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Determining child custody is rarely a simple process. It can take several forms and be called different things depending on the state where you live. Custody can be legal or physical, or it might be called parenting time, guardianship, or the allocation of parental responsibilities. The court system can legally expand or limit parenting time and/or decision making for either parent. How do they make these decisions? In all states, courts base decisions for custody or parenting time based on the best interests of the child. Experienced child custody attorneys generally offer a free consultation because these issues can become quite complicated.

Determining Child Custody

There are several things that are taken into consideration when courts make the decision to award custody to one or both parents. A court may choose to award sole custody to one parent, or joint custody to both. Courts also can make the decision to award a joint allocation of parental responsibilities to each parent equally but choose to give one parent the majority of the parenting time. All of this is dependent on what a judge feels is in the best interests of the child or children involved. There are many factors and elements that will be considered before a decision is finalized.

What’s Best For The Children?

All states center their custody decisions around the best interests of the child, however the factors and how a judge will evaluate each can vary.

Below are the five primary factors a court will use to determine what is best for the child:

  • The child’s age
  • Physical and mental health of every person involved
  • Past and present parental involvement
  • Any suspected abuse or neglect
  • Each parents’ ability to effectively co-parent

None of these will single-handedly determine how a judge will award custody (aside from one of the parents having a criminal conviction for a sex crime against the child). The court will consider all of the factors listed, amongst other things, with facts pertaining to the case before deciding what is in the best interest of the child. In many cases, a court-appointed Guardian Ad Litem will investigate both parents, their homes, family, friends, and neighbors, then interview the child. The Guardian Ad Litem will then write a report of their findings and inform the judge of their recommendations based upon what they discovered in the process. Majority of the time, judges will side with the Guardian Ad Litem’s recommendation.

#1: The Child’s Age

This is a factor that is considered, but alone, will not determine custody. The child’s age, as well as their maturity for their age, is what is most important. In some states, the older the child is, the more weight this factor is given. However, some states hardly take age into consideration. Example: A 17-year-old may ask to stay with their father because he does not have any structure or rules. Therefore, they would not get in trouble for poor decisions and be able to party and live the life they want.  On the other hand, their mother may have strict rules and the child disapproves of those expectations. It will be left up to the court to decide what is best for the child and this is not always what the child was hoping for.

#2: The Physical And Mental Health Of Everyone Involved

Both parents will need to prove that they are physically and mentally healthy enough to care for the child. This does not mean that you need a psychological examination or doctor’s report to prove so, although these are commonly used. If a parent is seriously unhealthy – either physically or mentally – it can be difficult for the parent to provide proper care for the child. If a parent is undergoing treatment for mental health issues, it should be viewed as a positive thing as it shows that they are doing their part to heal. The physical and mental health of the child is important to assess how the parent’s impact on a child’s health, whether that is positive or negative, before finalizing their decision.

#3: Parental Involvement– Past And Present

In most two-parent homes, both parents divide tasks like doctor’s appointments, making meals, extracurricular activities, parent-teacher meetings, and more, evenly. However, in other families, it may be left to one parent to make sure that these tasks get done. The court will consider past and present parental involvement to make a decision for the future. A child custody attorney might suggest that if parents are not involved now, they need to get overly- involved. Ideas include volunteering to coach a team, handling school pickups and drop-offs, tackling appointments, or attending any school or church meetings.

#4: Any Suspected Abuse Or Neglect

This is one of the only factors that could mean one parent is guaranteed to lose their custodial rights. In any situation where a parent has sexually abused a child, the court will do everything they can to protect the child and keep them away from the abusive parent. The same rules apply to parents who have severely abused a child. In addition, if one parent abuses the other parent while the child is present, the court can make a decision against the abuser.

#5: Co-Parenting Abilities 

In nearly every state, this is one of the biggest factors that will be considered. As a court tries to decide if there should be an order of sole or joint custody, it will generally mean that joint custody is established. However, the courts will ask things like: Are the parents able to communicate without arguing? Can they set aside any anger or animosity to do what is best for their child? Are they able to co-parent effectively? Showing the judge that you are both willing to compromise, negotiate, and work together for the child is important as custody decisions are made.

How Do These Factors Apply?

The standard set in every state is doing what is in the best interest of the child. This goal is encouraging and works to foster the happiness, emotional development, and overall health of the child as they grow into their adolescent and early adult years. Other factors that go into determining the best interests of the child include the physical and mental health of both parents, stability within the home, culture, and religion. As a child custody case begins, it is important that you assess your individual situation and how it will look from the outside looking in with all factors being taken into account. If you are aware that one of these factors isn’t looking as good as it should, work on improving it. Are you able to be the stable parent your children need? This is important to ask yourself.

What’s Next? 

Now is the time to start making a checklist of your life and how you parent– be willing to list it all, the good and the bad, with full transparency. Be willing to fix your shortcomings and don’t hesitate to accentuate all the good things about you and your relationship with each other. Do what you have to do to get your life in order, stay actively involved with the children, and reach out to an attorney for a free consultation to evaluate the unique needs of your case. Only then can you make a decision and move forward as co-parents instead of spouses.

Contact Us (859-371-0730) for a Consultation Today

About Helmer Somers Law

We are committed to helping families resolve their differences and get back to their lives. We help individuals and families fight for custody of children. We protect your rights as you go through divorce proceedings. We offer the guidance and support that you will need when you are involved with the legal system. We help clients with cases involving…

  • Divorce and legal separation
  • Child custody and visitation
  • Child support and spousal support (alimony)
  • Property division
  • Paternity
  • Domestic violence
  • Adoption
  • Grandparent rights
  • And other related issues

Contact Us| (859) 371-0730