Child custody is an all too tricky thing, and that is not at all surprising. After all, divorces and separations themselves are rather contentious affairs. All too often, a child custody dispute can come down to one or both of the people involved unable to see beyond their desire to spite their soon-to-be ex-partner, ignoring that there is a child in the equation who needs to be cared for. For those parents who are simply trying to figure out the procedure at play in order to get custody of their children, it can feel awfully confusing. As such, we have prepared this guide to help you understand the ins and outs of determining child custody disputes.
How do the courts determine the outcome of child custody disputes?
First and foremost, the goal of the courts is to make the decision that benefits the children the most. Of course, this is not something so easily recognized, and what may be considered a benefit for the children involved in this dispute is often going to be a subjective determination. For example, while one parent may have been the primary caregiver in the relationship, that does not mean that the way they handled their caregiving was good for the children, after all.
One of the key determinations in a child custody dispute is, as mentioned above, which parent was most involved in the children's upbringing. The reason for this is ultimately for the sake of the children. Children benefit a lot from stability, and one of the most stable things that can be done for them is to have the person they spent the most time with be the one to take primary custody of them. This is not going to be a silver bullet for your case, but if you are the person who spent the most time and effort taking care of them, that will go a long way in convincing the judge to rule in your favor.
At times, a judge may observe potential risk to the children, should custody be given to a parent who has a history of suspect behaviors. A more immediate example of such a risk that would manifest in harm to the child is if one of the parents has had any incidents of domestic violence against the other spouse or the children. When given the option, a judge will likely favor the other partner in this situation. A parent's ability to take care of their children's physical, mental, and emotion wellbeing is also an important factor. Additionally, their ability to handle their children's medical needs is important too. A parent does not have to be abusive in order to have a negative or otherwise inadequate impact on their children's wellbeing, after all. Sometimes, a parent may simply not have the wherewithal to help their children develop properly, at least not on their own. A child custody evaluation will also sometimes be requested to be submitted to the court, which will go a long way to give the court an idea of the conditions, both current and potential, of your household, and how these conditions would affect the child's upbringing and development.
Location is also a major factor. In a situation where two parents are approximately as good a fit as each other for the children's custody, there are going to have to be things that are looked more closely at, such as how things would change for the child's life. The last thing anyone wants to do is add more chaos to the lives of the children than has already been done and having them move a significant distance away because the parent getting custody moved away is going to make things a little more complicated. All of their friends are now going to become long-distance, they have to adjust to a new neighborhood, and most importantly, they have to get used to a new school. And being the new kid in school is not the easiest thing in the world, so if that can be avoided, it should be. It is also going to be important, whether one or both parents are willing to allow their children to maintain a relationship with their ex if they got custody of their children. Granted, some parents behave in manners that demand that they not have access to their children, but in a regular relationship, it is not to the child's benefit that they have no contact with both parents. So if one parent is more inclined than the other to allow their child to have a relationship with both of you, that will help tip the scales in your favor somewhat.
Of course, being that the top priority of the courts is to ensure that the children are put in the home that offers the best circumstances for them, one thing that will be relevant to the courts is what the children want to do. The children can reveal quite a lot that the courts may not otherwise be able to discern, such as whether one parent has their best interests in mind or is able to take care of your best interests. Granted, the children's age is going to play a big part in this, as the older they are, the more likely it is that their perspective on the matter of who gets custody of them will be based on a more informed, developed opinion on things. Younger children's needs have to be taken into account as well, given that the younger they are, the more developing they are, and thus, the more the courts have to consider their best interests. The parents' wishes will have some input of course, just not nearly as much as the children's input. If one parent thinks that the other parent is the best fit to be the primary caregiver, for instance, that would make the decision by the judge almost pre-determined. Of course, they have the ultimate say, and just because you think they would be a better fit does not mean they would be. For example, they could have perpetuated abuse that was gleaned from talking to the child, abuse you were not otherwise aware of.
For all of these details, however, it is important to remember that there is a lot more to determining a child custody dispute than you could put in an article twice this size, even if you only have to take into consideration your state's respective child custody laws and procedures. If you do need to hire a lawyer to help represent you in a child custody case — especially if the case is a pretty contentious one — you should procure the services of the child custody lawyers at The Cossitt Law Firm. While you could theoretically approach this yourself, having a lawyer on your side makes you that much more likely to succeed in this case, especially given that your partner is likely going at this with a lawyer themselves. Not only that, but a lawyer can help educate you on what you can expect in the decision-making process, so you are more prepared. Make sure to utilize everything within your power to have your needs covered.