One of the biggest questions in a child custody case is "Who will get custody and visitation rights?" The answer to this crucial question can be complicated with a lot of factors coming into play, but there are some general guidelines and considerations that come into play when child custody is decided upon. Choose a link from the list below to learn more about how a family court arrives at a child custody ruling. This section has a look at common factors a family court will consider in making a custody determination and how a child's best interests are determined.
Determining the Child's Primary Caretaker
A major factor in deciding who gets custody of a child after a divorce is the determination of who the primary caretaker is. This is the parent who not only does the majority of child care tasks, such as shuttling to school or cooking meals, but also the one with the closest emotional bond. If the two parents are able to come to a mutually agreeable decision on their own, then the courts need not intervene (they will simply approve any reasonable plan).
However, courts will consider a number of factors to decide who the primary caretaker is when there is a dispute. Specifically, the court will want to know which parent handles the following types of parenting tasks:
- Bathing, grooming
- Planning and cooking meals
- Health care decisions
- Teaching basic skills, such as reading, and helping with homework
- Planning and participating in recreational activities
The Best Interests of the Child
No matter what the court ultimately decides in a custody hearing, it is required to find a solution that is in the child's best interests. While this may sound vague, it means that all custody decisions must be made with the goal of promoting the child's happiness, mental health, emotional development, and security. In other words, a parent's preference should not take priority over what is actually best for the child. Children over a certain age (but still minors) may testify on behalf of themselves in most states.
Courts will consider the following factors when determining a child's best interests in a child custody case:
- Physical and mental health of parents
- Any special needs the child may have
- Need for a stable home environment
- Child's own wishes (if old enough to express this)
- Interactions and relationships with other members of the household
- Evidence of drug or alcohol abuse
- Adjustment to the community
Custody in Non-Divorce Cases
Child custody cases are not always linked to divorce. Custody disputes also can arise between unmarried parents, or among close relatives. There also may be non-divorce cases involving the visitation rights of grandparents.
As a general rule, most states require that the mother automatically be awarded full custody of her child if she is unmarried -- unless the father makes an effort to receive custody as well. But other than that, child custody in non-divorce cases is decided in much the same way as in divorce cases. In order for a grandparent or other close relative to be awarded custody of a child, most states have very specific procedures. Typically, the individual must file a non-parental custody petition, a copy of which must also go to the child's parents.
Click on link below to learn more about who gets custody of a child and how this determination is made.