As a father you have an equal right to the custody of your children. Custody arrangements apply to both married and non-married parents who’ve had children together and have decided to separate or divorce.
While child custody laws differ by state and are determined by the court overseeing the divorce proceedings, family law courts now work under the premise that both parents have equal rights to custody over their children, unless one party proves that the other is either incapable of proper care or the child’s safety is at stake in their care.
What is child custody?
Although a majority of divorcing parents are awarded joint custody of their children, this term can mean many things. Unless the parents have an amicable divorce and both stay living in the same school district, city, or town, it is very difficult to award true joint custody (in which the kids split their time between the parents equally).
Joint custody refers to the parents’ legal right to the process of making decisions about their kids’ lives, financial obligations, and the amount of time the children are legally required to spend in each parent’s care.
A custody arrangement is the legal decision about where and when each child will live, which parents must either adhere to or appeal if they aren’t satisfied with the decision.
A parenting plan is the legal agreement the parents make that outlines the ways in which they will care for and make joint decisions about their kids’ lives together after separation.
Child support comes into play once a custody arrangement has been made. Even when parents are awarded joint custody over their children, the custodial parent (the parent the children live with the majority of the time) usually has greater child-related expenses. However, child support arrangements and payments are decided on a case-by-case basis because each parent’s financial situation is very different, so there is never a one-size-fits-all solution.
Getting Custody of Your Children
With the cost of living in America today, many households have two parents that work full time, and an increasing number of households have parents who work different schedules. This means that more families have fathers fulfilling the roles that used to be moms’ responsibility, leading to more fathers with an interest in custody and more fathers winning custody, too.
While you have an equal right to custody of your children as their father, the court overseeing your divorce will make its decisions based on the best interests of your children. Even when joint custody is awarded, kids usually end up with a custody arrangement that places them in one parent’s care more often than the other.
The non-custodial parent may feel that their ex-spouse has “won” the custody battle and inherently has better access to making important decisions. A thoughtful and detailed parenting plan can help ensure that both parents are involved in important decisions, and it can help split the time spent in both homes more evenly.
Here are some of the factors a court will consider when determining a custody arrangement that’s in the best interests of the child:
- Each parent’s wishes
- The child’s wishes
- The child’s relationship with each parent
- The child’s relationship with siblings, if any
- Other adults and children who will be living in each household and have an impact on the child’s life
- The mental and physical health of each individual involved
- The child’s happiness and comfort level in their current home, school, and community
Providing or Receiving Child Support
Traditionally in divorce, the kids live with their mother and their father continues to provide financial support in the forms of alimony and child support. Today the tables have turned and you as a father may be the one receiving child support and/or alimony from your ex-spouse.
Who Gets Child Support and How Much?
The custodial parent is most likely to receive child support because this parent must pay for the majority of vital living costs. However, the children may have been placed in a living arrangement because the custodial parent is better able to financially provide for them. In many cases the non-custodial parent cannot make child support payments due to income level or earning capacity.
Child support is intended to help the custodial parent pay for vital living expenses such as food, clothing, rent/mortgage, and utilities. Additional expenses that may be used to help calculate child support payments include medical expenses, day care, education, and activities such as music lessons.
If the children live with the non-custodial parent 35% of the time or more, child support payments to the custodial parent are often reduced. If the children go to live with the non-custodial parent for an extended period such as summer vacation, child support payments may be reduced during this period. When parents have a joint custody arrangement in which the children live with each parent 50% of the time, support payments are calculated differently.
How are Payments Calculated?
The courts take everything into account when deciding how much money one parent will pay the other in child support. Both parents must disclose all their income and financial obligations, including child support they may be paying or receiving from a previous marriage. Luxuries such as expensive new cars and vacation homes are not usually considered financial obligations.
The court also considers the earning capacity of each parent in calculating payments. For example, if one parent is unemployed by choice but has the mental and physical capacity to work, then the court will expect that parent to start generating income to support their children and themselves. It also means that the court doesn’t expect a parent to pay more in child support than they earn each month after vital living expenses are met.