In 2015, more than a quarter of all children under 21 years of age had a parent living outside of their household, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Whether the parents were divorced or separated, many of these arrangements involved formal or informal child custody agreements.
There are a lot of misconceptions and myths about custody cases, due in large part to the fact that child custody agreements and rulings depend on factors specific to each situation. Dealing with child custody issues can be a very emotional and complex process, so it’s important to understand some of the common myths before you get started and work with a family attorney to better understand your options.
Continue reading to get a quick overview of typical custody considerations and learn about five child custody myths you shouldn’t believe.
What Happens in a Typical Child Custody Case?
Before we dive into some of the many myths that exist about child custody, it’s important to have a general understanding of how child custody cases and agreements work.
In a child custody case, you’ll need to determine which type of arrangement you want, whether you can settle outside of court, and which factors might affect who gains full or partial custody.
Type of Custody Arrangement
You’ll need to decide two main issues:
- Physical custody, which is where the child is on a given day or night (sole custody, visitation, etc.); and
- Legal custody, which is decision-making on major issues affecting the child’s well-being.
In-Court or Out-Of-Court Agreements
Sometimes, parents can resolve custody agreements outside of court with the help of attorneys and counselors. If the parents can’t decide on the type of arrangement and custody terms, a judge will have to make the decision.
When making a custody ruling, the court will consider factors such as what’s best for the child, who has been the current primary caregiver, and where the parents live, among many other factors.
5 Child Custody Myths, Debunked
Now that we have a better understanding of some of the details involved in a custody dispute, let’s examine five of the most common myths about child custody.
Myth 1: I’ll Have to Go to Court if There Is a Custody Disagreement
Even if there is a disagreement regarding custodial arrangements, you still may be able to settle your custody case outside of court. Alternative solutions include:
An informal negotiation involves both parents meeting and deciding on the custody agreement. Once the parents come to a decision, an attorney for one of the parents will draft a legal document for them to sign, finalizing the agreement. These negotiations could also take place between attorneys for each parent.
This is an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) process where a neutral third party helps the parents work through differences and concerns to reach an agreement. Each parent can have an attorney represent them in the mediation.
This solution is more formal than mediation but still keeps the dispute outside of a courtroom. Instead of a mediator who tries to get a mutual agreement, both sides have an attorney and can hire experts as needed to support their claim. The parties present their case to an arbitrator, who makes the final decision.
Arbitration can be binding or nonbinding. If you go through binding arbitration, the arbitrator’s decision will be final, and the court won’t overturn it except in very unusual and limited circumstances.
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Myth 2: A Child Can Choose Which Parent to Live With
Children do not get to decide which parent or guardian receives custody. However, some judges will hear from a child if the child is old enough to make a rational decision. If the child expresses an opinion, the child’s preference is only one factor for the judge to consider, and it usually only affects a decision if both parents are equally qualified to receive custody.
Children typically must be at least 10 years old to be able to talk to a judge. If a child is vehemently opposed to living with one parent, the judge may appoint a guardian to represent the child’s interests and determine what the problem is.
Myth 3: Mothers Always Receive Full Custody
Mothers don’t always receive full or even primary custody of the child. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of fathers with full or primary custody is increasing every year. The deciding factor in custody cases is what’s best for the child, which courts often determine based on which parent has been acting as the primary caregiver. Actions that indicate someone is a primary caregiver include feeding and bathing the child, taking the child to school, and making doctor’s appointments.
Because many households still operate with the mother as primary caregiver, courts may lean toward mothers when awarding custody. However, some fathers act as the primary caregiver or are available to become a primary caregiver after a divorce. In these cases, the court could award primary custody to the father. In general, there is a notable trend toward more equal custody arrangements.
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Myth 4: Only Parents Can Get Custody of a Child
While courts do prioritize keeping children with their parents in custody cases, there are some situations where they don’t grant custody to a parent. Grandparents are the most likely to receive custody over the child’s biological parents, but other family members or friends can also obtain custody in certain situations.
Every case is different, and it can be difficult to establish that a biological parent shouldn’t have custody over a third party. Some of the reasons a court may grant a non-parent permanent physical and legal custody of a child are if the parent:
- Has neglected the child
- Has emotionally or physically abused the child
- Will be incarcerated until the child is 18
- Is physically or psychologically unable to care for the child
- Has a known and serious problem with drugs or alcohol
Myth 5: I Can Withhold Visitation if the Other Parent Doesn’t Pay Child Support
Not only is this false, but the other parent may be able to change the custody arrangement in their favor if you withhold visitation without court approval.
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Never try to force or coerce the other parent into paying their share of child support by withholding the child. If the other parent isn’t paying support, tell your attorney. Not receiving the full agreed-upon child support amount is a common issue that courts know how to handle. The judge will deal with the issue and penalize the parent appropriately with fines, wage garnishment, or even jail time.
Myers Law Firm: A Trusted North Carolina Child Custody Law Firm
Confused about your rights and options regarding child custody arrangements? The family lawyers at Myers Law Firm are here to answer all your questions. At Myers Law Firm, our attorneys have experience helping parents settle custody agreements both in and outside of the courtroom and will work with you every step of the way.
Grall, T. (2018, January). Custodial mothers and fathers and their child support: 2015 (P60-262). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2018/demo/P60-262.pdf
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.