Modification of Custody: Best Interests Analysis and the Totality of Circumstances
Upon finding a change of circumstances a judge is required to determine what custodial arrangement would promote the best interests of the child. To do this, a judge must consider the totality of the circumstances.
The Best Interests of the ChildThe primary focus of a custody determination is ascertaining what is in the best interests of the child, and what will best promote the child's welfare. A best interests analysis generally involves the examination of several factors, including the relative fitness, stability, past performance, and home environment of the parents, as well as their ability to guide and nurture the child and foster a relationship with the other parent. After reviewing these factors, the court must consider the totality of the circumstances and place appropriate weight on each factor considered.
For example, in one recent case the court considered a constellation of factors including the parties' ability to meet the needs of the children, the parties' behavior, the ability and desire to foster a relationship with the other parent. Ultimately the court awarded custody to the father weighing the totality of these circumstances and concluding that the father had a "manifested a markedly greater ability to isolate his disputes with the mother without involving or impacting the children
The Totality of the CircumstancesThere is no empirical formula to a totality of circumstances analysis. It is in the discretion of the judge to determine how much weight to give each factor. The law merely gives insight into which factors should be considered. How to apply them and what to do based upon this analysis does not follow hard and fast rules.
The relative fitness, stability, past performance, and home environment of the parents, as well as their ability to guide and nurture the child and foster a relationship with the other parent all are rather subjective factors. So is the totality of circumstances analysis. This is why a parent considering a change of custody, or faced with the other parent asking for a change of custody, should engage an experienced domestic relations attorney promptly.