One of the hardest things to deal with at the end of a marriage is the impact that the divorce will have on any minor children. Even under the best of circumstances, there will be the need for both the custodial and non-custodial parent to understand the nature of their continuing responsibilities to any children they share. The legal aspects of this responsibility are defined by child custody laws in each state.
While the ethical responsibility they continue to share in regard to the well being of the offspring may be clear, the task of understanding the applicable child custody laws and the legal conditions that are now part of the picture may be difficult. Keeping the children's best interests in mind, it is important to learn as much as possible about how these laws affect you and your ex. Here are a few tips to help you get information if you have agreed to a shared-parenting relationship.
- Court of jurisdiction. The court of jurisdiction is the first resource you should consult. There is a great deal of difference between the child custody rights and laws in one state versus another state. As an example, a non-custodial parent may be able to have a warrant sworn out for a custodial parent who is not complying with court ordered visitation. In another state, the non-custodial parent may have to file suit. The same is true when it comes to child support payments. Some courts of jurisdiction make it possible to pick up the deadbeat parent immediately, while states in other laws may lead to months before an errant parent can be help accountable for non-payment. Know the laws that apply to your situation.
- When moving. Keep in mind that if the custodial parent moves to another state and takes the child along, the court of jurisdiction does not automatically change custody rights to that state. It can be shifted at the request and with the approval of both parents. So even if the child support arrangements were set up in Massachusetts and the custodial parent now is a resident of Florida, Massachusetts family law still holds sway.
- Seek support. Accessing to the child custody laws that apply is just your first step. If you are having trouble understanding the legal languages of the laws, there are several support groups that can help you get a better grasp. The Children's Rights Council has a presence in every state in the country. Often, attorneys donate time to help CRC members understand their rights and responsibilities as parents. There are also single mother and single father parenting support groups available.
- Internet. Use the Internet to find out more information about how the child custody laws in the state of jurisdiction have been applied in the past. This can give you an idea of what could happen, given similar circumstances, as well as give you some ideas of what type of recourse you may need to consider if your former spouse is not complying with the legal custody and visitation program that was established by the court.
- Whatever you don't understand, ask. You never know when some fine point of law may become very relevant to your continued relationship with your child. You may have to do some digging in order to find these examples, but your time will be well worth it. Keep in mind that ignorance of a particular law or statute is never a valid legal defense.
Hopefully, both parents can work together to make sure their children are loved and properly taken care of, even if they can no longer live under the same roof. Many divorced couples do manage to make the situation work. Knowing your legal rights and obligations is essential.