This page talks about concerns and legal issues regarding children in a divorce case. Most of the same issues apply in paternity cases.
Concerns for the Children
If you have children they are obviously going to be affected by a divorce. While you have had a lifetime of experiences and lived without your spouse, the children have probably only known you with your spouse their entire life.
While we will obviously leave your parenting decisions to you, there is also a legal component to what happens. You can probably imagine that your spouse might try to use every negative thing (in their mind) that you do against you. They may have a different view of how you should be parenting your child. Your, and your spouse's, actions have emotional and legal consequences. It does not matter how bad you feel about your spouse, or what they may have done, it is almost always a bad idea to share those feelings with your children. The court will look unfavorably upon one parent disparaging the other party or interfering with their parenting time.
The Legal Case
The court will almost always look at what is in the “best interests of the children” in deciding issues such as custody, visitation and other issues. What you, your spouse and the judge view as the best interests of the children will likely not be the same. There is even a difference between judges as to these types of decisions.
Because custody cases are very subjective they are also very involved. In addition these cases obviously become very personal and can raise the level of discourse between you and your spouse. Furthermore, because they are so involved, they are time consuming.
Because we will be arguing on your behalf and your spouse will probably have a lawyer arguing on their behalf, the court will sometimes appoint an independent party for the children. This person is usually called a Guardian ad Litem. The Guardian ad Litem is usually an attorney that will talk between the parties and make recommendations on behalf of the children. They are almost another judge in the case and the judges rely heavily on them for advice. Furthermore, depending on the age of the children this person may be appointed as an attorney for the children, or the Guardian ad Litem may hire an attorney to represent the Guardian ad Litem (and children) in court.
In most cases, the parties come to an agreement on parenting time. This may be because the parties just work it out, or it may be because of outside factors, such as attorneys, mediators or other professionals. All agreements still require the approval of the court, although most judges will approve agreements between the parties concerning parenting time, visitation and custody. You will need to pay attention to all the parties’ concerns when it comes to scheduling, almost certainly the judge will.
The court can award sole or joint physical custody. Physical custody is generally where the child(ren) spend most of their time. In a sole custody situation the court will commonly award visitation that includes at least one night a week and every other weekend. In addition, some provision is made for holidays and vacations. If one of the parents lives far from the children, then special arrangements will have to be made, including costs of transportation. In a joint custody situation the court will award more equal time between the parties. Child support amounts are partly determined by how much time the child spends with each party.
Withholding parenting time for spite or revenge from the noncustodial parent is almost always a mistake. The court will usually frown on this unless very good cause can be shown.