When it comes to determining child custody and parenting time rights in the midst of a divorce, you’ve undoubtedly read the words “in the best interest of the child” countless times. But what does that really mean? Since every family dynamic is unique, you may be wondering how a judge can really determine what is best for YOUR child. You do not have to completely relinquish this life-changing custody decision to a third-party judge however if you are able to first negotiate with your ex-spouse, through assisted mediation or otherwise. While a judge still has power to make the final decision, they will take into account any agreement you and your spouse have come to. In addition to your input, there are many other factors that judges use to determine a custody solution. It is important to be aware of these key factors so you have a say in what best suits the needs of your family.
On matters of custody, courts rarely take an “all or nothing” approach. In the occasional case where one parent is granted sole custody, the child will reside with them permanently and this parent will be responsible for making all legal decisions on behalf of the minor child. More often however, a judge orders a joint custody arrangement. If a judge rules that “joint legal custody” is best, both parents will be responsible for making important legal decisions for the child together. “Joint physical custody” means that the child will have one primary place of residence and a parenting time plan will be drafted to ensure the other parent gets their fair share of time with the child. A combination of these parenting plans may be ordered as part of the divorce settlement.
To determine the best parenting and custody plan, a judge will look at factors like:
- The physical, mental, and financial capacity of both parents to provide for the child
- The stability of each parent’s home environment
- Geographical location and proximity of parent’s homes to each other and to the child’s place of education
- Any parental history of drug and alcohol abuse or domestic violence
- The age and number of children involved
- The relationship between the child and each parent
- The child’s preference may be considered if the child is old enough (usually at least age 12)
- Any special needs of the child
Another important component judges will look at is the apparent willingness of both parents to support their child having a relationship with the other parent. If you have an especially vindictive spouse, they may try and use your words and actions against you to make you seem unfit to parent, limiting your custody and parenting time privileges. Though it may be difficult, be very careful what you say about your ex out loud and in writing during the divorce proceedings.
You will often have to compromise with your spouse on issues concerning custody, but your children are absolutely worth fighting for. Brad Crider is an experienced family law attorney in Arizona who is dedicated to fighting for your rights to time with your children. For further information on specific custody questions or to set up your initial consultation, call the Crider Law Offices today.