Child custody cases are rarely pretty. Whenever two parents resort to the courtroom to resolve custody issues, it is typically because they have been unable to reach a common ground through normal mediation channels. Child custody cases are also difficult to predict, especially when both parties have good arguments. In the end, the court bases its decision on factors that are considered to be in the “child’s best interest.” If you or a loved one is currently facing a child custody dispute, it is important that you familiarize yourself with what the ‘best interests’ are. Here are five major factors that can influence your child custody case.
1. The Child’s Preference
Child custody decisions are affected in part by a child’s parental preference. There is no specific law on how the preferences of a child might affect the court’s decision. Depending on the state, judges may sometimes interview kids to get a feel of their opinion. Such sessions are considered confidential. To make the child feel more at home, a judge’s tone may be a lot less formal. Alternatively, the judge may appoint a custody evaluator to speak with the child. The views of a child may have more weight if they a sufficient age (14 years or older). That being said, the decision of who wins custody is also dependent upon other factors.
2. The Quality of the Child’s Relationship Between His or Her Parents
In addition to the wishes of the child, the court also takes into consideration the apparent relationship the child has with his parents. If a child is more comfortable around one parent, it could ultimately influence the court’s decision on custody. If a parent does not have time for the child or does not want to see them, this can also change the outcome in court. Keep a record of all dates you currently have your child and when your ex takes the child. If your ex does not want to watch your child on a specific day because a football game is on, it’s a Friday night & they want to go out, this can be a major red flag to any judge.
Additionally, if the parent has a criminal record, is involved with drugs, or has a bad rap sheet, this too can affect where the child ends up staying. A judge is ultimately looking for the best situation for the child to grow up in.
3. The Mental and Physical Health of the Parents
Before making a decision, the court considers the mental health of the both parents. A parent who struggles with anger management will find it harder securing custody. The physical health of both spouses is also vital. Parents should be strong enough to attend to the needs of the child. If a parent is suffering from a serious condition, his or her chances are lowered. In addition to the kid’s parents, the court also considers the health of the other people who will be living in the same house as the child. Parents who are too weak to properly care for the child, or who are suffering from a condition that may impede their parenting skills, may have a hard time getting primary custody of their child.
4. The Wishes of the Parents
Another factor that influences the decision of the court is the wishes of the parent. Parents may request different types of custody. For instance, both parties may be requesting joint legal custody, a situation where major decisions about the child’s education, welfare, and health are made by both spouses. A parent may also be fighting for sole custody, in which case he or she gets to retain physical and legal custody of the child. The court reviews such requests and makes a decision based on the merits of all the information it is given.
5. Work Obligations of Both Parents
Yet another factor that comes into play during child custody decisions is the work obligations of either parent. Being able to financially provide for the child is undoubtedly important. But parents are also expected to be able to cater to their child’s psychological and developmental needs. For this, the court will look at the amount of time a parent has to spend with the kids. Spouses who have busy schedules may fare poorly against stay-at-home parents who work from home and have more time on their hands.
Other Influencing Factors
The five factors above are important. However, they are not the only factors that can influence legal custody disputes. Although the laws vary with different states, some of the factors that can prove important include:
- The child’s age (depending on if the child falls within infant and toddler, school-aged, or teenage category).
- The parent’s ability and willingness to support the child if custody is lost.
- The condition of the living accommodation found in each of the parent’s home.
- The ability of each parent to ensure a stable, loving environment.
- The impact on a child’s education if the custody is granted.
- The impact of the custody decision on the child’s medical and emotional needs.
- The significance of a child’s extracurricular activities.
- Past instances of neglect, abuse, or violence by either or both parents.
- The number of children involved in the custody case.
- The distance between the homes of both parents.
It is hard to predict how a child custody dispute will be resolved. However, in many instances, the court opts to award the custody to both parents under a joint arrangement. In such instances, it will be left for the divorcing parents to work out an acceptable parenting schedule based on their obligations at work and housing arrangements. One of the major reasons why courts prefer this option is that it gives the child the opportunity to grow in a healthy environment. That said, there are situations where in order to protect a child’s best interest, a parent is given sole custody. This is more likely to occur if a parent poses a threat to the child, such as being violent or having a substance abuse problem.