Child Custody Matters Can Be the Most Challenging Element of a Divorce
Common child custody issues and how to address them is our blog topic for this month. Once spouses with children take the initial steps toward divorce, agreeing on custody becomes the next, and most challenging, step. Unlike the terms of a divorce settlement agreement, child custody arrangements aren’t usually once-and-done. Custody modifications often come when parents move, change jobs, get re-married, and more. Regardless of how often, or if, you modify a child custody agreement, ultimately, it needs to focus on the child’s best interest. Some common child custody issues faced by divorcing parents include:
- Deciding on the type of custody arrangement
- Agreeing on visitation terms
- Understanding child support requirements
- Knowing how child custody affects tax returns
Decide What Type of Custody Works for Both Parents and All Children
When deciding between custody options, parents have to consider several factors, which all have an impact on the custody agreement. Each child’s age and wishes need to be measured against the child’s best interests and each parent’s ability to provide caretaking responsibilities. If a child is post-pubescent or demonstrates emotional maturity, that child often chooses the primary residence and visitation parameters. The types of custody arrangements that parents need to consider include legal vs. physical custody and joint vs. sole physical custody.
Legal Custody Vs. Physical Custody
Legal custody and physical custody don’t mean the same thing. Legal custody outlines the rights regarding decisions about the child’s specific needs. Many times, legal custody is awarded to both parents, regardless of physical custody. Courts usually award physical custody based on the child’s primary residence and school enrollment. The two most common types of physical custody include joint physical custody and sole physical custody.
Joint Physical Custody Vs. Sole Physical Custody
Joint physical custody arrangements involve the child residing equally with both parents. This requires a lot of cooperation between the parents, so courts tend not to order joint physical custody. However, joint physical custody often works if both parents can concertedly make decisions in the child’s best interest. Most of the time, physical custody goes to one parent, ordered as sole physical custody. Sole physical custody involves the child residing with one parent and having visitation arrangements with the other parent.
Try to Include Visitation Arrangements in Child Custody Agreements
If one parent has sole physical custody, visitation arrangements for the other parent usually need outlined in the custody agreement. There’s no “one-size-fits-all” visitation schedule. Some visitation agreements include overnight stays every other weekend or one weeknight visit and one overnight stay per week. Other arrangements might include a lengthy summer visitation — maybe two to six weeks. Often, visitation agreements include alternating holidays and carving out an opportunity to celebrate the child’s birthday. Whatever the visitation agreement, it should establish a regular schedule that works for the entire family. The visitation schedule should also allow each parent a small amount of flexibility.
Custody and Child Support Depend on the Filing State’s Requirements
Child support is an ongoing, periodic payment for the financial benefit of a child. Generally speaking, the parent with whom the child primarily resides receives the child support payment from the other parent. In most cases, parents pay child support until the child turns 18. Requirements for child support depend on the state in which the divorce was filed.
West Virginia Child Support Requirements
In West Virginia, both parents are legally responsible for the financial provision of each child, regardless of custody. The number of children and the parents’ combined incomes determine the amount of child support. The paying parent doesn’t pay the total child support calculated under state guidelines, though. According to WV Code §48-13-201, each parent must pay a percentage of the total amount, proportionate to their respective incomes. Therefore, the parent with the higher income pays the higher percentage. This also applies in 50/50 joint physical custody; the higher earner pays child support to the lower earner.
Ohio Child Support Requirements
Ohio child support guidelines base payments on both parents’ incomes for the previous three calendar years. This includes all earned and unearned income, whether or not the income is taxable. Even workers’ compensation, unemployment, and disability benefits factor into Ohio child support guidelines. For example, according to www.divorcenet.com, the annual requirement for combined incomes of $30,000 between parents with six children is $11,764. The parent responsible for paying child support to the other parent pays half of the annual child support required.
Child Custody Affects a Parent’s Filing Status and Claims on Tax Returns
According to the Internal Revenue Service, only one parent may include children on a federal income tax return. Usually, this privilege extends to the parent with whom the child primarily resides. Sometimes, parents with multiple children include in their custody agreement stipulations to split up dependents on their respective tax returns. However, only one parent can:
- File as head of household on a federal tax return
- Claim the child tax credit on a federal tax return
- Claim the dependent care credit on a federal tax return
- Claim the earned income tax credit on a federal tax return
In the End, All Custody Agreements Center on the Child’s Best Interest
No matter the issues surrounding a divorce, the goal of custody agreements needs to focus on the child’s best interest. This means considering long-term and short-term matters. A child’s best interest includes emotional and physical well-being, plus health, financial, educational, moral, cultural, and religious interests. Ultimately, fostering the child’s security and emotional development into the start of adulthood is in a child’s best interest.