Custody of children is the most contested issue during a divorce. Because a determination of custody is unique to each family, the court has a wide degree of discretion. Each county will have a standard parenting order within its local rules of the court. This standard order is often the baseline or starting point when determining child custody and will identify one parent as the primary residential parent and legal custodian of the children. A typical standard order will grant the non-residential parent time with the children every other weekend from Friday evening until Sunday evening and one or two nights per week for a few hours.
Deviation from the standard parenting order is based on the best interests of the child. This best interest of the child standard requires the court to look at the individual situation and fact to determine which custody arrangement would benefit the child the most. The parents have no rights that transcend the child’s best interests and the court considers the present circumstances, not what may happen in the future. The court may consider several different factors when applying the best interest of the child standard. Considerations of the court may include the relationship of the child with each parent, the geographic proximity of the parents, the age of the child, the child’s adjustments to home, school and community, the health and safety of the child and any other factor that may be relevant. The court will look at all these factors as a whole.
When the parties wish to have shared parenting, they must demonstrate their willingness and ability to interact with each other in a way that facilitates shared parenting. When there is constant fighting, belittling the other parent in the presence of the child or inflexibility, the court may refuse a shared parenting arrangement and assign one parent the primary residential parent and sole custodian of the child. There are other principles the court will generally attempt to follow. For instance, when there is more than one child, the court will rarely separate them or assign different visitation schedules. The court also attempts to keep both parents as involved as possible in the child’s life and is reluctant to limit parenting time or the ability of either parent to be involved unless there is good reason to do so.