Child custody involves determination of how parents make important decisions about their children, where children primarily reside, how parents share time with their children, and how parents share the cost of providing for their children’s financial needs.
Parents’ ability to communicate is key to shared decision making.
Ideally, divorcing parents should place their children’s best interests ahead of their own in making decisions about sharing time with each parent, their education and outside activities, letting kids be kids. The most important factor courts consider in making custody determinations is whether the parents are capable of communicating and reaching shared decisions in their children’s best interests.
Relative fitness of each parent to meet the children’s needs.
In deciding a child’s primary residential parent (physical custody), courts weigh numerous other factors, including:
- each parent’s psychological, physical and financial capabilities to support their child’s developmental needs;
- age and number of children;
- geographic proximity of parental homes;
- potential disruption of a child’s social and school life;
- demands of parental employment;
- relationship established between the parent and child; and
- the expressed preference of a child of suitable age and discretion.
In a contested case the Court may appoint an independent “child advocate” or “best interest attorney” to investigate and advocate for the child’s interest, protecting the child from the trauma of testifying in Court.
Detailed parenting schedules clarifying pick-ups and drop-offs and allocation of family holidays and vacations can avoid friction between divorced parents which is harmful to children. Since courts generally defer to negotiated parenting agreements, I encourage clients to collaborate in developing parenting plans using CustodyXChange® to track actual parenting time and expenses. In some cases I may also refer clients to consult with neutral parenting coaches (psychologists or social workers) to facilitate difficult negotiations. Predictable parenting schedules should be designed and implemented with the children’s best interests in mind, and must be flexible to accommodate their evolving developmental needs. For example, where both parents are equally available and the child manages transitions adequately, preschoolers and elementary school children may move easily between households on an alternating weekly schedule. However, where one parent is less available due to work responsibilities, it may be healthier for the children to live primarily with the other parent, allowing the non-residential parent regular weekend overnight visitation and occasional mid-week dinners. Of course, as children become teenagers, parental visitation routines will evolve to accommodate the children’s schedules and preferences