The other parent and you may be able to work out child custody and parenting time for your children on your own. But if the situation is that you aren’t able to agree, your court will decide custody and parenting time based on “the best interests of the child.” What exactly are the best interests?
The Child’s Environment and the Length of the time in the Environment
While sounding similar, these are two different things that the court will be deciding. First, the court must ask is there an established custodial environment? Having a good environment for the child is a very important factor on what the court will decide for child custody. And then they will consider the length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and desirability of maintaining that environment with the child as a separate factor.
Emotional ties between the parties involved and the Child
The next step the court will look at is the love, affection, and other emotional ties existing between the parties involved and the child and whether or not the parent in question will be able to nurture those. In this step, the court is focusing on the emotional bonds that already exist between the parent and the child. They look at how the existing bond between parent and child is, and whether or not the parent is able to continue that bond in the future in order to provide guidance in the child’s life.
The permanence, as a family unit, of the existing or proposed custodial home or homes
This factor focuses on the permanence of the family unit, not the acceptability of the homes or any child care arrangements. The court looks at the relationships in the family, such as the child’s relationship with their siblings if there is any, the relationship with the parents, etc.
Willingness and Ability for the child to interact with the other parent
The court is also going to look at the willingness and ability of each of the parents to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent. Unless the other parent is deemed a threat to the child, the courts believe in maintaining relationships between all the parents and the child or children in question.
The capacity and disposition of the parents
The court looks at here the capacity and disposition of the parents involved to be able to and to give the child love, affection, and guidance. They also consider the parents abilities to continue the education and raising of the child in his or her religion or creed, if any.
The capacity of each parent to provide the necessities for each child
This is where the court will determine on the parents ability and disposition to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care, and other material needs. Being able to take care of the child is just as important as having a nurturing environment for the child.
The home, school, and community record of the child.
In this factor the court will look at the child and their schooling. Things like encouragement of attendance, who supervises the child’s home responsibilities, and who is more actively involved in school conferences and activities. This factor may not be relevant for a very young child who has not established a home, community or school record.
The moral fitness of the parties involved and the mental and physical health of the parties involved
While this may seem like the same thing the court is going to look at these as individual factors when determining custody. The moral fitness is important to judge on whether or not any of the parent’s behaviors would have a negative effect on the child or an influence on the parent’s abilities to take care of the child. Whereas when the judge looks at the mental and physical health of the parents in question they will be looking for any mental or physical problems that will interfere with the ability to care for the child’s well being. Judging the mental and physical health of the parties involved is important to determine if any disability has an impact on actual parenting.
The Child’s choice and preferences
If the court considers the child to be of sufficient age to express preference, the child is asked on their opinion on which they want to stay with. The court is not required to disclose the child’s preference to the parents. The child’s preference does not automatically outweigh other factors; it is only one element used to make the determination.
The court also considers if there has been any history of domestic abuse, whether it was towards the child or not. It doesn’t even need to be witnessed by the child to be considered.
Any other important factor
The court will consider any other factor that is relevant to a particular child custody disputes as well. For instance if the child or children happen to be special needs, who is better suited to take care of them? It is important to know however that the court may not consider the race or gender of a parent’s spouse in considering whether to change custody.