You probably hear it all the time: The focus of a child custody divorce case should be deciding what is in the best interests of the child. The goal here is to focus on the kids – who did not ask for the divorce, after all – so that the troubles their parents are having don’t negatively impact them, as well. If you are going to split up with your spouse, your love for your kids probably has you onboard with this idea. You do want what’s best for them in the long run. But how do you decide what that is? Below are a few factors that the courts will consider.
What the child wants
Young children may not know what they want, but older children often have strong desires. A 13-year-old may desperately not want to have to move and switch schools, for example, meaning he or she has to make new friends, become the “new kid,” start over in clubs and sports teams, and the like. Therefore, if one parent’s living situation keeps that kid in the same school and the other doesn’t, that parent may get the edge in a custody case.
Which home environment is more stable?
Children need stability and structure in their lives. If one parent is constantly traveling for work and the other is not, the parent who stays in one place may be given an upper hand. The parent who travels may then end up with visitation rights and the ability to see the child when home from these business trips, but the child will live primarily in the more stable home.
The extended family
Though the rights of the extended family don’t trump parental rights, a good solution is typically one that will not keep the child from being involved with cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents. These relationships may already be very important and the family may be quite close. The court doesn’t often want to sign off on an agreement that will ruin that, both for the child and for those extended family members.
The health of the parents
Any health issues that the parents are experiencing can also come into play, especially if they lead to physical limitations. If a parent is sick and needs constant care, that can put a lot of pressure on a child to provide that care, and it can mean that the parent may not be physically able to take care of the child. This can feel unfair to parents who didn’t choose to have these limitations, of course, but the court must look at what provides the best home life for the child, not the parent.
Every case is a bit different, but other factors that could play into the decision include:
- Mental or physical health issues that the child has.
- Cultural differences and religious considerations.
- Other children that are already living with either of the parents.
- The gender and age of the child.
- Whether or not there has ever been physical or emotional abuse.
- The use of drugs or alcohol by the parents.
It’s crucial for all parents who are splitting up to know two things. First, they must know what factors the court considers and how the child’s best interests come first. Second, they must know their own rights and how to make sure they are upheld in family court.