Child custody rulings are common matter within divorce proceedings and family law, in general. However, simply because it is common does not mean that it is not complex. Determining custody of a child involves not only many factors, but inevitably involves an array of emotions from all parties. If you or someone you know is involved in a child custody case, it is important to understand the factors that a court will look at when determining custody.
First, the law separates custody into legal and physical custody. Legal custody involves who will make major decisions concerning the child, such as education, health care, extracurricular activities, and religion. Parents may have sole or joint legal custody. If joint, both parents will have equal rights in determining these major elements of the child’s life. However, if sole custody is decided, one parent will have the final verdict on these decisions for the child.
Physical custody determines where a child will reside and with whom he or she will spend the most time. As with legal custody, parents may have sole or joint physical custody. The law defines joint custody as custody that is “shared by the parents in such a way as to assure the child of substantially equal time and contact with both parents.” Parents and the court will work to develop a parenting plan that ensures equal time and contact with both parties.
Next, in determining custody, the court will look to the best interests of the child. This is a standard used by most states that will consider a variety of factors. These factors can include, but are not limited to the following:
- Each parent’s home environment and ability to care for and nurture the child;
- Each parent’s physical and mental health;
- Any history of substance abuse by either parent;
- Any history of physical abuse, sexual abuse, or neglect of children by either parent;
- Any criminal histories of either parent; and
- The relationship between the child and any siblings, half-siblings or stepsiblings who are in either parent’s home
It is important to note that the wishes of the child will also be considered by the judge. A child who is 11 years or older may state a preference as to which parent he or she will reside with. However, this child’s decision will not control the judge’s custody decision, but will instead be an additional factor for the judge to consider. Once a child reaches the age of 14, the child’s decision as to which parent he or she will reside with will be honored unless the judge determines that it is not in the best interest of the child.
The attorneys at Vayman & Teitelbaum are experienced in all matters of child custody. We are here to help you not only navigate through this difficult process but also to ensure that the needs of all members of your family are met. If you or someone you know is contemplating a case involving child custody, please contact our dedicated attorneys today.