How Do Courts Determine Child Custody?

8 March 2017
 Categories: , Blog

One of the most intense issues of a divorce case is deciding child custody. As bitter as fights over money can be, they pale in comparison to when a parent feels like they're on trial for being a bad parent. However, child custody isn't about deciding who's a good parent and who's a bad parent. Here's what courts are really looking for.

Best Interests of the Child

The legal rule that controls the entire child custody decision is the best interests of the child standard. Courts are instructed to decide what's best for the child not the parents or anyone else.

This means that courts must put aside any other evidence about what happened between the parents to cause the divorce. If evidence doesn't answer the question of "why would option A be a better situation for the child than option B?", the court can't consider it.

Default to Joint Custody

In modern times, courts believe that children should spend substantial time with both parents unless there's a reason for them not to. This means that courts will usually award joint custody unless they see compelling evidence that it would be the wrong decision.

Joint custody is split into both physical and legal custody. Physical custody means where the child will live. In a joint custody situation, the child might spend half the time with each parent. Adjustments may be made if the parents live too far apart and this would interfere with the child's school schedule.

Legal custody means the ability to make important decisions for the child. This includes things like education, religion, or major medical decisions. Both parents will typically have equal decision-making power in a joint custody situation and must therefore find a way to agree on parenting decisions.

Parents' Income

The courts do not give a bias towards a higher earning parent, but a parent's job may influence the decision in other ways. If a parent doesn't have a stable job, a judge might fear that they may not be able to properly care for the child and award custody to the other parent.

On the other hand, if a high-earning parent is constantly away from home, the judge might find that they aren't available enough to have substantial parenting abilities. If both parents are available to meet their responsibilities, the judge will default back to joint custody and take care of income differences with child support.

To learn more, contact a local custody lawyer or firm such as Law Offices of Lynda Latta, LLC.