Last Updated on August 11, 2023 @ 8:30 am
One of the most difficult situations to find yourself in is asking the question, how do I get custody of my kids? This may be because you are in the midst of a contested divorce, broke up with a significant other, or discovered something bad about your child’s living situation. No matter what the reason, there are some specific rules you must abide by to make sure that you do not make yourself look bad in the eyes of the court. Obviously, contacting a child custody attorney is of utmost importance, but you should make sure that you don’t damage your chances of success.
Understanding the “Best Interests of the Child” Standard
Family law courts decide child custody cases based on a standard that involves various factors in virtually every single state. Family court judges make their decision on which party should get custody of the children by determining what is in the children’s best interests. This means a number of things, such as:
- The wishes and feelings of the child, based on their age and maturity;
- Which parent has been primarily responsible for child rearing responsibilities;
- The child’s adjustment to his or her home, school, and community;
- The living arrangements of each parent;
- The emotional, physical and educational needs of the child (and of each parent);
- The possible effect on any change in the child’s circumstances;
- Anything that has harmed or could harm the child now or in the future;
- How capable each parent is of raising the child;
- The ability of the parents to co-parent and cooperate regarding he child’s needs;
- Whether each parent is wiling to foster a close and continuing relationship with the other parent and the child; and
- Whether there was ever any physical abuse in the past.
These factors are not all inclusive, but they comprise the most important factors to guard against to get the custody of your children.
What Are the Practical Things to Consider Here?
If your child is over the age of 10 years old, a guardian ad litem or counselor may interview the child and provide the court an assessment of what the child’s wishes and needs are based on their own understanding. Because a child may have been living with one parent for a long time individually, courts frequently do not like to change the child’s living situation unless there is a serious reason to do. This is where you must demonstrate that you are capable of raising your child the right way while demonstrating that the other parent is not capable or has made serious mistakes, such as endangering the life or well-being of the child.
How Do These “Best Interests” Factors Work?
The best interests of the child factors are slightly different from state to state but the emphasis on how a few and how they work in a persons case are similar and important to understand. The judge will take the best interest factors and then apply the facts of a persons individual case to those factors to see how it lines up. The judge will make a decision by using that information, testimony of witnesses (primarily the parents involved), and possibly a child representative / guardian ad litem (which is an attorney that represents a minor child). Family law courts look for stability, cooperation, and ensuring your child’s needs are met long-term. One thing that many courts require is life insurance so that if one parent passes away, the other parent has a financial safety net that will make up for loss of childcare, child support, or child rearing assistance. Obtaining a life insurance policy for your kids shows the court that you are thinking ahead even before being ordered to do so.
Applying the Best Interest Factors to Win
The court may do things differently based on a judges preference, but typically an individual will present the judge with why his or her side should win custody. For example: Wife is a full-time salesperson who works 50 hours most weeks and travels out of town for work monthly for 4-5 nights. Husband works at a local supermarket, typically 9:00am – 5:00pm Monday through Friday. This scenario allows Husband to make the case that he is available for his kids more often than Wife because he has a set schedule and doesn’t travel out of town for work. Husband has a much more stable living arrangement because he is home every night and works a normal 40-hour week. This is a factor that would lean heavily in Husbands favor.
Another of example would be: Husband is employed full-time at a car dealership and Wife is a stay at home parent with a part-time job working from home. Wife has been primarily responsible for all drop-offs and pick-ups at school, taking the kids to doctors appointments, and is with the kids for their extracurricular activities after school since Husband can’t always make it on time because of his work hours. In this scenario, Wife has shouldered the bulk of the child-rearing responsibilities which would lean this factor heavily in her favor.
While none of these factors are independently enough to win a case, getting the facts of your case to at least meet in the middle on the majority of them increase your chance at winning custody in a dramatic way. The more positives that match up with your situation, the better.
The Next Step
The first step is always to speak with a child custody attorney that can help you navigate the family court system is essential. At the same time, you need to be getting all your ducks in a row – this means making sure that you are involved in doctor’s appointments, school and sports activities, and that whatever living arrangement you are looking into has a bedroom for each child and is in the same school district. Paying attention and putting your best step forward by preparing for a custody battle is oftentimes the most important step of all to winning custody of your kids.