Supreme Court versus Family Court
Since clients are sometimes confused about jurisdiction (which court to go to), I will briefly describe some salient differences between the Supreme Court and the Family Court. The Supreme Court has the authority to handle all matters relating to your matrimonial situation. This includes divorce, separation, equitable distribution of marital property, allocation of debt, child support, spousal support, domestic violence, child abuse, custody and visitation, as well as enforcement and modification proceedings.
On the other hand, the Family Court is a court of limited jurisdiction and authority. The Family Court would not be able to grant a divorce or separation. Nor can this court divide property and allocate debt. Family Court can handle matters such as child support, spousal support, family offense proceedings, child abuse or neglect, custody and visitation, juvenile delinquency, termination of parental rights, and enforcement and modification of these types of proceedings.
The judgment of divorce issued by the Supreme Court will typically state that the Family Court has “concurrent jurisdiction” with the Supreme Court with respect to certain types of matters that may arise post-divorce. This means that after the divorce the parties will have the option of seeking certain relief either in the Supreme Court or in the Family Court.
Custody and Visitation
There are two types of “custody” which often get confused: “Residential” custody and “legal” custody. “Residential” custody refers to the parent with whom the child will primarily physically reside. This is important since the primary residential custodial parent will be the one entitled to receive child support.
“Legal” custody refers to the parent who has the authority to make the major decisions affecting the children such as what schools they attend, what doctors they see and what religious upbringing they have. Where there is “sole legal” custody, one parent makes these major decisions.
Where there is “joint legal” custody, both parents must make major decisions together, and neither parent has a superior right over the other to do so. There are also various types of joint legal custody that should be explored with your attorney.
A joint custodial relationship assumes and works best where both parents are able to share relevant information and reasonably communicate in order to reach an agreement affecting the child(ren). Where there is joint legal custody, if the parties cannot agree upon a major decision, there should be some process in place, such as mediation, to help the parties avoid litigation when there is a deadlock as described below.
Some ways to avoid litigation on parenting matters
There are various kinds of joint legal custody which have built in mechanisms for dealing with deadlocks:
“Final Say”: If, after sharing relevant information and communicating in good faith to reach a decision the parties cannot agree, one party will have the final say.
“Spheres” of Decision Making: This is where if the parties cannot agree on a major decision, one parent has the final say in one or more areas, and the other parent has the final say in other areas. For instance, a teacher might have final say in educational matters, and a doctor might have final say in health-related matters.
“Professional Model” for Decision Making: If the parties cannot agree on a major decision, the parties will consult with the appropriate and relevant professional. If a parent agrees with what the professional is recommending, that is how the decision would be made.
A good parenting plan will also detail parental access times and many other relevant provisions
In addition to residential and legal custody, a parenting plan will also include a detailed access schedule. This will help define what time each parent has with the children as well as numerous other types of provisions to help the parties manage their parenting responsibilities. The best plans identify as many relevant parenting roles to prepare divorcing parents to adjust to new family dynamics. If at all possible, by reducing conflict between parents and fostering the child's relationship with both parents, this transition period can be better navigated to minimize negative long-term impacts.
Protect Your Rights
While the divorce process has a host of difficulties, the agreements made and the decisions rendered may have lifelong consequences for you, your former spouse, and your children. By having a lawyer who can anticipate problems before it is too late, you will save time, money, and further heartache by proactively mitigating potential problems. The Court system may not be empathetic to your needs, and some lawyers with certain agendas fail to provide litigants with the best service, knowingly or otherwise. My goal is to guide you through the process as expeditiously and fairly as possible with the goal of preserving as much of your assets as possible while shielding you from unnecessary additional pain. To reach me for an initial consultation, please call or email me for an appointment.