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Are You Getting Divorced?

Top 7 Must-know Child Custody Agreement Terms

Are you getting a divorce or thinking about getting divorced? If you have children, one of your main concerns is probably the welfare and well-being of your children during this difficult time. The legal custody process can be overwhelming.

The terminology of child custody cases can be new and even confusing to parents, but it’s important for you to be familiar with these key child custody terms so that you can better understand the process and how to negotiate certain points in your child custody agreement.

Here are some important legal child custody terms you should be familiar with:

Physical Custody

  • Physical custody refers to where the children live the majority of the time. Physical custody can be designated as “primary care” with one parent (Custodial Parent and the other parent is considered the Noncustodial Parent) or “joint physical custody” [a.k.a. “shared care”] where neither parent has primary care and custody of the child is divided between both parents, close to, but not necessarily “50-50.”

Legal Custody

  • Legal custody refers to which parent has the authority to make legal decisions on the child’s behalf. Legal custody can be “joint” with either parent having a say in the legal decisions or “sole” where one parent is responsible for legal decisions for the children.

  • Visitation [a.k.a. “Alternate Care”]

  • Child visitation refers to the time the Noncustodial Parent (parent without primary physical custody) is allowed to see his or her children on a regular basis. In some cases visitation may be supervised.

  • Visitation Schedule / Visitation Arrangements [a.k.a. “Alternate Care Schedule”]

  • Visitation schedule and arrangements refers to the schedule of when the parent without physical custody is allowed to visit the children. In addition to the visitation schedule, it’s important that you have arrangements identified and clearly spelled out to facilitate the visitation schedule (for instance, clearly identifying who is responsible for transportation to and from the children’s primary residence).

Temporary Matters Hearing

  • Temporary Matters Hearing is a hearing that can be requested early in a divorce action to provide an order regarding Custody, Visitation and Support (including alimony and child support costs) while the divorce case is pending.

Stipulation of Settlement

  • A final agreement as to all contested issues in the child custody arrangements case.

Modification Action

  • A case that follows a divorce or custody case to amend or change the original action’s outcome resulting from a trial or by agreement.

There is a common misperception that every divorce or child custody case goes to a trial. In fact, most cases are resolved in the months between a trial date being set and that date arriving without ever seeing a judge or courtroom. In every child custody case you have the option to negotiate through an adversarial process (trial) or alternative dispute resolution, such as mediation (which in many counties is required) or simply coming to an agreement outside the court and without a mediator. Trials are sometimes necessary but are very costly and are almost always an emotional burden on parents and children.

When you’re selecting a divorce or child custody attorney, it’s important that you find an experienced trial lawyer. Most divorce and child suport attorneys make efforts to avoid trial if at all reasonably possible by reaching an agreement with your soon-to-be ex-spouse. Coming to an amicable agreement between spouses is not only good for your parenting relationship, it’s also better for your children’s benefit.

Even if your divorce and child custody arrangements are agreeable, negotiating the terms of any agreement (Stipulation of Settlement) and resulting order from the Court (Decree) is important to ensure consistency and stability for the child(ren). Because every child custody case is different, your attorney will be able to walk you through all the details and specifics of your particular situation.

Thomas J. Viner is an attorney and owner of Viner Law Firm PC,, in Cedar Rapids, IA. Tom has over eight years’ experience as an attorney who handles OWI and DUI as well as many other types of civil and criminal cases.

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