Continuity in a child’s daily life is an important consideration. For example, if a child has a close relationship with their school and neighborhood friends, they may prefer to stay in that area.
Judges consider this and look for parents willing to foster a good relationship between their children and the other parent. Other important factors include:
Physical and Emotional Well-Being of the Child
While the law has shifted away from favoring either parent, judges must still decide what will be best for the children. The most crucial factor is the physical and emotional well-being of the child. Children need to have a consistent, loving environment to thrive and grow. Judges consider the ability of each parent to provide this. They also look at a parent’s criminal record and history of abuse.
Parents should avoid bad-mouthing one another during child custody proceedings and be willing to foster an ongoing relationship with the other parent. If a parent has a mental illness that makes them unfit to care for the child, this can be a significant factor in custody decisions. However, a serious problem such as drug addiction or severe depression should not be used to deny a parent custody. This type of situation requires a thorough evaluation by a mental health professional. This is typically done through a psychiatric or clinical exam.
Availability of Extended Family
In addition to parents, the courts consider the availability of grandparents and extended family in child custody cases. Courts want to encourage contact between children and their divorced or separated extended family members, promoting stability in the child’s life.
For example, a parent’s willingness to allow extended family members to visit and attend school events, sporting games, or dance recitals will often weigh in favor of that parent having physical custody of the child. Similarly, a parent’s history of abusing or harassing a child’s extended family will not usually be tolerated and will harm a custody decision.
Finally, judges look for a parental history of drug, alcohol, or sexual abuse. A history of addiction will likely harm a judge’s consideration of granting legal or physical custody.
As parents, it’s important to remember that sibling relationships (even half-siblings) are very significant in a child’s life. A court will only separate full siblings in very extreme circumstances. Even in cases where there is a disparity between the desire of one parent to have custody of a specific child, a judge will be careful not to treat that child favorably or negatively in front of their siblings.
Research indicates that sibling relationships provide a buffer when children go through a divorce. Studies on siblings have found that the quality of a child’s mother-child and father-child relationship is less important than that of a child’s sibling relationships. This is especially true if the child lives close to their brother and sister. It’s more taxing for kids to go back and forth between parents who live far apart. For this reason, proximity to each other is often a critical factor in custody decisions.
Well-Reasonable Preference of the Child
A child’s stated preference for one parent will play some role in custody decisions, especially if the court considers it reasonable. However, courts will consider a child’s maturity level and other factors, including parental influence, conditioning, alienation, etc.
Judges will also look at a child’s relationship with siblings. They usually try to keep siblings together, if possible. They will also consider the stability of a child’s school, neighborhood, and community to determine whether they should remain there.
A parent who has a close, loving bond with their children will have a better chance of winning custody. This could mean proving how well they know the child, including their favorite activities, foods, and friends. They may even bring crafts or photos to help the court see this. On the other hand, a parent who regularly bad-mouths their ex in front of the child can harm the case.