By Robert E. Fravel, Esq.
It is not uncommon for a couple to separate after having a child, even if there was no marriage. It is also fairly common for the two parents to decide to try and “work it out outside of court” regarding the custody and care of their child. I have seen this time and time again, and it almost never works. In fact, I have yet to come across a situation where it has worked, without some degree of court intervention.
A multitude of things can happen which destroy this informal arrangement. In my experience with these situations, the downfall of the informal arrangement is usually due to one parent becoming less and less involved with the child and thus leaving all the parenting duties to the other parent. This causes a ton of animosity and quite frankly is totally unfair to both the parent and the child.
Additionally, custody is only one part of the parenting equation when it comes to parents who are separated. The other part of the equation is child support. When there is no court regulation, the financial obligation that comes with having a child can be thrown to the wayside by the non-custodial parent, leaving the custodial parent to bear the full financial burden of raising the child. Not only does this severely impact the finances of the custodial parent, but it also impacts the quality of life of the child. Child support is not simply a payment to a former partner, it is an investment in the child’s upbringing. In the most basic sense, child support payments provide for that child’s quality of life. If only one parent is financially contributing to the child’s upbringing, then in theory the child will not be provided the same opportunities it would if mom and dad were both providing.
This stressful situation can be avoided simply by obtaining a custody order and a subsequent child support order. These documents will clearly state each parent’s responsibilities with regard to when they will have custody of the child and their percentage of the financial responsibilities. Additionally, it will account for holidays and vacation time so both parents will know in advance and can plan accordingly. In many cases, this is done without a judge rendering an opinion. Once the paperwork is filed with the court, the parents and/or their attorneys, have an opportunity to come to an agreement regarding both custody and child support, that works for both parties and have said agreement entered as an official court order.
So how does one go about obtaining a custody or child support order? Each jurisdiction has different local rules, but generally speaking, it begins with a document called a complaint (for custody or support). The best way to go about obtaining a child custody and support order is by hiring a family law attorney. An experienced family law attorney can draft and file all the required documents with the court and represent you in the following court hearings. Embarking on this process without an attorney is a risky endeavor, considering the fact that your child’s future is at stake.
If you have an existing custody order or child support order that needs to be changed or adjusted for some reason, an experienced family law attorney can also help you accomplish this goal. If you think your situation requires either a custody or child support order, or calls for changes to your existing order(s), make sure you contact an experienced family law attorney.