Legal Issues Facing Single Moms

Children, Divorce, Family/Kids

Types of Child Custody: Physical and Legal

The court considers the “best interests of the child” when it comes to matters of custody and visitation, and these are decided on a case-by-case basis. It’s important to know that there are different kinds of child custody:

Physical custody refers to where the child lives. It can be shared (joint) or primary (sole). In the case of primary custody, the parent with whom the child doesn’t live (the noncustodial parent) is usually granted visitation rights.

Legal custody is separate from physical custody; it has to do with who is in charge of the child’s upbringing. The person with legal custody makes decisions on schooling, healthcare, housing, religious upbringing, and more. It’s possible, and not uncommon, for one parent to have sole physical custody but for both parents to share joint legal custody. A parent with joint legal custody who makes major decisions without involving their ex can be found in contempt of court.

The custody agreement should be examined before a parent decides to take a child out of state or out of the country. Depending on the agreement, written consent from the other parent may suffice, or it might be necessary to obtain the court’s approval. Moving out of state with the child will also require the court’s approval.

Visitation Rights for Parents and Grandparents

For visitation, it’s best if both parents can work out a reasonable visitation schedule. If the court approves it, it becomes an enforceable court order. The court can create a fixed visitation schedule – detailing times and places – if the couple cannot come to an arrangement on their own.

States also vary when it comes to visitation rights of grandparents, stepparents, and other adults in the child’s life. Unless there is a good reason to keep the grandparents from the child, the court will usually grant some kind of visitation.

Child Support and Its Enforcement

Child support is determined by state regulations according to a formula taking into account the parents’ incomes and the cost of childcare. It is a federal crime for a parent to withhold child support for more than a year or to owe more than $5,000.

If the father is not paying child support as he should, the first step to enforcing the child support order is to establish paternity. This can be done with a DNA test or through an acknowledgement of the father in a written admission. From here, the parent can be held in contempt of court and imprisoned for a short period or possibly have wages confiscated. The father must show the court that a change in his circumstances has made him unable to pay; otherwise he is still responsible for paying.

Changing Names: Yours and Your Child’s

Many women choose to go back to their maiden names as they divorce, simply making it part of the divorce decree. After the divorce, a name change is done by filing a petition at the courthouse and paying the fee. The divorce degree or court order of the name change should then be used to get a new driver’s license, Social Security card, and passport. Credit card and utility companies should also be notified of the change.

A parent can petition to change their child’s name. There are many reasons to change a child’s name: maybe they have their father’s name but don’t see him much, or maybe there are fears for the child’s safety because of issues of domestic abuse. The court will approve a petition for the name change only if it serves the “best interests of the child.” If the other parent objects, it may be difficult or impossible to get the name changed. A hyphenated name, incorporating both parents’ last names, is easier to get approved.

Laws vary greatly by state, so you may consider hiring an attorney in your area for advice if you’re dealing with one of these issues.