Courts consider the interests of both the parents and the child in deciding custody arrangements. The most frequently applied custody guideline is the “best interests of the child” standard, which is designed to take into account the parents’ preferences, the child’s preferences, the interaction between parents and children, the child’s adjustment to either home, and the mental and physical health of all family members. Some of the factors that play a role:
Factors related to the parents:
- Parental morals, which can be based upon things such as felony convictions, prostitution, substance abuse or adultery.
- Parenting skills.
- Parental attitudes.
- The parent’s history of caring for the child and continuity of placement (how long they’d been caring for the child or any gaps in caretaking).
- The parent’s physical health to the extent that it may affect parenting activities.
- The parent’s mental health to the extent that it may affect parenting abilities.
- Religious beliefs, if the child has already formed an attachment to a particular faith.
- Income level to the extent it affects their ability to provide for the child.
- Physical surroundings, such as whether a parent’s household has space for a child and whether the households and neighborhoods are family oriented.
- Allegations of abuse or neglect.
Factors related to the child
- The level of attachment a child has with each parent.
- The child’s preference regarding their living arrangements.
- Any special educational or developmental health needs.
What is a child custody approximation rule?
In an attempt to provide some sort of consistent standard for making child custody decisions, many judges utilize what is referred to as the “approximation rule.” The approximation rule basically states that custody should be awarded to each parent at a level that is approximate to the amount of time each spent providing care for the child during the marriage. In other words, if you cared for the child 80% of the time and your spouse 20%, this is how parenting time would be split after the divorce.
Other considerations in child custody cases:
- Special events such as holidays or birthdays are usually divided up between parents in all arrangements except for supervised visitations. They usually rotate year to year, so one year a parent has Christmas and the other the child’s birthday, and the next year vice-versa.
- In all arrangements except sole custody, the right to move with the child or relocate must be approved by the courts, and may even result in a switch of custody arrangements. (For example, switching primary custody to the other parent if it’s deemed in the child’s best interests to stay in the familiar setting.) Failure to gain approval for a move may result in interstate kidnapping charges against the parent.
- Special visitations (such as taking a child on vacation) may need to be arranged and approved through the court.
- Visitation rights or custody situations can be changed or revoked if one parent fails to hold up their end of the bargain; blowing off visitation times or otherwise showing disinterest.
- In certain cases the court may dictate a neutral place for handoffs to occur, and it is up to each parent to get there. In some especially nasty divorces, it may be ordered that the exchange occur at a police station