When going through a divorce or separation, many parents have one main thing on their minds: Who will get custody of the children? In some cases, parents can work this out themselves by talking to each other, working with a mediator, and creating a parenting plan. Other times, however, a judge must decide what would be best for the child. If you’re wondering what factors are taken into consideration to determine what’s in the child’s best interest, read on.
The Child’s Relationship With Each Parent
Depending on the age of the child, he or she might or might not be consulted when it comes to deciding where they will live. In some states, there’s a set age where a judge will consider the wishes of the child. In other states, it’s up to the judge’s discretion. In some cases, a guardian ad litem, often abbreviated GAL, will be assigned to your family. He or she is a legal professional who is trained to work with children and parents to determine what’s best.
One of these considerations will focus on the relationship between the child and each parent. Is one parent the primary caregiver? Is one parent unwilling or unable to change his or her schedule to accommodate the child on a regular or daily basis? In some cases, a child might be more bonded to one parent over the other; this doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have the chance to bond with the less-favored parent, but it might mean that that parent shouldn’t have sole custody at this time.
The Wishes of the Parents
The wishes of the parents are also considered when it comes to deciding who will get custody of the child. If one parent wants sole child custody and the other just wants occasional visitation, then that might be what the judge decides is best for all involved. If the parents agree on joint custody and roughly equal residency, then that will probably be honored. The problem arises, of course, when both parents want different things.
If one parent wants sole custody, they need to prove why it would not be in the child’s best interest to have frequent contact with the other parent. In most cases, a relationship with both parents is in the best interest of the child. On the other hand, if one parent lives far away and still wants to insist on joint physical custody, that might not be feasible. The judge will take all of this into consideration.
The Ability of Each Parent to Meet Their Child’s Needs
Both parents, if they both want custody, need to be able and willing to meet their child’s needs. In some cases, one parent might be more equipped than the other to make sure the child grows up in a loving, stable home. Here are just a few of the factors that will be considered:
- Work obligations. If one parent works long hours or has to travel frequently, this might be a reason that they would not have as much physical custody as they would like. On the other hand, a stay-at-home parent will not automatically get full custody just because the other parent works a full-time job.
- Health of each parent. Your child should, if possible, have a custodial parent who is in good mental and physical health. If one of you struggles with untreated mental illness or has a physical health condition that leaves you unable to handle everyday activities, this might be a factor in some cases.
- Financial means of each parent. The parent with primary custody should have the financial means to support him or herself as well as the child, with the help of child support if it’s awarded. In some cases, alimony might also be awarded; this is particularly true if one parent has taken time off from work to be an at-home caregiver.
- Where the child goes to school. The parent who has the child during the week needs to be able to make sure they can get to school. If one parent lives far away, weekday custody might not be feasible.
- Any extenuating medical or emotional needs of the child. A child who struggles with physical or emotional special needs might require a different custody arrangement than a child who has no such needs. They might need specialized medical equipment in the home, the stability of sleeping in the same bed every night, or other accommodations. This will be taken into consideration.
Other Factors to Consider For Custody Cases
Finally, there will be factors that might apply only to certain families. If they apply to yours, they’ll be considered. For example, if the parents live in different states or in cities that are not within a short driven from one another, frequent visitation with the nonresidential parent might not be possible. If you are in this situation, a judge might choose to have the child spend summers with one parent and the school year with the other.
If there are other children involved with either parent, that could also be a consideration. The judge might want to ensure that the siblings have a chance to develop a relationship with each other, so the children might spend more time with the parent who has custody of the child’s half-siblings. On the other hand, if the children do not get along (other than simple childhood squabbling), this could sway the judge to place the children in the other home a greater percentage of the time.
If there are criminal or drug offenses in either parent’s history, these are also factors that could impact who has custody of the child. The same would apply to a history of abuse or neglect.
There are so many factors that go into deciding which parent gets custody of a child that no one will really know the answer until after a trial. If you would like to represent yourself in court for your custody trial, contact the legal resource experts at National Family Solutions.