When a couple with children has made the difficult decision to end their marriage, the issue of child custody must be addressed. Child custody is typically one of the most emotional and contentious matters in a divorce.
It is often best if you, as a couple, can reach agreement on custody arrangements. When that is not possible, you should strongly consider hiring an experienced child custody attorney, who can guide you through the divorce and child custody process, ensuring that your rights are protected and that you and your children’s interests are well represented.
The court will rule on two kinds of custody: physical and legal custody. Physical custody focuses on where the child will live after the divorce, while legal custody establishes which parent can make decisions about the children’s education, medical needs, religious upbringing, etc.
Custody Arrangements. When it comes to custody, a judge could decide to:
- Award sole legal custody and sole physical custody to one parent.
- Award sole physical custody to one parent and joint legal custody to both parents.
- Award joint physical and legal custody to both parents.
- Award sole legal custody to one parent and joint physical custody to both (though this occurs very rarely).
How the Court Determines Custody. The number one question considered by the judge when determining primary or sole custody is: What is in the best interest of the child? Here are some of the factors that the court may consider:
- The child’s age, sex and mental and physical health.
- Each parent’s mental and physical health and medical history.
- The emotional bond between the child and each parent.
- The financial situation of each parent and their ability to provide for the child’s essential needs, like clothing, shelter, food, and medical care.
- The child’s opinion. If the child is at least 12 years old, his/her wishes may be taken into consideration.
- Bad habits exhibited by the parents that could adversely impact and influence the child, such as excessive smoking, drinking, gambling, drug use, etc.
- If each parent is willing to support the child’s relations with the other parent.
- The impact of moving a child to a different city, state, or school.
If after considering these factors, none seems to favor one parent over the other, the court may select the parent most likely to give the children a stable environment and can provide continuity in terms of schools, neighborhood life, religious institutions and friends.