Parents are used to believing they know what’s best for their child and they are usually loathe to give up that control, But if parents can’t agree on child custody during a divorce, a judge will hold a custody hearing during which each parent can state his or her arguments for legal and physical custody of the child.
However, it’s not the parents’ wishes that are paramount to the judge. The judge will determine child custody arrangements based on the best interests of the child.
Health, safety and welfare of the child
Although there is no standard definition of “best interests of the child,” factors that are included in determining the child’s best interest include the child’s:
- Best chance for health, safety and/or protection.
- Relationship with siblings
- Need for consistency in education, community and family
- By age 11, their own wishes
- Religious and cultural considerations
In addition, the judge will consider both parents’:
- Ability to provide for the child’s daily physical, emotional, educational and special needs care
- Ability to provide a stable, nurturing environment
- Mental and physical health
- History of drug or alcohol abuse
- History of physical abuse
- Criminal charges and convictions
Generally speaking, it’s in the child’s best interest to have a loving, close relationship with both parents. The courts don’t look at one factor but look at a number of factors relating to both the child and parents to determine the custody situation that will create the child’s ultimate happiness and safety.
Visitation, third-party custody
If custody with either parent will result in danger, a judge has the ability to award custody to a third-party – such as an uncle, aunt or grandparent – who has already provided a loving, stable environment for the child.
In addition to visitation rights for the parent who does not have physical custody of the child, the court may also grant visitation rights to another relative if it is in the best interest of the child.
Divorce is a difficult and emotional procedure. It’s hard to separate your feelings from what may be best for your child. To make sure your rights are protected, seek out the advice of a qualified, experienced attorney.