Getting custody of a child can often be a complex process. child custody are usually initiated by the parent seeking custody. Custody determinations can be made in many settings, such as divorce, separation, or through a separate filing. Child custody is decided on several factors:

  • The maturity of each parent or guardian;
  • The financial/economic background of each party involved;
  • Whether the child has any special needs; and/or
  • Previous involvement with the child.

For instance, custody may be granted where one parent is deemed unfit to raise or care for a child. In such cases, the other parent may be granted full or majority custody rights in raising the child. Again, these are determined on a case-by-case basis by the court and other agencies.

What are Considered in Child Custody Decisions?

Courts can consider almost any factor which is relevant to a parent’s fitness to raise a child, and this list simply includes some of the most common considerations. Courts are free to consider any other factors that may be relevant.
In a divorce proceeding, divorce courts have wide discretion in deciding who gets custody of a child. There are many factors which they usually consider. These factors include:

  • The Wishes of the Child’s Parents: if both parents agree to a custody scheme, courts will usually follow that decision;
  • The Wishes of the Child: if the parents cannot agree, the wishes of the child will be given strong weight;
  • Which parent has been a primary caretaker during the marriage;
  • The child’s adjustment to their current home, school, and community;
  • The parents mental and physical health; and/or
  • The child’s preference if the child is above the age of 12.

After the courts look at all the relevant factors, most courts then tend to focus on which parent will provide the best and stable environment for the child and which parent has the better relationship with the child. Usually the parent that has been the primary caretaker has been awarded custody. In regards to older children, courts award the parent that provides the best education, neighborhood, life, and religious surrounding for the child.

Are Courts More Likely to Award Child Custody to the Mother?

In the past courts have been awarding child custody to the mother since the mother was usually the primary caretaker for the child. Modernly, the courts have rejected this rule and have focused on all the factors listed above. States are now required to determine child custody on the basis of the child’s best interest and a consideration of which parent will provide the child with the best stable environment.

What are the Different Types of Child Custody?

There are two types of child custody agreements:

  • Legal Custody: This determines who makes important decisions for the children and includes areas such as healthcare, education and general welfare.
  • Physical Custody: This determines who the children live with.

There are two types of legal custody:

  • Joint: Here, both parents share the rights and responsibilities to make important decisions regarding the children.
  • Sole: Here, only one parent has the right and responsibility to make important decisions regarding the children.

The other type of custody is joint custody. This is where the parents split custody time and rights. The division of time and custody responsibilities often depends on the parent’s background, as well as the judge’s decision. There may be various other types of child custody depending on the jurisdiction.

What are Some Child Custody Guidelines?

Some common child custody guidelines that each jurisdiction usually follows include:

  • No custody arrangements will be made if they will put the child in potential harm or danger of abuse/neglect (for instance, if one parent has a history of abuse);
  • Custody orders are set and enforceable by law. They may be punished by contempt orders and other consequences. They can however be modified in the future as needed;
  • Both parents need to be honest and forthcoming when it comes to providing information related to a custody determination. This will help prevent fraud or abuses of the child custody arrangement; and/or
  • Lastly, as mentioned, all custody decisions should be made in the child’s best interest. This means that the child’s needs take priority over the parent’s personal preferences.

When is Full Custody Awarded?

Courts may require full custody in certain situations, such as:

  • One parent has become ill or otherwise incapacitated;
  • The other parent is not considered fit to raise a child;
  • The other parent has been incarcerated or has a negative criminal record; and/or
  • There has been a history of abuse or neglect by the parent.

Of course, each child custody situation is carefully analyzed so that the child’s best interests are served. This requires much deliberation and discussion between all the parties involved.

What If We Need to Change Child Custody Arrangements?

Child custody orders can be modified according to the needs of the child and the needs of each parent. A new or modified custody order can be obtained if there are any "major life changes" that would affect the way the child is being brought up. This can include remarriages, moving to a different residence, new jobs, loss of a job, and other factors. Such changes should be presented to the judge, who will review the information and make adjustments to the custody and visitation order.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Child Custody Decisions?

Child custody decisions can often involve an analysis of many different factors. You may wish to hire a qualified child custody lawyer in your area if you need help with a custody determination. An attorney can help review your case to ensure that your rights as a parent are protected. Also, if you need to file a lawsuit or attend a hearing, your lawyer can assist with those needs as well.