Many aspects of the divorce process can be difficult for families to work through, but child custody disputes can be particularly challenging, especially for parents. Parents tend to go into custody disputes with the mentality that they have a right to care for and raise their child, and this is true, generally speaking.
When parents cannot agree on how to allocate parental responsibilities, though, they put a judge in the position of having to make a decision for them. That decision is not based primarily on the desires and preferences of the parents, but on the best interests of the children caught in the middle of the dispute.
Judges do take into account the parental rights of each party. The presumption is that both parents are fit and that no restrictions are to be placed on parenting time unless it can be proven by a preponderance of the evidence—meaning it is more likely than not—that a child’s physical, mental, moral and emotional health would be endangered.
In making a determination of what is in the best interests of a child, judges have discretion to consider a wide variety of factors. State law has it that any factor the court expressly finds to be relevant may be taken into consideration, and specifically lists factors such as:
- The wishes of the parents;
- The child’s needs;
- The mental and physical health of all parties involved;
- The amount of time each parent has spent caring for the child;
- The child’s relationship with the parents, siblings, or other people who may significantly affect his or her best interests;
- The ability of the child to adjust to a home, community and school; and
- The willingness and ability of each parent to foster a cooperative relationship between the child and the other parent
In our next post, we’ll look at a couple important points to keep in mind about best interest determinations and how an experienced attorney can help a parent present the best possible case.