When is child custody legally in dispute?

Custody issues can arise in the following types of cases:

  • Divorce- where there are children in the marriage.
  • Paternity- where the parties are unmarried and a Mother or Father is looking to establish legal paternity of a child in addition to addressing issues of custody, visitation and/or support.
  • Unmarried parents- Where the parents are unmarried but paternity has already been established and a Mother or Father is looking to address issues of custody, visitation and/or support.
  • Modifications- Where a decision about custody has previously been made by the court or agreed to by the parents in court and one or both of the parties wish to modify the prior order. For more information on Modifications (click here)
  • Guardianships. For more information on Guardianships (click here)
  • Department of Children and Families (“DCF”) cases. For more information on DCF cases (click here)


What is Legal Custody?

“Legal Custody” is the right to make important parental decisions for the child. Common decisions include religious, educational and medical decisions. Legal custody can be shared between the parents no matter who the child lives with. However, if one parent is not fit to make decisions about the child for any reason which could include mental health issues, drug abuse or domestic violence, the other parent would likely seek sole legal custody of the child.


What is Physical Custody?

“Physical Custody” means who the child primarily lives with and who makes day to day decisions for the child. In a “sole” physical custody arrangement, the child resides with one parent and may visit with the other parent. In a “shared” or “joint” physical custody arrangement, the child spends roughly equal time with each of the parents.


What kind of custody arrangement is right for me?

This depends on a number of factors which are specific to your particular case but could include the following:

  • Each parent’s ability to meet the child(ren)’s individual needs
  • The safety of each parent’s home
  • Each parent’s financial and emotional stability
  • The age of the child(ren)
  • The children’s preference if age appropriate
  • The child(ren)’s bond with each parent

The child(ren)’s best interests always controls the court’s decisions regarding custody and visitation.


What kind of issues can arise in a case involving child custody and/or visitation?

Every case is different and the issues that can arise depend on the specific circumstances of your family but may include:

  • Legal custody
  • Physical custody
  • Visitation
  • Child support
  • Tax implications
  • Health insurance coverage
  • Uninsured medical expenses for the child
  • Educational expenses for the child
  • Extracurricular expenses for the child
  • Child Support. For more info on child support (click here)


What is supervised visitation?

In certain circumstances, supervised visitation is needed. Supervised visitation is usually ordered when the parent needs to be monitored by someone during the visits for any reason which could include drug or alcohol use, mental illness, or poor parenting skills. Family members like grandparents, aunts and uncles are often used as supervisors. If family is not available or appropriate, supervised visitation centers are also an option.


What can an Attorney Ellis do for me in a case involving custody and/or visitation?

Attorney Ellis will explain to you in depth what your legal options are and how they apply to your case. Attorney Ellis will help you make important decisions about the case and navigate the often confusing and frustrating court process. She will assist you in obtaining the best result possible for your particular situation. Whether at a Motion Hearing on a particular issue or at a full Trial on all the issues, Attorney Ellis will attempt to negotiate an agreement that works for you and serves the best interests of your child. If an agreement cannot be reached she will zealously argue your position in front of the Judge so a decision can be made. She will be available to answer all of your questions and concerns. She will deal with the other party or the other party’s attorney throughout the court process so you don’t have to.


What will a case about custody or visitation cost me?

Attorney Ellis offers free phone consultations where she will evaluate your particular case and what it will cost. Attorney Ellis will require a “retainer” to start the case. A retainer is a lump sum of money which is determined on a case by case basis. The retainer is held in a special client funds bank account. Funds are billed from the retainer for work that is completed on your case on a monthly basis. If the case is not completed before the retainer is exhausted, a second retainer is needed. Any money in the retainer that is not used at the completion of the case is returned to the client. The hourly rate and amount for the retainer will depend on the particular issues in the case but also depends on the number of contested issues, the complexity of issues, the contentiousness of the parties and other factors. During a free consultation, Attorney Ellis will assess your case and discuss the hourly rate and retainer needed to start work on the case.


What if I cannot afford a large retainer but I still need help?

In certain circumstances Limited Assistance Representation (LAR) is available. LAR is a new initiative in Probate in Family Court which allows a party to hire an attorney on a limited basis to help with a part or parts of a case. The attorney and party negotiate what part or parts of a case the party needs help with and what the cost will be. The attorney handles the part(s) the client wants them to and the client handles the rest. Often times a flat rate can be used for each part. The rate will depend on the particular issues in the case but also depends on the number of contested issues, the complexity of issues, the contentiousness of the parties and the attorney’s responsibilities. During a free consultation, Attorney Ellis will assess your case and discuss whether LAR would be available for you. For more information on LAR (click here)