Child custody cases are highly stressful events for all parties. Rarely do these cases resolve quickly and with no drama - if the parties were in agreement as to the purported custody arrangement, a case would not be filed in the first place. A petition for child custody is generally filed by one of the parents, arguing that the other party is either wholly unfit to care for the child and sole legal custody should be granted to the petitioner, or arguing some other arrangement should be court ordered. Another option is to grant joint legal custody, but sole physical custody to one party, often the parent who took more of a dominant caretaker role prior to the filing of the petition. Regardless of the circumstances in each particular case, the underlying goal of every judge in every court is to ensure the best interests of the child are met as much as possible.
After a petition for custody is filed, the opposing party (the respondent) will then file an answer to the petition, setting out what he or she disagrees with in the petition and what legal and visitation rights that party is seeking with the child or children. The petitioner will then often seek a hearing on temporary matters, asking the court to rule on certain matters in a relatively quick timeframe. The entire case may be quite lengthy, so the importance of having issues resolved for the stability of the child at the beginning of the process is often necessary. At this hearing, the parties may agree to certain matters, such a sole physical custody with the petitioner during the pendency of the proceeding so as not to disrupt the child's life until the case is over. The respondent will still have visitation rights during the proceeding, barring an exeptional circumstance such as the court finding that the party poses a danger to the children.
For the next step in the child custody process, please see next Tuesday's blog on this website.