Child Custody

When children are thrust into the middle of adult problems—like divorce—unless they are older, they generally have little say in custody agreements. In the state of Idaho, there are a number of custody and parenting time arrangement possibilities. The arrangement should ideally be based on the best interests of the children, and while in theory most all parents do want the best for their children, in practice, achieving this result can be difficult when parents are locked in a contentious or emotional divorce battle.

It is important for parents to remember that should they be unable to arrive at a mutually acceptable custody agreement the Idaho courts are likely to step in and make the decision for them. Further, absent evidence to the contrary (drug use, alcoholism, abuse or neglect of the children or abuse of the other parent) an Idaho judge will assume each parent is equally capable of child-rearing and equally invested in the children’s best interests.

How the State of Idaho Views Child Custody and Visitation

The goal of a child custody decision is to take away the “winning” and “losing” mentality of the parents and develop a workable parenting plan which allows the children to spend time with each parent, as well as allowing the parents to share the many responsibilities of child-rearing. Idaho law—like many state laws regarding child custody and visitation—is meant to ensure that each minor child has frequent, continuing contact with both parents. The parenting plan is also meant to encourage parents to (peacefully) share child-rearing responsibilities.

A successful parenting plan will be determined by the level of responsibility each parent is willing and able to provide as well as the time constraints of each parent. In other words, a parent whose job requires that he or she travel frequently, may not be awarded primary physical custody of the children, assuming the other parent’s job does not require frequent travel, but may be awarded liberal visitation and joint legal custody. Legal custody refers to the decisions made regarding the health, education and religion of the children. A parent may have joint legal custody and primary physical custody, primary legal custody and joint physical custody, or no legal custody, and visitation.

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Factors Taken Into Consideration When Determining Idaho Custody

If it is left up to an Idaho court to determine which parent will be the designated primary residential parent, the judge will likely consider the following:

  • Whether each parent is likely to allow the other parent to have continued contact with the children.
  • The emotional bonds between each parent and the children. (If one parent was frequently away from home due to their job duties, while the other parent stayed at home, there could (but not always) be a stronger bond between the stay-at-home parent and the children.
  • The ability of each parent to provide basic physical and emotional necessities.
  • Whether the home environment the children are currently in appears to be the most stable for the future.
  • The “proposed” home which will be provided to the children by each parent following the divorce.
  • The emotional, mental and physical health of each parent.
  • Whether either parent intends to relocate following the divorce.
  • Any history of child abuse or neglect or domestic violence.
  • Whether parental responsibilities are often conducted by a grandparent, caregiver or babysitter.
  • The historical parenting tasks of each parent.
  • The level of knowledge on the part of each parent regarding the school and medical information of the children, and even the children’s likes and dislikes.
  • The financial and emotional ability of each parent to provide a stable home life for the children.

The Parenting Plan

At a minimum, the parenting plan will describe how daily parenting tasks will be shared by the parents. The parenting plan should detail where the children will spend all major holidays, along with their own birthdays, and possibly even the parents’ birthdays, as well as how the children will communicate with the parent they are not physically with, at any given time. Parenting plans typically describe such things as which parent will take the children to the doctor, and which parent will attend which school functions—or if both will attend.

Pick-ups and drop-off methods and places will be detailed, as well as whether the children will attend church, and if so, which church, with which parent, at what times. As you can see, the parenting plan must at least attempt to anticipate any eventuality, or you may find yourself returning to court on a regular basis to make necessary changes.

Time and Money are Separate Issues in Determining Child Visitation

Many parents who receive—or pay—court-ordered child support payments are under the mistaken belief that child support is directly tied to visitation. Then, when the parent with primary physical custody denies visitation for one reason or another, the parent paying child support may decide to withhold that support until he or she is allowed to see the children. In fact, visitation and child support are two completely separate issues. The parent receiving child support is not allowed to deny visitation when the child support check is late—or even when it does not arrive at all.

Not only have numerous studies shown that children benefit from spending regular time with each parent, it has also been shown that parents who are allowed to spend regular time with their children are more likely to keep up with their child support obligations. If the parent responsible for paying child support stops making those payments, then there are legal channels which must be followed in order to force the parent to pay. In the meantime, however, the non-paying parent is still entitled to whatever visitation arrangement was decided during the divorce, and a parent who denies visitation based on the absence of child support may find himself or herself in trouble with the court.

If you are in the middle of a child custody dispute, it is important to at least try to step back and ask yourself whether you are fighting for the good of your children, or whether you are using custody issues to retaliate against your ex for other issues. Divorce does not have to destroy the children, so long as both parents remain committed to the best interests of the children. Your Idaho family law attorney can help decide what is in the best interests of the children, then can assist you in reaching a mutually-agreeable child custody decision.

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