Area of Law:
When a couple divorces and there is a minor child involved, the divorce decree will specify who has physical custody as well as legal custody of the child. Physical custody determines where and with whom the child will live. Legal custody specifies who has the legal right to make important decisions about the child related to issues such as education, religion, medical issues, and discipline. Spouses often reach an agreement regarding child custody on their own, but if they do not, Mississippi courts will intervene and establish custody arrangements based on the best interests of the child. For a summary of child custody law in Mississippi, go to divorcesource.com.
There are typically several different custody arrangements that may be made for children of divorced parents. In most cases, courts will award physical custody to one parent with whom the child will live most of the time. The parent with physical custody, or the custodial parent, often shares legal custody, or the right to make decisions regarding the child, with the non-custodial parent. Many child custody arrangements involve joint custody in which the child spends a relatively equal amount of time with each parent.
According to findlaw.com, courts consider various factors when awarding child custody, most importantly the best interests of the child. This “best interest” standard varies state to state, but some of the most common standards applied by various states, like Mississippi, include the following:
- Wishes of the child (if he or she is old enough to capably express a reasonable preference)
- Mental and physical health of the parents
- Religion and/or cultural considerations
- Need for the continuation of a stable home environment
- Support and opportunity for interaction with members of the extended family of either parent
- Interaction and interrelationship with other members of the household
- Adjustment of the child to his or her school and community
- Age and sex of the child
- Parental use of excessive discipline or emotional abuse
- Evidence of parental drug, alcohol, or sex abuse
In Mississippi, courts will award sole or joint custody based on the best interests of the child. According to lawyers.com, some common awards include the following:
- Joint physical and legal custody to one or both parents
- Physical custody to both parents and legal custody to one parent
- Legal custody to both parents and physical custody to one parent
- Custody to a third party if the parents have abandoned the child or are unfit
In Mississippi, if both parents apply for joint custody, there is a presumption that joint custody is in the best interests of the child. Child custody may be modified if there is a material and substantial change in circumstances which adversely affects the child's welfare, and the court determines that a change of custody is in the best interest of the child. A child who is age 12 or older may state a preference as to which parent he or she would like to live with, but the best interest of the child controls whether or not a change in custody will occur.
Both parents are permitted to have liberal telephone contact with their minor child at the expense of the calling parent. Both parents are also allowed to have reasonable postal access to their child. Visitation schedules vary depending on the age of the child. Once a child enters first grade, the non-custodial parent has alternating weekends, certain holidays, and summer visitation. Visitation is not conditioned upon payment of child support, so a denial of visitation for non-payment of child support may be considered contempt.