Child custody is a very important issue, whether it occurs in the context of divorce in some other context. Parents typically want to have a connection with their children, even when their relationship with the other parent, for whatever reason, fails.
Parents, of course, have certain rights under the law with respect to custody and visitation. It is important to understand, though, that when parents are not able to establish a workable custody agreement on their own and a court has to step in and make that decision for them, the decision becomes primarily about the well-being of the children.
In making child custody determinations, the primary consideration for courts is the best interests of the children. State statute identifies a variety of factors judges should take into consideration when making custody decisions. These include the following:
- The age and physician and mental vulnerabilities of the child;
- Whether there are any circumstances that could result in harm to the child;
- Psychiatric, psychological or developmental evaluations of the child, the parents, other family members, and others who have access to the child’s home;
- Whether the child’s family has adequate parenting skills as evidenced in health and nutritional care, appropriate care and discipline, guidance and supervision, and understanding of the child’s needs and abilities;
- The availability of support from extended family and friends; and
- Willingness and ability of the family to make positive environmental and personal changes within a reasonable period of time.
These are not the only factors judges are allowed to consider. It should also be kept in mind that prompt and permanent placement of the child in a safe environment is presumed to be in the best interests of the child, unless it can be shown otherwise.
In our next post, we’ll continue looking at these best interests factors and why it is important to work with an experienced attorney in child custody cases.