How Does The Legal Justice System Determine Child Custody

Going through a divorce isn’t easy. It comes with emotional rollercoasters and a host of other challenges. During a divorce many parents also face the task of deciding child custody. This isn’t easy either because of the emotional bond that parent’s form with their children during the marriage.

When kids are involved in a divorce, the parents or the court must ultimately decide who remains with the kids. If you’re going through a separation, you should know how the legal justice system determines custody to protect yourself and your kids from stress and harassment. A family law attorney can be a worthy companion during a divorce and can minimize the anxiety and headaches that come with the process.  Keep reading to learn how child custody is determined:

What’s Child Custody?

It’s a legal term that refers to exercising control or care over your children. During a divorce, it’s one of the crucial concerns. Deciding on custody matters can be challenging and could come with serious financial and legal complications. You need a lawyer by your side to help you with negotiations and finalizing the process. Kids live most of the time with the custodial parent, although the non-custodial parent can visit them at specific times. Custody arrangements vary and depend on the parenting plan that the custodians develop. The final plan, however, should cover legal and physical custody. Such a plan enables both parents to make crucial decisions about their kids’ upbringing. 

Types Of Child Custody Arrangements

  • Sole

In this type of custody, the custodial parent lives with the children permanently. The non-custodial parent may be allowed some limited access rights, depending on their behavior. However, if they’re abusive or not in the right mental state, the custodial parent may be given full rights over the child, including making decisions about their healthcare, religion, and education. A judge can award sole custody even against the wish of the non-custodial parent. 

  • Joint

Joint custody enables both parents to take care of their children and participate in their upbringing. It also lets the parents decide whether one of them will live with the kid, or part of the time with each parent. The court may hesitate in awarding joint custody, especially if parents aren’t cooperative. Parents who can’t agree on many things and those who have friction amongst them may not be awarded joint custody.

  • Split

This type of custody is not very common. It involves some children living with one parent, and others staying with the other. Split custody may be considered a part of joint custody, and may require cooperation and consent from both guardians. Without an agreement between the parents, the court may not award split custody. According to the court, it’s not in the best interest of children to be split, unless the parents agree. 

  • Shared

Children can live with each parent for an equal amount of time, say 50% of the time. This percentage may also vary depending on the parent’s agreement, and the kid’s best interest. When parents opt for shared custody, the court will use the percentage of time a parent takes with the child to calculate child support. 

How Custody Decisions Are Made For Unmarried Parents

Every parent has a right to live with their children even if they’re not legally married to their co-parents. To determine custody in such cases, the court may have to conduct a DNA test to prove that the child is biologically owned by the parents. Once this is established, the court will check other factors such as parents’ behavior, income level, and mental state before awarding custody. Despite the decisions of the court, the non-custodial parent will still be allowed to take part in important decisions concerning the child’s education, healthcare, and other issues. It’s recommended that unmarried parents work out custody arrangements out of court through the help of their lawyers. Such an arrangement will enable them to create a plan that suits both of them and their kids. If there’s no agreement between the parents, a judge may have to decide the case. 

What’s The Standard That The Court Uses To Determine A Child’s Best Interests?

Most courts use several factors to determine child custody. These factors are sometimes referred to as the best interests. They include;

  1. Your children’s age
  2. Kids physical, emotional, mental, special and educational needs
  3. Abuse history such as domestic violence, sexual abuse or physical abuse
  4. What the child prefers, especially if they’re older and can make decisions.
  5. Parent’s physical and mental health
  6. How children are emotionally related to their parents
  7. Parent’s ability to provide basic necessities and medical care
  8. The continuity and stability of a child’s educational, home and community life
  9. A parent’s readiness to motivate their children to continue maintaining a relationship with the other parent. 

A judge’s decisions on who should be awarded custody will majorly hinge on the child’s age. For example, some judges may give a primary caregiver the physical custody of a toddler or infant. For older children, the judge may award custody to the parent who can ensure they continue with their peer relationships, education, and religious and neighborhood life. In some states, judges may ask the children to state whom they’d like to live with. A jury may also order for an evaluation in cases where one parent complains about the mental state of the other parent. The evaluator will then write a report and recommend who should be awarded custody.

Can A Custody Arrangement Be Modified?

Most state’s prioritize a child’s stability or continuity when awarding custody. Although the existing laws and status quo may make it difficult to edit a custody arrangement, some factors may necessitate a modification. Such factors include changing family circumstances, the health status of the custodial parent, and relocation due to new jobs or other duties. 

Before a custody is modified, the parent asking for a change must show that there has been a significant circumstantial change since the order was put in place. They may also need to show that the current custody order no longer fulfills the kids’ best interests. 

Summing Up

Child custody issues can be complicated. In most of these cases, emotions also run high, making it difficult to make sober decisions. You may only make decisions that could advantage your co-parent and let them be awarded full custody. To avoid these pitfalls, consider working with a family law attorney. They’re well-versed in custody laws, and can advise you on the right decisions to make. They’ll also be with you throughout the process, ensuring the custody agreements favor your rights, and kids’ interests.