Child custody is a broad topic that covers a wide array of family law. For example, when a parent to a child says they are going to “put child support” on the other parent, they are actually going to get involved in a case that must involve custody and visitation, as well. This situation, and the sometimes negative results, is something I see far too often when it comes to people that have received court orders through the mechanisms set up by the Attorney General.
When a couple shares a child or children, and then get separated, inevitably orders should get entered related to that child or children and the couple. The basics are as follows: one parent gets “custody,” the other parent gets a” visitation schedule,” and that parent with the visitation schedule gets ordered to pay child support to the parent with custody. But, that leaves a lot of the equation out. For one, when someone applies for child support through the Attorney General, there is an automatic assumption that that parent is already acting as the custodial parent. The form actually starts with one parent being considered the custodial parent and one parent being considered the non-custodial parent.
Also, rarely spoken about is important parental rights and duties that can get trampled on when someone tries to navigate the system without an attorney, or when someone just signs something, thinking they are just agreeing to pay child support. All too often, an order through the Attorney General does not include a full listing of parental rights for the non-custodial parent. Also, the Attorney General’s order may not include any sort of residency restriction on the custodial parent. This is just to list the top two issues I see. So, a client comes in to me, wanting to know why he or she cannot fight for custody, and I have to tell them that the reality is they just signed an order, agreeing to the opposite. Or, they come to me, saying they need to file for custody, and I end up learning that there has been an order in existence for two years through the Attorney General that allows very little access to this potential client.
Now, we aren’t talking about a new custody case, but a modification case, which can be more difficult to successfully litigate. Speaking of having little access, this is another area of problem that I often see with clients that have done orders through the Attorney General’s office. These pre-populated orders do not actually have the sufficient language or boxes to check to correctly reflect exactly the different types of visitation that are available to a parent.
So, a parent ends up getting visitation on the first, third and fifth weekend from 6:00 p.m. on Friday until 6:00 p.m. on Sunday, when they could have potentially had from the time school dismisses on Thursday until the following Monday when school resumes. This effectively doubles the amount of time a non-custodial parent can spend with their child. In the end, the role the Attorney General plays as it pertains to family law is essential. They make sure that parents are receiving much needed child support, and that parents who do not pay are held accountable. The warning here is more toward the parent that wants to be a part of his or her child’s life, the parent that would willingly pay child support or the parent that truly wants to fight for custody: either know your rights and make sure to assert them or hire an attorney who can assert them for you.