The judge may give custody to one or both parents, or, in some cases, to another adult based on the best interests of the child. Considerations include the child’s health, safety and welfare, as well as any history of abuse by one parent. For custody to be awarded to someone other than a parent, however, the judge would have to believe that giving custody to either parent would be detrimental or harmful to the children.
Try to keep in mind that the actual time spent with your children may be more important than the legal terminology used to describe the arrangement. Also, the specifics of such custody orders can vary. For example, a judge who orders joint legal and physical custody may name one parent as the primary caretaker and one home as the primary residence. Or, a judge might order sole physical custody to one parent and supervised or no visitation to the other if it appears that a parent may present a threat to the child’s welfare or safety. In addition, stepparents and grandparents may be given visitation in certain circumstances. Be clear and specific in writing your parenting plan.
Law enforcement may help you enforce a custody or visitation order, if necessary. You will need a certified copy of the order. Or, if you are unable to locate your child, you may seek assistance from your local district attorney. The person violating an order could possibly, at your request, be found in contempt of court. If the other parent won’t obey the order and these suggestions don’t work, you may want to consult an attorney.
It is important, too, to remember that your custody plan can be changed if it doesn’t work. If your circumstances change, you can return to court and request a change in the parenting plan even if a temporary or permanent order has already been established.
Or, if you and the other parent can reach an agreement, you may submit it to the judge and ask for a court order. Judges often approve changes even without a hearing if you both request them.