Child custody refers to the legal and practical relationship between a child and their divorced parent, or legal guardian. Although there are different types of child custody arrangements, custody is generally divided into two different types: legal custody, and physical custody. 

A parent who has been awarded legal custody of their child has the obligation and right to make decisions regarding the child’s upbringing. These decisions include medical care, education, and religion. 

Physical custody refers to where the child will live most of the time. In general, if a parent has been awarded physical custody of their child, they also will typically have legal custody. However, this is not always the case and will be determined by a judge.

All decisions regarding child custody arrangements are made in accordance with the child’s best interests standard. What this means is that although state laws regarding child custody vary, a court will only make decisions if they benefit the child. The child’s needs, interests, and background are placed above either parent’s personal preferences. 

A custody battle typically refers to a highly charged and emotional dispute over the determination of child custody rights. This is a common occurrence when divorcing parents cannot work out their issues through family mediation sessions, or other interventions, and cannot agree on a child custody arrangement. The disputing parties may end up taking their case to a family law court in order to resolve the custody dispute. 

Custody battles are not limited to divorcing parents. Therefore, other parties may be involved in a custody case. An example of other parties that may be involved in a custody battle include stepparents, grandparents, other close relatives, or foster parents. During a typical custody battle, the parents will address important matters regarding child custody, such as:

  • Child custody rights;
  • Visitation schedules and arrangements;
  • Child support payments; and
  • Other relevant matters, such as the visitation rights of grandparents.

What Should Be Considered During a Custody Battle?

Custody battles are never easy, as emotions are running high and each parent feels the need to fight for their preferred child custody rights. However, there are a few things to keep in mind in order to minimize the difficulty of the situation.

  • Everything Must Be Done in the Child’s Best Interests: As previously mentioned, there is a standard that all courts adhere to when making decisions regarding children and child custody. Any decisions that will affect the child, such as child custody or visitation rights, should ultimately benefit and protect the child. When determining custody decisions against the child’s best interests standards, the court will consider:
    • The child’s background, such as their sex, age, personal health characteristics, and special needs;
    • The child’s own preferences, if they are old enough according to their state’s guidelines. Generally, a child must be at least twelve years old;
    • Environmental factors including the quality of education in each parent’s school district, the safety of each parent’s neighborhood, and each parent’s proximity to the child’s extracurricular activities;
    • The physical and mental health of each parent, as well as their ability to provide emotional and financial support for the child while the child is in their care;
    • The stability of each parent’s lifestyle, background, and employment;
    • The existence of and level of attachment to other family members in the home, such as siblings or grandparents; and/or
    • Each parent’s commitment to facilitating an ongoing and healthy relationship between the child and the other parent.
  • Do Not Use the Child as a Bargaining Chip: Custody battles generally arise when one or both parents use the child as a bargaining chip in order to obtain the divorce or child support ruling they want; 
    • Obviously, this should be avoided at all costs with each party considering the child’s best interests instead. Not only is that better for the child, it reflects better on the parent in regards to the parent’s commitment to the relationship between the child and the other parent.
  • Understand the Different Types of Child Custody: Many child custody arrangements involve some mix of physical, legal, joint, shared, or other types of custody. Understanding all of the potential options can help prevent a custody battle in the first place; and
  • Child Custody Can Be Modified: If your current arrangement seems unfavorable, child custody orders can be modified later on. However, the party petitioning the court for the modification will need to provide evidence that a modification would positively benefit the child in the long run.

How Can I Be Successful in a Custody Battle?

In order to get custody of your child, you will need to first file a lawsuit with the court. You may need to file a lawsuit for a custody order, such as if the other party is violating the previous child custody order, or if abuse is involved. Following the formal court process could result in enforceability of the documents, court protections, and the intervention of legal professionals.

Family mediation may be initiated in order to help the parties reach an agreement. However, the parties must be able to work with each other and cooperate in order for mediation to be an effective means of dispute resolution. Regardless of which route you decide to take, remember to always avoid the following:

  • Harassing, intimidating, or threatening the other party;
  • Seeking child custody simply as leverage in order to gain an advantage over the other party;
  • Communicating with the other party if they have an attorney and you do not. It is best to keep all communications between your respective attorneys, if possible; and
  • Failing to attend all legal proceedings, court hearings, or other meetings regarding child custody.

Do I Need an Attorney for Custody Battles?

You should consult with a skilled and knowledgeable child custody attorney if determining child custody rights is part of your divorce or separation process. Once again, all custody decisions must be made according to the child’s best interests, and an attorney will help ensure that happens. 

Additionally, an experienced custody attorney can help you gather evidence to build your case, discuss your options based on the specifics of your situation, and file all necessary motions and paperwork. An attorney in your area can also represent you in court as needed.