Divorce proceedings are contentious in nature and can become complicated when the custody of children is involved. Parents focused on financial gain and psychological intimidation can lose sight of the emotional and physical needs of their children. Unfortunately, children can become pawns in divorce proceedings.
Best Interests of the Child
In divorces involving minor children, many factors are considered during child custody proceedings. Although child custody laws vary among states, most family courts abide by a doctrine in which the best interests of the child are of the utmost importance. Family courts assess several factors before determining child custody, including:
- Which parent has been the primary caregiver of the child
- The parenting skills of each parent
- The mental and physical health of each parent
- Work obligations and child care plans of each parent
- Wishes of the child
- Wishes of the parents
The court also takes into consideration the child’s relationship with each parent, as well as established relationships with siblings and extended family members. The educational needs of the child are assessed, including participation in extra-curricular activities and relationships with peers. The court also weighs the willingness of the parents to cooperate with each other concerning the important issues surrounding the social development of the child.
Resolving Child Custody Disputes
Most family law courts prefer to award joint custody to divorcing parents. Under the joint custody arrangement, parents are required to develop a parenting schedule based on work obligations, child care options and housing arrangements. Joint custody is designed to maintain a child’s healthy relationship with each parent and his or her siblings. This custody arrangement is less stressful and allows the child to continue educational pursuits and social development in a healthy home environment.
Although joint custody is ideal, it is not always practical. There are situations in which a child would be better served in the sole custody of one parent. In the event a parent has an alcohol or substance abuse problem or has a history of domestic violence or child abuse, the child will generally be placed with the other parent. Visitation rights are granted to the non-custodial parent according to a court-sanctioned schedule.
If you are involved in a custody dispute or if you are seeking sole custody, many options are available through your child custody lawyer. You may be able to take advantage of family court mediation. Mediation is a voluntary and strictly confidential process, which can be helpful in settling custody disputes. Mediations are focused on helping you design a parenting plan, strengthening your parenting skills, and reaching an amicable solution to your child custody issues. Agreements reached in mediation are typically honored by family courts.