to enlist an experienced child custody and visitation attorney who is familiar with Columbia courts and judges. This way, the attorney knows which factors certain judges weigh more heavily than others and, thereby, how to prepare a case to stress those factors in a parent’s favor.
Once a judge makes an initial custody determination, whether it be in a divorce or a paternity action for non-married parents, a parenting plan is created.
What is It?
The Tennessee Parenting Plan law came into effect on January 1, 2001. The goal of this legislation is to make divorce easier on children by lessening the hostility between separated parents and encouraging them to work together for the best interest of their children. It moves away from concepts like “custody” and “visitation” and focuses on the “parental responsibilities” of each parent.
If someone has children and is divorced, chances are they have a parenting plan. A parenting plan is a tool that separated parents use to co-parent their children. It is typically a nine page document that outlines the rights and responsibilities of each parent and covers the gamut of issues, including:
- Day-to-day visitation
- Holiday visitation
- Child support payments
- Decision making
- Who gets the Federal Income Tax exemption
- Health and dental insurance
- Life insurance
- Parental relocation
More information about the Tennessee Parenting Plan can be found on the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts’ website.
What Happens if a Parenting Plan is Not Followed?
The parenting plan, once signed by a judge, is a court order. That means that there can be real and serious consequences if one of the parents does not fulfill the outlined parental responsibilities. Depending on the severity of a parent’s non-compliance, that parent could potentially lose visitation time and risk an increase in child support.
Although a well-drafted plan attempts to be as comprehensive as possible, no document can ever cover all the events that happen in life. For instance, a parent or child may get sick and not be able to participate in the scheduled visitation. If that occurs, parents are allowed to adjust their co-parenting accordingly.
How Do Parenting Plans Operate for Non-Married Parents?
If married parents choose to separate, they must go through a divorce. However, if non-married parents separate, there is no legal process that must occur—they simply cease being a couple and go their separate ways. While a parenting plan is still an option for non-married couples, many of them are not aware that they can get one until months or even years of co-parenting has passed.
Even if the relationship between a non-married, separated couple is currently, there is always a chance for a significant disagreement in the future. Parenting disagreements are emotionally and economically costly to solve. It is much better for everyone involved if the parents come together to create a parenting plan. A dedicated attorney in Columbia can help explain the differences between married and non-married couples’ custody and visitation plans and how to best use those nuances to achieve a parent’s goals.
Call a Columbia Child Custody and Visitation Attorney Now
Child visitation, custody, and parenting plans have many interconnected factors in them that require the skills of an experienced legal team. All the facts of your unique situation need to be evaluated by someone who knows local courts and has been trusted with cases like yours in the past. Contact with a Columbia child custody and visitation lawyer who can analyze your situation and provide you with sound advice about your options. Contact our office now to learn more about how to proceed with your case.