Child custody and parenting time

When you separate from your child’s other parent, you need a parenting plan. Sometimes parents can agree to a parenting plan. Other times they need the help of the court to come up with a plan.

What is a parenting plan?

Parenting plans have orders about child custody and parenting time, also called visitation. Your parenting plan should describe:

  • How to care for your children
  • Where they will live
  • When they will see each parent
Parenting plans must be in the best interest of your children.

Until you have a court order, both parents have the same rights. This means that both of you can make decisions about your children. No parent has any more rights to have the children in their care than the other.  

If you or your child have been abused by the other parent, 

special laws apply to your case.
 

Child custody

Child custody refers to the rights and responsibilities of the parents for taking care of the children. There are two types: 

  • Legal custody: who makes important decisions for your children (like health care, education, welfare). 

  • Physical custody: who your children live with most of the time. 

Legal and physical custody can be shared (joint) or only to one parent (sole)

Joint legal custody: both parents share the rights and responsibilities for making important decisions about the children. 

Sole legal custody: only one parent has this right and responsibility. 

  • ExampleS of important decisions
    • School or childcare 
    • Religious activities  
    • Psychiatric, psychological, or other mental health counseling or therapy needs 
    • Doctor, dentist, orthodontist, or other medical care (except in emergency situations) 
    • Sports, summer camp, vacation, or extracurricular activities 
    • Travel 

Parenting time

Types of parenting time orders

Parenting time (or visitation) can be open, with a schedule, supervised, or none. There are 4 main types of parenting time orders: 

With a schedule

Often, it helps parents and children to have a set schedule with the dates and times that the children will be with each parent. The schedule can include holidays, special occasions (like birthdays, mother's day, father's day, and other important dates for the family), and vacations. 

Reasonable

These orders are open-ended. They allow the parents to work it out between them. This type of plan can work if parents get along very well, can be flexible, and communicate well. But, if you disagree, not having a set schedule can create problems. 

Supervised

This is used when there are concerns about the children’s safety and well-being. The visits with the other parent are supervised by you, another adult, or a professional agency. It is sometimes used when a child and a parent need time to become more familiar with each other, like if a parent has not seen their child in a long time and both need to slowly get to know each other again. Find more information on supervised visitation

No visitation

It is used when visiting with a parent, even if supervised, would be physically or emotionally harmful to the children.  

Determining what's in the best interest of your child

If you and the other parent can't agree on a parenting plan, then you will have to ask a judge to decide. To decide what is best for a child, the judge considers: 

  • The age and health of the child

  • The emotional ties between the parents and the child

  • The child’s ties to school, home, and their community

  • The ability of each parent to care for the child

  • Any history of family violence 

  • Any regular and ongoing substance abuse by either parent

Then, the judge decides based on what's in the best interest of your child.