What Are Common Challenges in Complex Child Custody Cases?
Even when parents cooperate, establishing child custody is often one of the hardest parts of separating from your partner. When parents disagree on what is best for their children, disputes can quickly turn into complex child custody cases. Challenges often arise in these cases when parents do not cooperate, one parent wants to relocate, or there is a history of abuse or neglect.
At the Mills & Anderson Law Group, we understand that your children come first. We have decades of combined family law experience and deep Nevada roots. Our compassionate attorneys use aggressive and innovative legal strategies to fight for what matters most to you.
Core Principles of Child Custody
Parental rights fall into two custodial categories: Legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody entitles a parent to make important decisions about a child’s life, while physical custody determines where the child primarily resides. Parents can share both types of custody equally, but it is not uncommon for one parent to have primary physical custody, becoming the custodial parent, while the parents share joint legal custody.
At the heart of child custody disputes is one underlying principle: the child’s best interests are paramount. Yet, the law acknowledges the importance of the parent-child relationship. Custody arrangements should, to the extent possible:
- Ensure children have regular contact and a continuing relationship with both parents;
- Encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities of caring for children; and
- Establish that both parents have an equivalent obligation to provide for their children.
Generally, the court presumes joint custody is in the best interests of the child. However, what is best for your child is often more complex than a legal presumption.
Inability to Agree or Cooperate
One of the most difficult child custody issues is parents who cannot or will not cooperate. This issue can take many forms. If you cannot agree on even basic issues, the Court will be forced to make decisions for you. Involving the Court in day-to-day decisions can become very time-consuming and costly, and at least one parent is always disappointed with the result. Although the court is sometimes your only option, involving the Court in unnecessary conflict may risk doing more harm than good in the long term.
Options to Avoid Court
When couples cannot work together or communicate effectively, their lawyers can work on their behalf to minimize face-to-face interaction and potential conflict. Parties to a custody action also have the option of participating in mediation, where you can talk through custodial issues with a neutral third party.
Designing Your Custody Agreement
Your custody agreement can also be designed to mitigate conflict between the parents. You may arrange, for example:
- Supervised custody exchanges;
- Custody exchanges at a neutral location; or
- Details on how and when parents should communicate, including what must be communicated to the other parent.
Interfering with the other parent’s time with the child can result in a judge holding you in contempt, and in extreme cases restricting your custodial time with your children. Incorporating ways to avoid conflict into your custody arrangement can be a powerful way to protect yourself and your children.
Another common issue arises when one parent wants to relocate out of state with the children. If the custodial parent wants to bring the child, they must first seek the other parent’s consent. If the non-custodial parent does not consent, the custodial parent can request permission to relocate from the court.
The court considers the relocating parent’s reasons and whether relocation is in the child’s best interests, including weighing how the move will affect the child’s relationship with the other parent. If the court grants relocation permission, it will modify other aspects of the custody agreement to preserve the child’s relationship with the non-relocating parent.
A History of Neglect or Abuse
When one parent has a history of domestic violence against the other parent, the child, or another household member, the usual presumption favoring joint custody no longer applies. Instead, the law presumes placing the child in the abusive parent’s custody is not in their best interests. The court can conclude based on the evidence it is provided that domestic violence occurred regardless of whether the abusive parent was ever arrested or convicted of a crime
The same presumption applies to parents who have abducted or attempted to abduct any child. Neglecting the child or any of the child’s siblings weighs against awarding the neglectful parent with custody but it does not create the same legal presumption against custodial placement.
In circumstances where the facts support it, the presumption that custody is not in the child’s best interests may apply to both parents. This can result in Child Protective Services (CPS) getting involved in the case, often creating some of the most complex child custody cases. Although CPS intervention can be in the child’s best interests, we work with our clients to minimize the chances of CPS stepping in on a case unless absolutely necessary.
Several other issues can introduce unique challenges in custody disputes.
Although frustrating, one parent refusing to pay or falling behind on child support does not justify refusing to follow the established custody arrangement. If you are struggling with child support, you can seek court enforcement or modification of your custody or support agreements.
If one parent is incarcerated, you may temporarily modify your custody arrangement. If the arrest is related to harm to the other parent or the child, you may permanently modify your agreement and seek a protective order.
The law makes several provisions related to custody for deployed parents. When possible, you usually decide how custody will work during deployment beforehand.
Regardless of the relationship between a child and a step-parent, shifting family dynamics can make for more complicated cases.
Health of the Parents and Children
A parent’s health can greatly impact their ability to care for their children, and some children require levels of care that may be difficult for a single parent to provide. Chronic health conditions often introduce complexity to custody cases.
Custody is also, naturally, complicated when there are questions regarding paternity. Although potential fathers may deny paternity, some embrace parenthood with open arms. Establishing custody for a father the child has never known can be a complicated process.
Help with Child Custody Cases
Sometimes, determining what is best for your child is not easy. Sometimes, you have to fight for it. If you need help working out a plan, working with a reluctant partner, or fighting to protect your child, contact the Mills & Anderson Law Group today.