What Factors Do Courts Consider When Making a Custody Determination?
November 23, 2015
For separating parents, custody and visitation can be some of the thorniest issues to resolve. Each parent may want to maintain a strong relationship with the child(ren) and continue to make decisions about his or her upbringing. Below are some factors the judge will typically consider in making a custody determination.
The first set of factors can be considered child-centered factors. The court will think about the age, maturity, and mental and physical health of each child. Is one parent better suited o meet those needs than the other? Particularly with children with special needs, the court will want to make sure that the custodial parent can and will follow medical advice as needed. If a custody decision will require a change in community or school, the court will also consider how well the child is adjusted to his or her current situation as well as what the new community would have to offer. If the child is mature enough, the court may even consider his or her own wishes regarding custody.
The second set of factors are parent-centered factors. The court will consider the relationship between the child and each parent. The court will also look into each parent's physical and mental health to ensure that the parent would be capable of caring for each child. Additionally, the court will consider parental lifestyles. Does one parent smoke around the child? Is there a history of child abuse or children's services involvement?
The final set of factors relates to how the parents interact with one another. Even in cases where one parent is awarded full custody, the court will want to make sure that both parents have an opportunity to have a relationship with the child. The court will consider which parent is more likely to facilitate that relationship, as well as, potentially, relationships with family, friends, and other important people in the child's life.
Ultimately, when deciding custody between two able parents, the court is left to determine the "best interest" of the child. There often is not one key-deciding factor, and the court often has to weigh the costs and benefits of either decision. In some situations, the parents can have joint custody---both making decisions on behalf of the child, both having co-equal authority over medical, school, and other potential issues. However, for joint custody to work, both parents have to be willing to make decisions together, cooperatively. No matter what determination is made, a custody decision is never final. Either party can return to court if there is a change in circumstances or if the custody decision is not working.