What do Judges Look at When Making Child Custody Decisions
Parents are often confused or at a loss as to what family court judges consider when making custody decisions. In my fifteen-plus years of experience, I have found that courts (not always to be sure) try to make child custody decisions based on what is in the child’s best interest; simple as that.
Typically, the judge weighs a number of various interrelated factors. While the factors vary from state-to-state, they may generally include:
Factors Courts Considero The strength of each parent-child relationship. This is called "bonding". Sometimes a judge will hear evidence about the parent-child bond through a therapist's testimony;
o The emotional and developmental needs of the child. This too often comes from a therapist or other expert testimony;
o The age and health of the child and parents;
o The stability of each parent's home environment. This is called "safe and stable appropriate housing";
o The child's connection to his or her community and current school. This includes extracurricular activities;
o Each parent's ability and willingness to care for the child's physical and emotional needs as well as display protective capacity and appropriate decision making;
o Whether the parents are willing to cooperate and co-parent, and
o Any evidence of child abuse/neglect or domestic violence, especially in the presence of the children;
o Substance Abuse;
Courts May Award Joint Legal Custody or Sole Legal Custody Child Support Awards Typically FollowThe Court after hearing testimony and weighing evidence can then determine whether to award a parent sole legal custody or joint legal custody. In some circumstances "modified joint legal custody" has been custom-carved by the Court. Once legal custody and physical custody is determined, child support can be calculated.