What is custody and legal custody (patria potestad)?
Physical custody means the physical care and supervision of your children. In other words, this generally refers to which parent lives with the child on a daily basis. Custody can be shared, which means that there can be an arrangement where the children spend part of the time with one parent and part with the other. The custody arrangement can range from the child living with one parent and the other parent only having visitation to the time being divided between the parents on a weekly or monthly basis.1
Legal custody (patria potestad) means the rights and responsibilities parents usually have over their children. These include the right to make important decisions for your children, such as the school they attend, what medical treatment they receive, and their religious upbringing. It also deals with the parental responsibilities associated with providing food, shelter, and discipline, and making financial decisions for their benefit.1
1 See the Puerto Rico Judicial Branch website
What are some advantages and disadvantages of getting a custody order?
There are many reasons people choose not to file for custody. For example, some people decide not to get a custody order because they don’t want to get the courts involved. Some parents make an informal agreement that works well for them. Some parents think going to court will provoke the other parent, or they are worried that if a custody case is started, the other parent will suddenly fight for more custody or visitation rights than they are comfortable with. In some states and territories, unmarried mothers may not need to file for custody if the father’s paternity has not been legally established.
However, a custody order can give you:
- the right to make decisions about your child; and/or
- the right to residency, which means to have your child live with you.
Without a custody order, it is possible that you may not have these legal rights, even if you’re the parent that takes care of the child every day. However, if you file for custody, the other parent may also request these rights and it will be up to the judge to decide.
We strongly recommend talking to a lawyer who can help you think through if filing for custody would be best for you, depending on the facts of your situation. You can find contact information for legal help by clicking on the PR Finding a Lawyer page.
Some people think they should file for custody so they can get child support but this is not necessarily true. A custody order will not automatically give you child support, and you may not need a custody order to file for child support. For information on filing for child support, you can contact your local courthouse by going to our PR Courthouse Locations, contact the Administración de Sustento de Menores (ASUME), or talk to a lawyer.
Should I start a court case to ask for supervised visitation?
If you are not comfortable with the abuser being alone with your child, you might be thinking about asking the judge to order that visits with your child be supervised. If you are already in court, you may not have much to lose by asking that the visits be supervised if you can present a valid reason for your request, although this may depend on your situation.
However, if there is no current court case, please get legal advice before you start a court case to ask for supervised visits. We strongly recommend that you talk to an attorney who specializes in custody matters to find out what you would have to prove to get the visits supervised and how long supervised visits would last, based on the facts of your case.
In the majority of cases, supervised visits are only a temporary measure. Although the exact visitation order will vary by state/territory, county, or judge, the judge might order a professional to observe the other parent during a certain amount of visits or the visits might be supervised by a relative for a certain amount of time – and if there are no obvious problems, the visits may likely become unsupervised. Oftentimes, at the end of a case, the other parent ends up with more frequent and/or longer visits than s/he had before you went into court or even some form of custody.
If you need to protect your child from immediate danger by the abuser, starting a case to ask for custody and supervised visits can be appropriate. To find out what may be best in your situation, please go to our PR Finding a Lawyer page to seek out a lawyer who can give you legal advice.