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The Basics

First, it is important to know that child custody laws vary from state to state, although they are tending toward the same philosophical underpinnings, chief of which is the best interests of the child. Your state may first require each party to submit a parenting plan, which should address issues such as the physical logistics (geographical location, school, transportation, parenting time, etc.) and legal aspects (who makes decisions, who can authorize health care choices, etc.). If both parties submit reasonable, amenable plans, the court may simply grant the request. If no plans are submitted, only one plan is submitted, or unreasonable plans are submitted, the court can impose its own plan.

The court's decision is intended to minimize conflict between the parents and provide a safe, healthy environment for the child. As a result, most courts favor joint custody (custody refers to the decision-making aspect of the arrangement, as well as the physical aspect of who the children live with) and shared visitation (also known as parenting time, which isthe calendar that regulates actual physical time spent with each parent). Sole custody is typically only granted when one of the parents is a threat to the child due to mental illness, a history of violence, known addictions, a felony record or other inappropriate behavior. There can be many variations on custody and visitation orders.

Child support is usually statutory, so there is no need to fear the wild urban legends that abound about one party getting a bad deal. "Statutory" means that a strict child support formula is laid out in your state's statutes, and the court will not allow you to deviate from the formula unless there is some extremely compelling reason. This ensures that each couple is treated fairly and that there is parity between all people in this situation, so you can rest assured that you will get a fair deal—as fair as laws can create.

Child Custody Documents

If you have the child's best interests at heart, your best chances for getting what you want are to cooperate with your soon-to-be ex-spouse to the greatest extent possible. The court favors cooperative, collaborative approaches. If you equip yourself with the proper legal forms, you may be able to negotiate a positive agreement with the other parent without involving an attorney, although it's always best to have an attorney review your final plan before submitting it to the court.

Here are some legal forms—free for your use—to ease your mind and help you navigate this difficult life transition. The Divorce Settlement Agreement will give you and your spouse a springboard for discussion. Use it to ensure that you cover every possible detail, even things you haven't thought of.

You may also find some of our other forms useful. For example, if there are going to be any changes to who is authorized to pick up a child at school or day care, you can use our Child Care Authorization form. The Power of Attorney for Child form gives temporary authority to another caretaker to make certain decisions for the child. You can also browse through our other available forms to give you some ideas on how to proceed. Being armed with information may mitigate your anxiety around this subject.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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