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Child Support and Custody

Historically, fathers had sole rights to custody. Since custody was connected to inheritance and property laws, mothers had no such rights. Beginning in the late nineteenth century courts began to award custody of young boys and of girls of all ages solely to mothers on the presumption that mothers are inherently better caretakers of young children. Most states followed this maternal preference and mothers almost always received custody. Eventually, many state courts found this preference to be unconstitutional, and gender-neutral custody statutes replaced maternal preference standards in forty-five states by 1990. Today, the custody arrangement is typically part of the divorce decree. The decree provides specifics as to where the child will live, how visitation will be handled, and who will provide financial support. Courts consider custody and child support issues as subject to change until the child involved reaches the age of majority. In many divorces physical custody is awarded to the parent with whom the child will live most of the time. Often, the custodial parent shares joint legal custody with the noncustodial parent, meaning that the custodial parent must inform and consult with the noncustodial parent about the child’s education, health care, and other concerns. In this situation, courts may order visitation, sometimes called temporary custody, between the child and the noncustodial parent. A clear schedule with dates and times is often incorporated into the decree. Child support is usually paid by the noncustodial parent to the custodial parent. States have formulas to assist judges in determining the appropriate amount of child support.

Inside Child Support and Custody