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Child Custody | Family

What Is a Child Custody Evaluation?

8 min read
Unbundled Legal Help

by Unbundled Legal Help

Child custody proceedings are stressful and overwhelming, but even more so when parents are in different states. This raises many questions and concerns when determining what is best for the child.

Even if parents are in different states, it is still possible to create a favorable child custody agreement. 

If you’re facing a child custody case involving parents in different states, continue reading to better understand what to expect. For legal guidance, we can connect you today with a local unbundled lawyer to help get you the outcome you seek.

What Is Child Custody?

Child custody refers to guardianship and the relationship between parent and child. There are different types of custody, and depending on the situation, a judge will decide what is best for the child. 

Physical vs. Legal Custody

Physical and legal custody are two of the most important types of custody

Physical custody deals with where the child resides. When a parent has physical custody, this typically means the child lives with them in their home. Parents can share physical custody if the situation permits. 

Legal custody concerns a parent’s ability to make important life decisions for their child. When a parent has legal custody, they have the right to decide on issues including healthcare, schooling, and religious practices. Parents are also able to share legal custody.

Sole vs. Joint Custody

Custody arrangements will either give one parent sole custody of the child or both parents joint custody.

With sole custody, one parent is entirely responsible for their child. Sole custody typically involves both physical and legal custody. If a judge deems it appropriate, the other parent, the non-custodial parent, can get visitation rights.

Joint custody means both parents share custody of their children. Shared custody is the ideal situation, as it gives the child an opportunity to have the love, support, and guidance of both parents. 

Is it Possible To Get Joint Custody if Parents Live in Different States?

Yes, it is possible for parents living in different states to get joint custody of their children.

Shared custody frequently looks quite different when parents are in different states. In many cases, when both parents live in the same state, they can have a 50/50 shared custody arrangement. Sharing custody becomes challenging when the child has to travel between states. You can, however, still have joint custody, even if it’s not a perfect 50/50 split.

If the court does not grant joint custody, they may give one parent sole custody and the other parent visitation rights. 

What Factors Influence Child Custody?

A judge considers many details when deciding on a child custody arrangement. These are some factors that influence their decision:

  • The sex and age of the child
  • The relationship each parent has with the child
  • The wishes of the parents
  • The child’s wishes (if they are old enough)
  • Each parent’s ability to provide for their child
  • The possible living arrangement with each parent
  • Where each parent plans to live, and how far away they are from each other

In the end, a judge will always do what is best for the child. 

Where Do Parents File for Child Custody?

Usually, parents can agree on where to file for child custody. It is often in the state where the child primarily resides. However, in cases where parents cannot agree, the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act will come into play.

Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA)

The UCCJEA has been adopted by 49 states since 1997. The purpose of the act is to limit which states have jurisdiction over a child custody case, to limit conflicts. The UCCJEA allows for final custody decisions to be made in one state and upheld in another state. 

The act gives exclusive and continuing jurisdiction to the courts in the child’s “home state.” The home state is the state in which the child has lived for at least six consecutive months before the beginning of a child custody proceeding. If a child does not have a home state, the courts will look at the state the child has “significant connections” in and evidence concerning the child’s care and relationships. 

What To Consider when Creating a Visitation Schedule

If possible, parents can work together to come up with a feasible visitation schedule. There are certain factors to consider when deciding on the best visitation schedule for parents in different states:

  • Distance: Consider how far away parents are from each other. Perhaps the other parent is just one state over, but they may be across the country. The distance between parents is an important detail when deciding when and how long the child will stay with each parent. 
  • Mode of travel: What mode of travel is best to get the child from one parent’s house to the other—car, plane, train? Decide which parent is responsible for paying for travel costs and when. 
  • Communication: When a child is with one parent, think about the best way for them to stay in touch with the other parent. Plan out what times of the day would be best for phone calls and video chats to keep the child connected to the other parent even when they’re not together. 
  • Holidays and breaks: In many cases, it is ideal to plan visitations around the child’s school and holiday schedule. This allows both parents to get in quality time with their child without disrupting their normal schedule too much.

While parents should try to create a visitation schedule together, sometimes they cannot agree. In these situations, a judge can intervene to help create a manageable visitation schedule. 

Examples of Visitation Schedules for Parents in Different States

It’s never easy having to share custody of a child when parents live in different states. Still, creating a visitation schedule can help make the arrangement easier for everyone. 

Common visitation schedules for parents living in different states include the following:

  • The child stays with one parent throughout the school year and spends their summer vacation with the other parent.
  • The child visits the out-of-state parent one weekend a month.
  • The child stays with the out-of-state parent during their school breaks.
  • The child visits the out-of-state parent every other month for a long weekend.
  • The parents share holidays with the child and alternate holidays each year.

Creating the ideal visitation schedule can be challenging when parents live far away from each other and often involves a mixture of the above. In certain cases, parents may begin with one schedule and modify it as needs change over time.

Modifying a Child Custody Arrangement

Even if parents live in different states, they are still able to modify their child custody agreement if need be. The parent must file for a modification in the state that had original jurisdiction over the child custody proceedings. 

To modify a child custody order, you must have sufficient reason to seek the modification. This usually means one parent has violated the current custody agreement or there has been a change in circumstance, and the modification would serve the child’s best interest. 

Enforcing a Child Custody Order

If a parent violates an existing child custody agreement, either parent’s state can enforce it. For example, if mom lives in Florida and dad lives in California, either parent can enforce the order in Florida or California. 

How To Handle Long Distance Parenting

Parenting a child is never easy, but parenting long distance comes with unique challenges. When attempting to maintain the same level of relationship with your child at a distance, follow these suggestions:

  • Communicate frequently: Whether it be phone calls, texting, or video chatting, it is important to remain in communication with your child. Communicating with them every day allows you both to feel connected.
  • Remain involved in your child’s life: It is difficult to be thoroughly involved in your child’s life when you are not physically present. Make the extra effort to show them the support, interest, and guidance they need.
  • Plan visits as often as possible: Phone calls and video chats will never replace face-to-face contact. Plan visits with your child as frequently as possible. If they are not able to visit you, you may also consider taking a trip to visit them if you are able.
  • Try to communicate with the other parent: It may be hard to effectively communicate with the other parent, but it is always worth trying. Communicating with your child’s other parent gives you the opportunity to better understand what’s going on in your child’s life and also lets you make important decisions regarding your child’s upbringing together. 

Long-distance parenting comes with obstacles, but your child will appreciate the efforts made toward promoting a close, healthy relationship, no matter the distance. 

An Unbundled Lawyer Can Help

Handling child custody for parents in different states can be difficult to navigate. An unbundled lawyer can provide the assistance you need.

An unbundled lawyer is like any other lawyer, except, unlike a traditional lawyer, you only pay for the services you need. If you can handle your case, but need limited guidance, an unbundled lawyer allows you to get legal help while keeping your costs low.

Unbundled Legal Help can connect you today with a local unbundled lawyer. We believe everyone should have access to high-quality legal help when they need it most. 

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