Child custody laws in the United States
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Child custody and guardianship are legal terms which are sometimes used to describe the legal and practical relationship between a parent and his or her child, such as the right of the parent to make decisions for the child, and the parent's duty to care for the child. Following ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in most countries, terms such as "custody" and "access" (known as "visitation" in the United States) have been superseded by the concepts of "residence" and "contact". Instead of a parent having "custody" of or "access" to a child, a child is now said to "reside" or have "contact" with a parent. For a discussion of the new international standards, see parental responsibility.
Residence and contact issues typically arise in proceedings involving dissolution of marriage, annulment and other legal proceedings where children may be involved. In most jurisdictions the issue of which parent the child will reside with is determined in accordance with the best interests of the child standard, but only after the proper fundamental right afforded to biological parent's has been disproven or shown to be inaccurate.
Family law proceedings which involve issues of residence and contact often generate the most acrimonious disputes. It is not uncommon for one parent to accuse the other of trying to "turn" the child(ren) against him or her, allege some form of emotional, physical, or even sexual abuse by the other parent, or for the "residence" parent to disrupt the other parent's contact or communication with the child(ren). Cases of parents removing children from the jurisdiction in violation of court orders, so as to frustrate the other parent's contact with the children, are not unusual.
Courts and legal professionals are beginning to use the term parenting schedule instead of custody and visitation. The new terminology eliminates the distinction between custodial and noncustodial parents, and also attempts to build upon the so-called best interests of the children by crafting schedules that meet the developmental needs of the children. For example, small children need shorter, more frequent time with parents, whereas older children and teenagers can tolerate and may demand less frequent shifts, but longer blocks of time with each parent.
In Troxel v. Granville (2000), the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that a biological parent holds a fundamental right in choosing how to raise one's children as they see fit. Later in the case of In re O'Donnell-Lamont (2004), the court affirmed an Oregon statute requiring a presumption the parent acts in the child's best interests to be met prior to applying the best interests of the child standard, placing both parties on equal footing. Likewise, the court upheld the requirement set forth mandating a child-parent relationship or long-term personal relationship existed between the child and non-blood related intervenor under the concept of the fundamental right of the parent. The court noted that the issue in itself allowed for an intervener with a legitimate purpose to come forth, and through the statute's requirement of first showing the relationship, second showing the rebuttal of the presumption, and finally judging the choice on the best interest of the child standard, the fundamental right of the parent was being given proper Due Process Requirements under the 14th Amendment Due Process Clause.
New York State
Where there are children of the marriage residing in New York State and under the age of 18, a demand for custody is mandatory in divorce actions. Whether the parents are divorced or just separated one parent cannot demand the child stays between the parents. Where the children reside outside New York State custody may not be determined, except in some instances by stipulation. Custody may not be awarded to a person other than the father or mother, except under unusual circumstances which require a hearing. Children under the age of 18 must be supported by both parents to the extent that they are able to support the children under the provisions of the Child Support Standards Act.
Since the 1970s the divorce laws in most western nations recognized fathers as real parents and both parents are financially responsible, was the emergence of custody battles. Before the 1970s child custody battles were almost unheard of in the United States.
See paternity for discussion of judicial recognition of affiliation which may be necessary before custody or support may be determined.
Military parents and child custody
In the 21st century, a new body of case law for custody of children in military families is developing as a result of more frequent deployments of both mothers and fathers on active duty, and dual-career military couples.
- Bergeron v. Bergeron
- Child abduction
- Child advocacy
- Child support
- Family law
- Fathers' rights
- Men's rights
- Parenting plan
- Parental Alienation Syndrome
- Shared parenting
- Men are 15% of custodial parents in 2002, unchanged since 1994 - 15% is deception - you can't take a stat that 85% of custody goes to sole mothers and subtract from 100% to get fathers. The 15% includes joint custody by fathers. The real data shows that less than 5% of custody decisions go to sole custody by fathers. - the linked report is a distortion of statistics gathered from the U.S. Census Bureau
- While 40% of children whose fathers live outside the home have no contact with their father, the other 60% had contact an average of 69 days in the last year. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
- Children raised by divorced parents score lower on average than children with continuously married parents on measures of academic success, conduct, psychological adjustment, social competence, and long-term health outcomes. Nevertheless, the great majority of children from divorced families do well, and the differences in well-being between children from divorced families and those from intact families tend to be moderate to small. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
- Of the 12 million one-parent family, 10 million are maintained by women (group excludes remarriage) (cf. p.8). U.S. Census Bureau
- 87% of mothers and 73% of fathers reported that they hugged their children or showed them physical affection at least once a day. Similarly high percentages reported telling their children daily that they love them (cf Parenting). U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
- Alliance for Non-Custodial Parents Rights National organization offering many valuable resources for non-custodial parents.
- MassLegalHelp.org Explains Massachusetts civil law in plain language.
- Fathers & Families A Massachusetts-based advocate for shared parenting.
- Hague Convention
- LII - US legal sources on Child Custody
- Divorce Effects on Children
- A German site, but in English, on child abduction
- The American Coalition for Fathers and Children (ACFC)—Largest member supported shared parenting organization in the USA
- The Children's Rights Council Founded in 1985, instrumental in raising awareness of the importance of keeping both parents in a child's life
- News articles