Factors In Child Custody Decisions


If you’re a parent currently in a child custody dispute, it’s essential that you have all of the information concerning which factors the courts use to make decisions with child custody cases. After all, this decision will span legal custody. Legal custody is the right to participate in any decisions regarding your child’s life, visitation rights, and physical custody.

Many court systems prefer the negotiated parenting agreement when it comes to child custody arrangements because they’re amenable to both parties involved. However, there are some situations where a negotiated custody agreement isn’t in the child’s best interest, or it may simply be impossible.

The overarching determining principle in a child custody dispute is to find out what is the child’s best interest, including the child’s financial welfare, safety, health, and general well-being. The decision will rest heavily on the evidence each side of the dispute presents to the court.

Courts Prefer Joint Legal And Physical Custody

When you have a negotiated agreement, the courts favor joint legal and physical custody. If there isn’t such an agreement, the court won’t oppose or favor joint custody in any one case. The law also recognizes that joint custody may be impossible. However, the law does assume that this setup is usually in the best interest of the child, and the judge has to give a written explanation of any custody decision that doesn’t include joint custody to whichever parent requests it.

Most laws will prioritize having both parents involved in the child’s life if possible. The judge has to consider whether or not one parent is more likely to consistently give the noncustodial party access to the child. If there is evidence that one party has a history of limiting this access, this could factor heavily into awarding primary custody to the other party. Also, the court may take into consideration if one parent is more likely to encourage an ongoing relationship and contact with the other parent.

If there is evidence of one parent spreading unfounded claims of abuse against the other parent to prevent contact between said parent and the child, the court may limit visitation or custody of the parent who made the unfounded allegations.

Child Custody Determinations — General Deciding Factors

There isn’t an automatic expectation that the mother or father will get primary custody. Also, the court can’t consider physical disability, marital status, religion, or sexual orientation as custody determination factors.

Instead, the court has to consider each parent’s ability to give the child a stable and suitable home. This includes physical necessities like clothing, food, education, shelter, and medical care. Each parent’s physical health, mental health, and general lifestyle will also factor in. The established patterns of the child’s routines and life, including home, community, religious activities, school, and social activities, are important considerations, too. The courts usually keep minor siblings together except under exceptional situations. Judges also consider:

  • The child’s preference, especially if said child is 14 or older
  • Any potential impact changing custody can have on the child’s overall well-being
  • Education quality
  • The emotional bond between each parent and the child

Evidence Of Physical Abuse

Any evidence that points toward a history of physical abuse, either occurring in the household or by a parent, can factor against that parent’s visitation or custody agreement. A criminal record for parental abuse, child abuse, or sex offender status, or any evidence of this abuse without a conviction needs a third-party corroboration. Child Protective Services could act as this third party, and it can prevent a parent from getting unsupervised visitation or custody.

Substance Abuse History

Evidence that points toward a history of alcohol or drug abuse, whether habitual or continual, can negatively weigh against the parent during a custody hearing. However, allegations of this type require corroboration and can be very difficult to prove.

Non-Parental Custody

In instances where the court finds that neither parent is suitable for custody of the child in question, Guardianship Custody is an option. A third party — usually a family friend or a relative — will typically request custody.

Factoring In Grandparents

Any grandparent who has an established relationship with the child involved in the custody dispute has the right to ask the court to grant them visitation rights. It doesn’t matter if the custody dispute is still ongoing when the grandparent asks the court for visitation. However, the courts have to effectively balance the child’s overall best interests with the bond between the grandparent and the child. The court also has to factor in the parent’s rights to make decisions regarding their child.

Contact Michael D. Shook Attorney At Law To Set Up A Consultation

The child custody attorneys at [Law Office] understand that child custody disputes can be confusing and stressful, and they always keep your child’s best interests at the forefront. We’ve very experienced with all of the aspects, issues, and factors that go into a custody dispute. Contact us to set up your initial consultation today.

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