A major factor that needs to be decided when you are going through a divorce is the custody agreement for children. It's most common for judges to award some type of joint custody, where each parent has the ability to make legal decisions for the children. However, one parent is often awarded primary, or physical, custody over the children. This parent is the one who remains the primary residence of the children and makes most of the day-to-day decisions that come with family life.
How does a judge decide which parent should have physical custody? They make the choice based on what will be in the best interest of the children. Best interest is evaluated by examining a number of factors, including:
1. How much change and upheaval might come from custody decisions.
Children experience a lot of change during divorce. The court knows this, and so when making custody decisions, it is most appealing to minimize the amount of change that might come with it. If one parent continues to reside in the children's current school district, this residence may be preferable simply because children can keep going to the same classes and having the same schedules.
Courts are also more hesitant to remove children from strong support systems. If there is a network of family and close friends, including aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins, close by, it's often important for the child to continue reaping the benefits that come from this unique support, especially because a divorced spouse will be taking the role of a single parent.
2. The mental and physical health of the parent.
Mental and physical health are essential components in a child custody case. One parent may have plenty of resources and love for the children, but also may struggle with debilitating anxiety or have a chronic illness that takes away most of the their time and energy. In this case, a healthier parent is in the best interest of the child, simple because the needs of children can be quite robust, especially when children are young.
3. Finances and the ability to provide basic needs.
Parents who have greater wealth do have an additional asset in a custody case, but increased financial resources are not the deal breaker for custody cases. However, it's essential that the custodial parent have a steady job or excellent job prospects. Education and employability help the case immensely. If one or both parents have jobs, the court will also examine how much time these jobs take and whether or not work life might interfere with being present and available to meet the needs of children. Will a parent be able to meet with teacher, arrange after school care, take children to doctor and dentist appointments, and be there to enrich the life of the home?
4. Relationship quality and parental dependability.
Finally, it's important for the court to examine the relationship that children have with each parent. If one parent was always away on trips or military deployments, for example, children might feel more comfortable continuing life with the parent who was "on the scene." On the other hand, some children have a equal relationship with either parent, and so it comes down to a question of dependability. A good track record for showing up on time and paying necessary child support is really important for getting a better custody arrangement. Criminal activity and history or domestic violence, however, will deter the court.
For more information on your specific custody case, contact a local family law attorney. You can often get the time you want and need with your children by presenting a loving, honest representation of your relationship with them.