If you have a licensed marriage or a common law marriage, you must go through a divorce for the Court to determine custody of your children, child support, visitation, support alimony and property division.
If you are not married to the parent of your child(ren), a paternity case is appropriate. You may be in one of three possible categories (1) a Department of Human Services case has been initiated for the collection of child support or (2) the father signed an “affidavit of paternity” at the hospital or (3) there is no legal document stating the parentage of the children.
In any of the three scenarios, a “Petition to Establish Paternity” must be filed with the District Court. Custody and Visitation can ONLY be established through the District Court. The Department of Human Services may only determine child support and any child support arrearage.
The most important thing a separate household family can do is to establish the guidelines (custodial rights and visitation) for their children. An “Order Establishing Paternity” will set forth the rules that pertain to who makes decisions for the children, who has visitation and when and where the visitation will occur. If an “Order Establishing Paternity” is not pursued, conflict will surely ensue.
Change of Custody
If there are Orders in place pursuant to a Decree of Divorce or Order Establishing Paternity, you may request a change of custody through a “Motion to Modify Custody”. The modification of a custody order requires a good reason, to put it simply. However, custody changes between parents every day in the Courthouse and thus you should contact an attorney to see if this is appropriate for you.
Child Support may be established through either a divorce proceeding or a Petition for Paternity. If you cannot afford to hire an attorney, you may establish child support through the Department of Human Services in your county. However, you will need to establish the custodial and visitation rights as quickly as you can.
If a current child support order is in place and you want to increase or decrease the amount of child support, a “Motion to Modify Child Support” is appropriate. The main reason child support is modified is because one or both of the parent’s incomes have changed. Child support is determined by the amount of gross income both parents earn.
If a child support order is in place but is not being paid, you have two options: (1) contact the Department of Human Services in your county or (2) contact an attorney to pursue a contempt citation for collection of that child support. If the other parent continues to not pay child support, they risk going to jail or losing their driver’s license.
Visitation for a parent may only be established through a divorce or “Order Establishing Paternity”. Every parent is entitled to visitation! However, some situations may require visitation to be supervised. This is determined on a case by case basis.
If you have a visitation order in place that is not working, you may pursue a “Motion to Modify Visitation”. This may include increasing your visitation, decreasing the other parent’s visitation or making the other parent’s visitation supervised.
If you have a visitation order in place however the other parent is not abiding by the Order, a “Motion to Enforce” is appropriate. Unless an extreme situation has occurred and the child(ren) is in danger if visitation is allowed, everyone should always abide by the visitation order. A “Motion to Enforce” will help you get the visitation you are entitled.
Remember, failure to pay child support is never a reason to deny visitation!
Grandparent visitation is currently under the legal microscope. A few years ago, grandparents were able to get visitation with ease if the same was in the best interests of the child. Current law is limiting the ability of grandparents to get an order for visitation. Again, this area is a case by case determination.
An adoption terminates the legal right of a parent to have any relationship with the child. It also terminates any child support obligation upon the finalization of the adoption.
If you are married, your spouse may adopt your child pursuant to a “Step-parent Adoption”. The other parent’s rights must be terminated for the adoption to proceed. There are many reasons a parent’s rights may be terminated pursuant to the adoption, but this is no easy task.
If you are a married couple looking to adopt a baby, check with a qualified adoption agency to assist you.
If a friend or family member has a child (or is pregnant) and would like you and your spouse to adopt the child, the adoption is not difficult, but it is a lot of paperwork.