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How is child custody decided?

Child custody is one of the most important parts of the divorce process for parents. You probably want to keep as much time with your child as you can. In some cases, parents negotiate and come to an agreement about custody arrangements. For other couples, reaching an agreement with each other seems impossible and it is up to court to decide.

But what does court consider when ordering child custody?

Physical vs. legal custody

There are actually two types of custody. Legal custody refers to a parent’s right to make decisions in a child’s life, such as what school they attend or whether they are raised in a certain religion. Physical custody refers to which parent houses the child.

Joint custody means that parents share custody over the children. Oftentimes, parents will have joint legal custody to continue making important decisions. Joint physical custody means the child would move back and forth between the homes and live there for certain periods of time, but joint physical custody is less common now. It can create an unstable environment for the child and make it harder for them to transition to post-divorce life. It is more common for one parent to have physical custody and the other to have visitation rights, meaning the parent has certain days they spend with the child.

Factors in the custody decision

When ordering child custody, court is most concerned with your child’s best interests. Some of the factors they will consider include:

  • Your financial state
  • Your health (both physically and mentally)
  • The child’s standard of living before the divorce
  • How well you and your ex-spouse can cooperate
  • Child’s preference, if they are old enough

A child’s preference will never be the sole factor, but it is taken into account if the child is old enough to make decisions for his or herself.

If you share custody or visitation time, several other factors may be taken into account, such as:

  • Travel time between homes
  • Special needs of child
  • Level of responsibility of each parent

Custody is huge for any divorcing family. If you are considering divorce, a skilled family law attorney can discuss any concerns you have and help you achieve the best outcome for your family.

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