When a court has to make a custody ruling in the wake of a divorce, it’s going to put the children’s best interests first. This means that a judge is going to consider the best outcome for the children, even if the parents disagree on what that may look like or what they want.
What parents often ask, of course, is how the court decides what a child’s best interests are in the first place. How are they defined? What will be considered?
The truth is that the court will consider a list of many different factors, with a general focus on things like safety and health. But every situation is unique, so the practical application of various concerns is weighed differently from one scenario to the next. This is part of what makes contentious child custody matters so complex.
Examples of factors the court may consider
Since each situation is unique, it’s impossible to make an exhaustive list of all the factors and conditions that could potentially play a role in a court’s determination. But some of the most common ones include:
- Any history of abuse or neglect
- The parents’ mental and physical health
- The age of the children and the age of the parents
- Any special needs or health concerns that the child has
- The child’s proximity to friends, social groups and a school system
- Proximity to extended family members
- The living conditions that each parent will provide
- The child’s own wishes about where they want to live
This last point often concerns parents. Could your child just choose never to live with you again? As a general rule, even though children can express their wishes, that doesn’t mean that the court is necessarily going to grant them what they ask for. Their desires are just one factor out of many. Overall, courts usually try to keep both parents heavily involved in their children’s lives unless there are compelling reasons to enforce an alternative approach.
Working through child custody decisions can certainly be a complicated process. This is especially true if you and your ex cannot agree on the terms of your arrangement. Parents need to be sure that they understand all the legal steps they can take when navigating a contentious child custody dispute. Speaking with a legal professional can result in this insight.