When married parents divorce, a decree is issued that spells out the terms of the divorce, specifies with whom their children will live, and details the visitation rights of the other parent. Parents may voluntarily agree on child custody, get assistance from a mediator or attorney, or need to go to court. A decision rendered by a court is based on the best interests of the child as determined by multiple factors.
Fights for custody arising from an inability to agree on who will be the caregiver for the children typically land a divorcing couple in court. Each side should retain a custody lawyer for assistance and representation throughout this process. Attorneys advise clients of their legal and physical custody rights and ensure that these are enforced to the fullest extent desired by the parents.
Once the case reaches the court, the true decision-making begins. The overriding factor is what arrangement will be in the best interests of the child. This can be easier said than done and the standard of “best interest” varies by state. Family courts in some states are permitted to show preference for the parent who served as the primary caretaker for the children during the marriage.
Other states tend to consider certain factors including the age and gender of the child, cultural considerations, religious factors, the adjustment that will be required to become part of the community and school, and the wishes of a child who is old enough to express a sound preference. Factors regarding the family unit are also considered including the interactions and relationships with other household members and opportunity for interaction with and support from extended family members of either parent.
The need to continue a stable home environment is also considered by courts. If a parent has a physical or mental health issue, this could impact the decision. Courts also investigate whether there is any parental history of excessive discipline or alcohol, drug, sex, or emotional abuse. Other factors may be considered but those listed above are common across multiple states.
To win custody of kids, a parent must prove that the living situation will be in the best interests of the youngsters. By addressing all factors that the court will consider, a custody lawyer helps a client prepare a strong case for primary custody. Parents should not be afraid to exercise their custody rights even if this requires legal representation and a trip to court.