Child custody involves the division of parental rights and responsibilities between the parent of a child or children. This usually happens in connection with a divorce or legal separation. In most instances, one parent, the “custodial parent”, will usually have a majority of custody rights toward the child. This means the child will usually live with them, and they can often make important decisions on behalf of the child.

The other parent will usually be designated the “noncustodial parent”. They may have less legal and physical custody rights to the child, but may often be granted visitation rights to be with the child at set times. The noncustodial parent is often (but not always) required to pay the other parent child support, which helps them to offset the costs associated with caring for the child.

Child custody disputes can sometimes arise if there are disagreements about the way child custody has been arranged, or if about any specific details of the custody order. Child custody disputes can involve conflicts or issues regarding:

  • Which parent has the majority of custody rights to the child;
  • Which parent can make decisions on behalf of the child;
  • Whether one of the parents must pay any child support amounts;
  • Where the child will live;
  • What types of visitation rights the noncustodial parent has; and
  • Other issues that depend on the circumstances. 

In resolving such disputes, the court will need to take various factors into consideration. A common question is whether the child or children have any input in such matters. 

What Does a Court Take into Consideration When Awarding Child Custody?

When awarding child custody in a divorce or legal separation context, a court will take into consideration all the circumstances of each particular case. The court attempts to accommodate the best environment for the child, in order to secure proper care and attention as well as education for the child. 

Ultimately, the court will always make any custody decision based on the best interests of the child. That is, the court will place the needs and requirements of the child first over any personal wishes or desires of either parent. 

Besides this main standard, courts may take various factors into consideration when awarding child custody. These may include:

  • The child’s age, development, and educational background;
  • The background and capabilities of each parent, both financially and emotionally speaking;
  • Whether the child has any special medical needs or other considerations;
  • The child’s particular relation or attachment toward each parent; and 
  • In some cases, the child’s input (usually if the child is of a certain age).

In Awarding Child Custody, Does a Court Take into Consideration a Child’s Wishes?

This depends. In order for the court to give a child’s wishes or input any weight in making the decision, the child must meet certain requirements. For instance, they must usually be sufficiently mature to be able to formulate and express a reliable opinion and request as to his/her custody. In some states, there may be a set age that the child must be in order for the courts to consider their wishes.

Although the child’s opinion will not necessarily be the main controlling factor, it may be considered by the court in determining custody in some circumstances. In most cases, if the child meets the requirements and has valid reasons for their requests, then the court will take these into consideration amongst the other custody factors.  

Are There Any Cases Where the Court Must Follow the Child’s Request?

Some jurisdictions have specific statutes and laws regarding the child’s wishes in determining custody rights. Many jurisdictions have adopted statutes that state that when a child reaches a particular age, the child must be allowed to choose their custodian. 

If the jurisdiction has not yet established such a statute, then the court may be able to use the child’s request at its discretion. This will usually then be done on a case-by-case basis, as each case will be different.

Why Not Grant Custody to the Parent of the Child’s Choice?

Courts have to make decisions based on the best interests of the child so that they can ensure a safe and secure environment. A child’s wishes may be disregarded by a court if the parent or person chosen to take custody is unfit to be guardian due to:

  • Moral depravity;
  • Habitual drunkenness;
  • Risks of harm or abuse; or
  • Other similar concerns.

The phrase “moral depravity” is up for the court to interpret. It is purposefully broad as there can be a range of things that can be a bad influence for the child. For example, a judge may consider a parent’s employment in the adult entertainment industry to be morally depraved, especially if that parent does nothing to keep their child away from exposure to it. 

Do I Need an Attorney for Help with a Child Custody Dispute?

The court will take into consideration a number of different factors that affect a child’s upbringing and environment. In some circumstances, a child’s wishes may influence a court’s decision in granting custody or dividing parental responsibilities. A skilled child custody attorney will be able to assist you in presenting your case and instruct you on children laws in your area, which will vary from state to state.