foster and adoption - your questions answered

Why Are Many Family Law Issues Handled Separately?

Something that often surprises a client when they sit down to discuss a situation with a family law attorney is just how many issues are handled separately from each other. It might seem simpler to lump, for example, child custody and support concerns together. The court sees things differently and has the final word, but it's fair for you to ask just why this is.

Avoiding Prejudice

Consider a scenario where a parent is having trouble paying child support. At the same time, they're filing a complaint because the other parent isn't living up to their obligations as part of a custody agreement.

As a matter of fundamental fairness, the court doesn't want to mash the two questions together unless there's a compelling reason to do so. In a case where the main problems are child support payments and visitation rights, those concerns are handled separately because either one could be prejudicial in settling claims regarding the other.

Some issues get lumped together because they're germane to each other. For example, if there is a petition to limit visitation because of allegations of child abuse, the court is going to consider the abuse question when deciding visitation. Notably, any potential criminal complaint would still be handled separately by the criminal court.

Small, But Meaningful Distinctions

Other issues have to be handled at least somewhat separately because there are small distinctions between them. A major example is legal custody versus physical custody. Legal custody involves a parent's right to have a say in key parts of their child's upbringing, such as their education and spirituality. Conversely, physical custody is about the question of just where is a kid going to live.

A family attorney will tell you this makes for some confusing-sounding outcomes. In particular, it can seem odd to be awarded joint legal custody while one parent is given majority physical custody. The distinction between who gets to make decisions versus who has to deal with the bulk of their housing needs, however, doesn't lend itself to a single answer.

Valuing the Court's Time

Especially given how emotional family law cases can become, the reality is the court doesn't necessarily want to tackle everything in one session. If a former couple spends an hour fighting over support, for example, a judge might not want to spend another hour sorting out custody that same day. An exception may be made if both parties can reach an agreement on several issues at once.