The priority in any custody order is to determine what is in the best interests of the children. Best interests involve children’s happiness, security, mental health, and emotional development into young adulthood. The courts base their decisions on the children’s best interests, and the parents should also keep this in mind when discussing a parenting plan.
It is important to remember that each family and child’s needs are different and can change over time as the child matures. Factors weighed include the children’s age and sex, the wishes of the parents, and the wishes of the children (there is more consideration given to this in their teen years). The courts will start with the presumption that the parents will have joint custody because child development data indicates children often do best when both parents are involved.
Many assume that custody indicates where the children live or who raises them, but custody means decision-making powers over important decisions in their lives (including education, religion, and health care choices).
Types of custody
There are several different kinds of custody:
- Legal custody: This enables a parent to have input even if they do not live under the same roof.
- Shared legal custody: Both parents have an equal say on custody matters.
- Physical custody: This is where the children spend more of their time, perhaps because one parent lives near the school or has a less demanding work schedule.
- Shared physical custody: The children move between houses using a parenting plan schedule outlined in the divorce agreement. This need not be equal time, though some parents split their time equally.
- Sole legal custody: One parent has the final say on custody matters even if both parents are involved in the children’s lives.
Parents may disagree on “best interests”
One of the most contentious issues in a divorce often revolves around custody or the parenting plan, which involves custody, schedules, visitation, financial support, and other vital details. Regardless of how one parent may feel about their coparent, they will need to have specific reasons for preventing the other parent from sharing legal custody if they wish to remain involved. Reasons could include:
- A history of documented physical, sexual or emotional abuse
- Mental health issues (such as addiction)
- Unsafe associations with friends or family members
- An inability to provide a safe living environment.
If the couple cannot find a solution on their own or through mediation, litigation may be necessary.
Attorneys often help resolve custody issues
Attorneys can litigate in court or negotiate an agreement between the parents. Either way, these legal professionals can provide valuable assistance in addressing the child’s needs and providing a fair and equitable parenting plan and custody arrangement for the parents.
Their training and experience enable them to foresee potential issues the parents may not have considered. They can also modify plans when there is the need for formalizing changes, such as when a parent moves out of state, changes jobs or the children’s needs change.