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What Do Judges Look for in Child Custody Cases?

what do judges look for in child custody cases

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There is a widespread assumption that mothers get favors in child custody matters. However, this assumption is far from the truth. Both parents have equal chances of getting physical custody. So, what factors do judges consider to make the right decision in child custody disputes?

Seasoned child custody attorneys have seen that mothers have had a higher chance of getting primary custody in past generations. Nowadays, family courts make conclusions based on the best interest of the child. In instances where joint custody isn’t preferable, the court will consider the most emotionally and financially fit parent as the best to take care of children.

Judges usually order a custody evaluation by involving a custody evaluator. In most cases, child psychologists mainly carry out child evaluations of complex issues, especially when the character of one parent is in question. Their vast experience in the field helps judges make sound decisions in child custody determinations.

Factors That Judges Consider When Solving Child Custody Cases

what do judges look for in child custody cases, factors that judges consider when solving child custody cases

To answer the primary question, let’s look at the factors judges consider when solving child custody cases. 

Relationship Between a Child and Each Parent

The relationship between a child and a parent plays a vital role when adjudicating child custody disputes. Although it’s difficult to determine the relationship between a child and a parent in just days, child custody evaluators must do a thorough evaluation to ensure that separation with a particular parent doesn’t cause stress to a child. If a child has a strong attachment to a specific parent, a family court favors that parent regarding physical custody arrangements. However, custody exchanges may be ordered if a child evaluation report shows that giving sole custody to a particular parent could be detrimental to the child’s best interest.

Older children who can express themselves and make sound decisions are given a chance to express some input into their wishes. A child is a primary witness in custody disputes. Therefore, a child’s preference has a lot of weight when making custody decisions.

Age of Child

Age is an essential factor when making custody decisions. In the past, mothers were given automatic physical custody when it came to toddlers. However, things have changed since, nowadays, states are geared towards a child’s best interest when making custody decisions. Most states have a designated age bracket where a child’s preference is considered.

It is imperative to note that age is correlated with a child’s cognitive development. Here are guidelines as explained by children’s psychologists.

The sensorimotor stage: This stage includes children between ages 0-2 years. According to a renowned researcher, Piaget, maintaining a strong bond between the minor child and both parents is paramount at this stage. Therefore, the visitation schedule should be flexible to ensure that each parent has ample time with the child.

The preoperational stage: This developmental stage includes children between ages 3-7 years. At this stage, kids are relatively tolerant of separation, but there is a need to maintain consistent contact with both parents.

Concrete operational stage of development: The operational stage includes children between the age of 8-11 years, commonly referred to as preteens.  These kids’ tolerance for separation is quite high. Children in this stage are relatively comfortable with spending some time away from one parent. They tend to pay more attention to their hobbies and school extracurricular activities.

Children above 12 years of age are a bit more independent. They are mature and are always looking to create their own path.

Physical Health and Mental Health of Parents

Parents’ physical health and mental health is of great importance when determining child custody cases. When mental health professionals establish that a parent suffers from overwhelming stress, mental health illnesses, or alcohol and substance abuse, the judge will not grant that parent physical custody.

On such an occasion, courts may advise the affected parent to seek help from a trained psychologist. In rare circumstances, a judge may order punitive measures such as supervised visitation and drug tests, especially if a parent has ever been suspected of sexual abuse.

Additionally, judges consider the relationship of a parent with other adults. A parent that keeps company with criminals or has a sexual partner when the kid is watching is deemed unsafe for primary custody. The parent may be restricted from maintaining contact with specific individuals when the kids are present.

Also, a parent’s well-being is an essential factor when it comes to determining child custody cases. Chronic health conditions can hinder parents’ ability to take care of their children.

Locations of Sibling’s May Effect Primary Custody

Family courts strive to keep siblings’ bonds intact. If a child has siblings, it is advisable to let them grow together. The court will only separate siblings under special circumstances.

For instance, if a sibling is bullying or abusing the child, the court might find it best to separate the siblings. Additionally, if a child needs special medical care, the court may grant physical custody to the better-equipped parent to meet the child’s needs.

Besides, child preference may make family court judges order separation of siblings. Siblings may differ when it comes to the favorite parent.

Parents Ability to Meet Children Needs

what do judges look for in child custody cases, parents ability to meet children needs

In addition to physical and mental health, family courts consider the ability of a parent to meet a child’s financial needs. The court will assess the parent’s income and availability of support from the extended family. If relatives such as uncles, aunts, and grandparents are willing and capable of helping financially, that parent may get primary custody.

If both parents are actively involved in raising a child, the court may prefer giving them joint custody. Under such circumstances, the court may ensure that the child primarily resides with the financially equipped parent.

Past Evidence of Abuse Or Neglect

If there is compelling evidence connecting either of the parents with child abuse or neglect, a judge may completely cut that parent’s contact with the child.

Each Parent’s Willingness to Co-Parent Under a Common Parenting Plan

A judge will review each parents’ cooperation with their former spouse regarding the parenting schedule. If a parent has previously interfered with the visitation schedule, the court will likely deny them primary custody. Also, a parent trying to alienate children from the other parent may get frustrated because the court doesn’t tolerate any custody arrangement interference.

Create a written parenting plan that is comprehensive for your children’s current ages, but also for those years still ahead of all of you. Your toddler will someday be a more determined pre-teen who thinks they make all the decisions. It’s best to have plans for this time of their life too.

You won’t be able to cover every scenario you might run into co-parenting your kids. But, a written system of how to deal with these custody arrangements will be a good starting point instead of having to return to family court every few years.

The Bottom Line on Avoiding a Child Custody Battle

Child custody matters can affect the parents and the children involved both mentally and physically. During child custody determinations, the courts will look at different aspects to determine which parent will assume physical custody. The ruling can also favor the other parent by allowing them parental rights such as visitation rights, or an extended period of time during the summer months.

What’s best for the kids is most likely their parents agreeing on their living arrangements and future through a developed parenting plan. This isn’t always the case and therefore attorneys and judges need to get involved at times to create child custody decisions for you.

We recommend having some legal representation from your family lawyer if you have a child custody battle with your ex-partner because nothing is more important than your children!

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