When a couple decides to end their relationship, whether they have been together for a short while, a few years or were even married, the process of untangling the life they have started together can be a difficult one and one that is only exasperated by having to also handle child custody issues should they share a child or children. Child custody cases are not the easiest for parents to deal with and the process of deciding on custody, visitation and other aspects of a child custody agreement can be both emotional and frustrating. In the eyes of North Dakota family courts, the best interests of the child or children are most important when they are tasked with making this sometimes difficult arrangements.
How Child Custody Decisions are Made in North Dakota
The family court system in North Dakota will make child custody decisions by evaluating what type of arrangement would be in the best interests of the child or children involved. Determining the best interests of the child or children is done by analyzing a number of different factors and state law dictates that all of these factors must be considered by the judge before they make their final ruling. The laws in this state will generally recognize that having a healthy and consistent relationship with both parents is in the best interests of any child or children involved in a divorce or child custody case.
Barring any allegations or evidence of abuse, both parents should encourage a positive and strong relationship between the child or children and the other parent. Best interests of the child or children will also include the emotional ties between both of the parents and the child or children involved in the case – should the child or children have a higher level of emotional connection with one parent over the other, it may be in their best interests to have a child custody arrangement that continues to support that positive relationship. The court will also look at each parents’ ability to care for the children.
Some additional factors that the judge will consider include the effect of extended family relationships, how much time the child or children has spent in each of the parents’ homes and whether or not the “status quo” will be sufficient for the child or children’s best interests or if a different arrangement will need to be made. Even if two parents are equally capable of caring for the children and have an equal relationship with them, one parent living closer to extended family members such as cousins or grandparents that are important in the child’s life may have them win out on having sole custody.
The moral fitness of the parents is also given strong consideration under North Dakota law. Even though the term “moral” is not specifically defined by law, this is important since the moral fitness of a parent does have an effect on the development of the child or children. In additional to moral fitness, the judge will also be tasked with looking at the mental and physical fitness as it relates to caring for and raising the child or children since these factors can also have an effect on the child’s developmental health.
In addition to the many factors outline above, the “best interests of the child” may also include the opinions of the child or children themselves. Should the court find that the child or children are old enough and mature enough to make these decisions, they may take their opinion into consideration when making a final child custody decision. Some factors the judge will look to determine the child or children’s maturity level include their age, their academic record as well as their overall behavior.
Domestic Violence and Child Custody in North Dakota
Domestic violence in terms of a child custody arrangement is taken very seriously in North Dakota family courts. Should there be an incident of domestic violence that involves a weapon or results in bodily injury or a history of domestic violence or abusive behavior the court will likely rule that the parent who has committed these acts of violence is not fit to have an extended custody agreement or a residential responsibility with the child or children involved in the case. The only way for a parent with a domestic violence background to receive residential responsibility is for them to prove with clear and convincing evidence that having this responsibility is within the best interests of the child or children.
Child Custody Modification in North Dakota
While the original order for custody is legally binding for both parents, it is possible for them to make modifications to the agreement as their circumstances change or as the child or children grow and have different needs. Should both parents come to an agreement on what changes need to be made, it is much easier for the court to grant these changes given they are still within the best interests of the child or children involved. The problem arises when one parent wishes to make a modification to an existing child custody agreement that the other parent does not agree to for one reason or another.
In these cases, it will fall on the parent wishing to make the modification to prove to the court that the change is needed and that the change will be in the best interests of the child. Since frequent changes to a child custody agreement can disrupt the child or children’s lives, judges in the state of North Dakota attempt to keep unnecessary modifications to a minimum, meaning the standard for proving a modification is needed is set very high for those parents who wish to make changes.
Custody and Relocation in North Dakota
Relocation is often a difficult subject for North Dakota family court judges to decide on, especially if one parent has primary custody of the child or children and wishes to move them a great distance away from the other parent. Again, if the relocation is in the best interests of the child or children and both parents agree on the relocation it is much easier for the judge to grant to the move and make it a part of the existing child custody agreement that the parents currently share. Problems arise, however, when one parent is protesting the relocation, which is most often the case in these situations.
When one parent is protesting the move it is left up to the parent who wishes to relocate to prove to the court that the relocation is necessary and will uphold the best interests of the child or children involved. Again, the standard for proving this are set very high and the parent will need to provide clear and convincing evidence that the relocation is necessary. Some of the factors the judge will consider in these cases will include, but are not limited to, the following:
- The parent’s reason for wanting to relocate
- The other parent’s reason for protesting the relocation
- The proposed benefits to the child or children should they relocate
- The relationship between the child or children and both of the parents
- The alternative communication methods that can be used to aid in communication between the child or children and the other parent and who will be responsible for providing them