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When a couple has decided to get a divorce and there are children involved, the court which holds the divorce proceedings will also make a ruling on which parent receives custody of the children. The parents of a child born during a marriage have equal right to care for and see that child unless there are some circumstances in which one of the parents is found to be unfit (this can occur is cases where drug or alcohol abuse take place) or there is involvement in activity that could possibly put the child in danger. Although the parents may each have a right the child, there are many levels of custody that the courts may decide to grant.

Deciding what happens to the children

Laws for child custody are state laws and therefore they vary greatly from state to state. In the eyes of the law, a child is considered to be any individual that is under the age of 18. The custody decision or ruling is called a custody determination. In some cases, custody of the child is given to neither parent but a person acting as a parent, such as a relative or a foster parent.


If the parents live in different states or have traveled a lot with the child, it can be tricky to know which state's laws apply to the case. Generally it is the home state of the child during the proceedings that will take precedence. Some states look at how long the child has lived in the state, or which state the child has lived in for the previous 6 months. Again, each state has it's own regulations, so check with your state's laws.

Enforcing Child Support

The Child Support Enforcement Act of 1975 was created so that each child is guaranteed the financial support of two parents, despite how the custody is split. It involves money being set aside for the child to help cover the expenses of raising a child. The money from a parent is often itself referred to as “Child Support”. The enforcement act also makes it possible to locate the non-custodial parent if need be. First, if necessary, paternity is secured; making sure that the individual is indeed the parent. The courts then order that money be sent to the child or the custodial parent for the child. If it is necessary, some state governments will order that the amount that must be paid be taken directly out of the person's paycheck.

Levels of Custody

There are different levels of custody that a person can be granted. Legal custody is where the parent has a right to make decisions about the child and the child's life. Without legal custody a parent as no say in the school the child will attend, what activities they will participate in and how they are cared for, including health issues. Physical custody is where the parent has the right to have the child live with him or her. Sole custody is where one parent has both physical and legal custody. This includes visitation rights. Having shared or join custody means that both parents share in the physical and legal custody, both caring for the child in their home and making decisions.

By Jeanne Rongitsch           


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