Statistics show that the divorce rate in the United States is 3.2 in every 1,000 people. The majority of these divorces also involve child custody disputes. The question of who should be granted custodial rights is a subjective one, and there will always be conflicting opinions on both sides. In cases where the parents cannot resolve the issue amongst themselves in divorce mediation, the decision is made for them by a family court judge.
Custody and visitation orders are usually based on the “best interests of the child” standard. Basically, this means that the custody and visitation arrangements will be made to tailor fit the child’s needs. There are many different factors that constitute this standard, some are provided for by the law, but some are within the discretion of the courts. Every child is unique, which means every custody determination case must be dealt with in accordance with the child’s specific situation.
In some states, there are statutory provisions that state the factors to be considered in custody determinations. In California, for instance, the courts are guided by Sec. 3011 of the Family Code in making decisions. Ultimately, the court will be taking into consideration the following:
- Overall health, safety, and welfare of the child. It is a given that the court will prioritize this factor over everything else because it is the child that needs the most help in instances of a family breaking. The parent or guardian fighting for custody must be able to provide for the child’s basic needs to live a comfortable life. In cases of children who require special care, the parent who knows how to answer to these needs will have an edge over the other who cannot do the same.
- Continuity and consistency. As much as possible, the courts want the child to keep doing their daily routine, and will do their best not to disrupt the same. The comfort and security of the child is a major factor in custody determinations because the courts recognize the importance of stability and continuity in the child’s development.
- The child’s preference. In some instances, the court may consider the child’s actual preference. This may be affected by the nature of the parent-child relationship or the amount of time the child spends with either parent.
- Occurrence of domestic violence. If there is a history of abuse by one parent, even if it is not directed towards the child, it may be considered by the court as a point against the perpetrator. It will be presumed that the safety of the child might be compromised, should the court decide to grant custody to the parent who tends to be abusive. Reasonably, the court reviews the history of abuse or patterns of violence in both parents.
- Alcoholism or history of drug abuse. Use of illegal substances by one parent may disqualify him from acquiring custody rights over the child. The same goes for alcoholism and other addictions.
- Capability of the parent or guardian to care for another. It goes without saying that the person to be granted custody must be physically able to raise the child. If he has illnesses or other disabilities that may hinder him from providing the needs of the child, this will be considered by the courts, as well as financial, mental, and emotional stability.
The courts take on a holistic approach in deciding custody cases. They weigh all the factors against each other and do their best to come up with the best arrangement for the child. It is never a Mom versus Dad situation– custody determinations require teamwork and genuine concern for the wellbeing of the child. Because at the end of the day, after all has been said between the parties and small victories seem to have been won, it may be the child who suffers the most in these types of situations.