Families represent one of the major foundations of our society. Healthy relationships are a driving force in keeping families together. Unfortunately, relationships can be quite complicated and breakups or divorce occur at alarming rates. Additionally, it can be even more difficult if children are involved. Figuring out child custody arrangements is so complex, that courts often get involved to arbitrate these decisions.
If you are about to participate in a child custody court case, you might be surprised that these cases can result in an entirely different turnout than expected. It’s important to have an idea about how child custody cases work and what factors a judge would consider when determining child custody.
There are many points the judge can and will factor into your case. One thing to bear in mind is that there aren’t many hard lines to follow. The judge presiding over your case has authority to weigh different factors solely at his or her own discretion. For example, a judge will rule in the ‘best interest’ of the child, but defining ‘best interest’ is where it gets a little confusing.
Here are several factors a judge might take into account when deliberating on your child custody case...
- A child’s age. While there’s no stern guideline on ages, courts generally like to be consistent in determining best interest based on a child’s age. When it comes to younger children, courts typically rule in favor of conservative and conventional living environments. However, for older children, courts are willing to consider alternative arrangements as well. Additionally, the court might consider the children’s wishes if they are old enough to communicate their own desires.
- Mental and physical well-being (or lack thereof) of each parent as well as prior bad acts, neglect, etc. A judge will scrutinize past behaviors and actions in order to predict future behavior and how that might impact the child’s safety.
- Each parent’s wishes. While this isn’t a deciding factor, a judge might want to review how much a parent really wants to take care of their child in comparison to how much they just want to win the case.
- Home environment. Each parent’s ability to care for the child and willingness to create a safe home environment. In some cases, the courts will even inquire about the children’s access to personal space and whether or not they will have their own rooms.
- Each parent's ability to care for the children's physical needs, emotional wellness, and medical care. The opinions of character witnesses might also be considered.
- How much the child will have to adjust to a new environment including home, school, and community.
- The role of each parent thus far in taking care of the child.
- The child’s relationship to each parent.
- The time available to each parent to be with the child, as the judge may wish to maximize the child’s time with a parent as opposed to a babysitter or daycare center.
- The presence of siblings in the family and the siblings’ relationship to each parent and to each other.
- Parental drug or alcohol problems.
- Religious factors.
- The willingness of each parent to keep the other parent involved in the child’s life and to facilitate the other parent’s access to the child.
- Each parent’s adult relationships including non-marital sexual relations.
These factors are a great place to start when preparing a child custody case. However, it is important to remember that each judge is different and will determine ‘best interest’ from his or her own frame of reference. Get to know the child custody laws in your state to give yourself the best chances. For an even greater advantage, consider hiring a private investigator to help gather evidence, witnesses, and other helpful information to win your child custody case. Although, deliberating child custody can be a difficult time, the court’s ultimate goal is to make sure the child has the best chances at a stable life and upbringing as possible.