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Keeping Your Baby

     No matter how old you are, parenting is a challenging job. If you decide to keep the baby, be prepared to make sacrifices and to put the needs of your child ahead of your own. Be prepared to stop being a kid as you will now be responsible for raising one. It is best if you have support from your family and the father. Keep the father as involved as possible - children need both parents as long as both parents are decent people. Above all, expect to experience a new and intense kind of love, a bonding that is deeper than any you can imagine.

     You will need to consider the concept of custody if you decide to keep the baby and have informed the father who wishes to become involved, but to live separately from the mother. When parents do not live together, either because they are separated, divorced, or never married, "custody" means who is responsible for the children.

     When a parent has "physical custody" over a child, it means that the child would spend time living with that parent on a regular basis. If the parents have "joint physical custody," the child lives at each parent's home. However, if one parent has sole physical custody, the child usually spends significantly less time at the other parent's home. If a parent has "sole legal custody" of a child, it means that he or she has the right to make decisions regarding the child's health, education, and welfare, such as what school or doctor shall be used.

     "Joint legal custody" means both parents share decisions regarding health, education and welfare.

     Physical and legal custody can be shared by parents. A judge may approve joint physical or joint legal custody. The child may live equally with both parents or may spend more time in the home of a parent that is named the primary caretaker. The court order will define the days and times spent with each parent as well as holidays and summer vacation.

     Judges come to decisions about custody in a few ways. If the parents agree on a custody plan, the judge will usually approve it. If the parents cannot agree on a custody plan, they will, according to the law, have to speak with a mediator or counselor who will try to help them work out a plan. The judge will decide any disputed issues that parents are unable to resolve during mediation.

     The wishes of the child are also considered. The law says when a child is "of sufficient capacity to reason," the judge must consider what the child says. The judge will consider what the child says but not necessarily follow it.

     Generally, if one parent is given physical custody over a child, the court will order that the other parent be given generous visitation with the child, unless there is a good reason to restrict visitation such as domestic violence or the other parent's inability to care for the child.

     If the custody plan does not work, parents can change a custody arrangement if they come up with a new plan and ask a judge to make it official. If the parents can't agree on changes, they can ask a judge to make the change, but they need to show the judge that there has been a significant "change in circumstances" to merit a modification. The judge's decision will be based on what is in the child's best interests. However, getting the custody arrangement changed may be difficult if the child is well cared for or if the custody plan has been in effect for some time.

     If a parent doesn't allow the other parent to see the child, the parent who has been denied visitation with the child may ask the judge for a "contempt" order. This means that the parent denying visitation could receive court sanctions for continuing to refuse to allow visitation. If the judge finds that the parent who denied visitation did it on purpose, the other parent may have grounds for obtaining custody over the child. However, the judge may require the parents to try to work things out with the help of a mediator before going to court.

     A judge may give visiting rights to anyone interested in the child's welfare. The law specifically says that stepparents and grandparents who ask the court for visiting rights may attend mediation sessions along with parents. If no agreement is reached through mediation, the judge will decide whether stepparents and grandparents may visit the child. However, the grandparents will not be given visiting rights against the wishes of both parents.

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