How are child custody arrangements decided?

The good news is parents generally have a chance to negotiate with each other to determine the best parenting plan for their children. Parents may also have a chance to work together even if this is a contentious issue for them. For example, many state courts have moved towards alternative conflict resolution strategies such as arbitration or mediation and may require parents to first work with a mediator before going to court.

Consider also, mediation may give you and your spouse the chance to work with a third party, expert mediator who can make suggestions for your family in a non-threatening, objective manner. What if you cannot come to a mutually satisfying decision? In this case your battle might have to be fought in court where the judge will evaluate a variety of factors to determine what is best for your child.

How does the family court judge make a child custody decision?

Courts generally prefer to have participation by both parents in the rearing of the child (both legally and physically), assuming both parents are deemed fit parents. Above all, the court will consider what they term to be in the “best interest of the child.” Other factors the court will consider include:

  • The parent's ability to communicate and cooperate
  • The parent's willingness to follow custody arrangements
  • The child's relationships with their parents and siblings
  • Whether there has been history of domestic abuse
  • Whether there has been abuse against the child
  • The child's preference, if appropriate given the child's age
  • The needs of the child
  • The stability of each home
  • The child's educational needs
  • Whether each parent is emotionally or physically able to care for the child
  • The location of each parent's home
  • Whether each parent is employed
  • The age and number of children to place
  • The relationship of each child with each parent prior to the separation

If the parents cannot agree on an arrangement the court will evaluate the factors listed above to create a parenting plan. If the court determines joint physical custody is in the best interest of the child they will create an arrangement such as alternating months, years, or six-month periods, or spending weekends and holidays with one parent, while spending weekdays with the other parent. Joint legal custody will allow both parents to participate in the making legal decisions for the child.

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