Family Court issues orders about child custody and visitation.
FINDING OF PARENTAGE
Before the court can issue orders about custody and visitation, it will issue a finding saying who the baby’s parents are. This is called a finding of parentage. Usually the parents agree who the mom is and who the dad is.
If the parents do not agree, the court can order DNA testing to determine who the parents are. If you and your baby’s other parent do not agree about who the parents are, you may want to see a lawyer because the laws about parentage are very complex.
CUSTODY AND VISITS
The court requires that you go to mediation to try to work out an agreement about custody and visits before you can see a judge. At mediation, a social worker will try to help you reach an agreement with the other parent about legal custody, physical custody, and a parenting plan.
Legal custody determines who gets to make the big decisions in your baby’s life, like what school to go to, what religion to practice, and what kind of medical care your baby should get. The court can order joint legal custody (which means the parents share the right to make decisions) or sole legal custody (which means one parent has the right to make decisions). The court usually orders joint custody unless there is a reason not to, such as domestic violence or if one parent is not around at all.
Physical custody is who your baby lives with most of the time. The court can order joint physical custody (which means the baby lives more or less with both parents) or sole physical custody (which means the baby lives primarily with one parent and visits with the other).