Permanent child custody may be determined by the parties and memorialized in an order for the judge to sign or the judge can make a determination at a permanent child custody hearing.
At a permanent custody hearing, this is the full hearing of the child custody matter to the judge and the parties have the opportunity to present any evidence that he/she believes will demonstrate to the court what is in the best interest of the child. Once a judge rules and a permanent custody order is entered, there must be a substantial change in circumstances (from the time the permanent custody order is entered) in order to modify or change the custodial arrangement. However, it is important to note that the judge always has the discretion to change a child custody arrangement, even a permanent one (where that has been a substantial change in circumstances) whenever it is in the best interest of the child.
In addition to a permanent child custody hearing, parties may determine on their own what is in the child’s best interest and enter into a child custody order by consent, meaning both parties sign off on the arrangement along with the assigned Family Court judge. Likewise, parties who attend Child Custody Mediation and are able to enter into a Parenting Agreement with their mediator, also are entering into a permanent custody arrangement with the same effect as a child custody order (even though it is called a Parenting Agreement). Like any other custody order, a Parenting Agreement is submitted to the assigned Family Court judge for signature.