How is Child Custody Decided?

Child custody can be a very delicate issue for everyone involved which is why you want to have all the information you need readily available. Anything you can do to educate yourself about the process and your parental rights can help you and your case.

As we explore the issue of child custody, it’s important to remember that having an experienced attorney on your side can help you get the outcome you want in your child custody case. Let’s explore the issue of how child custody is decided so that you can be better prepared for your upcoming case.

What factors are considered in a child custody case?

When it comes to child custody cases, the best interests of the child always take priority. The best interests of the child can depend on many factors such as:

  • Each parent’s mental and physical health
  • Each parent’s lifestyle
  • The child’s age, mental, and physical health
  • The emotional bond between each parent and child
  • Each parent’s ability to provide the child with the necessities of life (food, shelter, closing, medical care)
  • The child’s routine and education in the current setting
  • The child’s preference if they are mature enough to offer an opinion

When all of these factors are considered and don’t portray one parent as the better choice over the other, the courts will tend to focus on the parent that provides the most stable environment. In the case of a younger child, the primary caregiver may be granted custody. With older children, education, relationships, and social factors may help determine custody.

Where should I file for custody of my children?

You should file for custody in the state where the child has been living for the past six months. Be sure to ask your attorney for guidance if you are unsure because you want to file for custody in the correct court.

What are the shared and sole custody options?

When looking at how child custody is decided, it’s important to know about the different types of custody that can be granted.

Legal Custody

Legal custody refers to the parent’s right to make decisions about their children’s upbringing when it pertains to schools, extracurricular activities, religion, and healthcare.

Sole Legal Custody

If you are granted sole legal custody, you have the right to make all child-related decisions without talking to the other parent. This typically happens in cases when one parent doesn’t take interest in the child or one parent isn’t fit to make competent decisions due to other issues in their lives. If one parent is abusive or there is deep animosity between both parents, sole legal custody may be granted.

Joint Legal Custody

When joint legal custody is granted, both parents have the authority to make important decisions about their children’s lives.

If both parents can agree on how decisions will be made, it will be in the best interest of the child. Sometimes joint legal custody can cause bitter disagreements between both parents. It’s best to avoid these types of conflicts because they can sometimes lead you back to court to settle your arguments.

Physical Custody

Physical custody refers to where the child lives and who takes care of them daily. A judge will decide which environment is best for the child and if there should be sole or joint physical custody.

Sole Physical Custody

Sole physical custody means that your children live with you full-time. This type of physical custody is granted when one parent is in jail, is unfit to parent because of illness or substance abuse, can’t provide safe housing, or lives far away.

The non-custodial parent will be given visitation time in these situations. Supervised visits may be necessary if a parent might pose a danger to the children.

Joint or Shared Physical Custody

In these custody situations, a child typically lives with one parent but spends overnights with the other parent on a schedule. In some cases, a child will split the week between each parent’s home. But this is only done in cases where the parents live close together and the schedule won’t disrupt the child’s normal routine.

Who decides custody?

While a judge ultimately decides custody, it is extremely helpful if parents can come up with some type of agreement. Typically, the judge will adopt the agreement into a court order. This makes the decision easier for everyone.

When parents can not agree, the state will decide for you, looking at what is in the best interest of the child. This will be binding even if one parent disagrees.

FAQ about Child Custody

What is the most common type of custody arrangement?

The most common type of custody arrangement is joint custody. This allows the child to spend time with each parent and have a relationship with both of them.

Does the court tend to favor the mother in custody cases?

In the past, many states favored the mother in custody cases involving younger children. But today, that is not the case. If both parents are equally fit, custody can be granted to either parent as the court looks at the best interests of the child.

How is visitation decided so that it is fair to both parents?

When one parent is awarded sole physical custody, that parent generally decides how much visitation is reasonable, unless there is a specific schedule.

If both parents don’t see eye to eye, the non-custodial parent may find that they need to fight for time with the child. This is why courts will ask parents to work out a fair schedule that clearly outlines visitation. If parents can’t agree, the court will develop a schedule for them. Visitation arrangements typically include alternating weekends, school breaks, and more time during the summer.

Will my child have to testify during the custody hearing?

This will vary from case to case as well as state law. The judge will also consider your child’s maturity level. Some judges talk to a child in their chamber rather than open court. A parent can request to have their lawyer present during this time.

The Takeaway

When it comes to child custody, the court will decide what is in the best interest of the child. Different types of custody can be awarded on a case-by-case basis. When there is visitation involved, parents should come up with a fair schedule. If they can not, the court will develop one for them.

If you are involved in a child custody case, it is best to have an attorney on your side who will look out for your best interests and fight for a fair outcome.