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Factors to Consider in Custody Disputes

Custody issues invariably arise when a couple decides to separate; decisions have to be made about the welfare of any children they may have had together. Sometimes both parties are able to amicably discuss and come to a mutually agreeable resolution about how their children will be taken care of. In other instances, the separation process may be acrimonious such that both parties are unable or unwilling to come to terms regarding the custody of their children; these cases usually end up in court for a judge to make a ruling.

When making a ruling, there are several types of custody rights that can be granted by a judge to either or both parents namely:

  • Sole custody/Managing Conservator: This is when one of the parents is granted full custody of the children and is wholly responsible for their welfare
  • Joint custody: This is when the children's welfare is split between both parents. Typically, the children split their time staying with each of the parents.

When making a ruling in a custody dispute, the judge has to consider what the best interests of the children are. The interests of the children typically trump any other factors that may be pertinent to the custody dispute. Below are several factors a judge looks at in making a determination about the best interests of children caught up in a custody case.

Environmental stability

Judges typically consider the stability of each parent in making a ruling. Stability may include both work and home stability. Preference may be given to the parent who can demonstrate the most stable environment for the children.

Presence of siblings

As much as possible, judges try to keep siblings together rather than separated. As such, a custodial decision may be made based on how best to keep siblings in contact with each other. This can sometimes be complicated when there are half- or step-siblings under consideration.

Children abuse/harm

Parents who have been demonstrated to abuse their children either physically or emotionally are usually not granted custodial rights. Custodial rights are also not granted to a parent who is unable to guarantee a safe living environment for the children.

Ease of adjustment

In making a custody ruling, the judge tries to ensure that it is as minimally disruptive as possible to the lives of the children. The more disruption to the children's lives, the more difficult it will be for them to transition and adjust to their new circumstances. This can lead to the development of psychological and/or behavioral issues in the children.

Parents' health / physical ability

The physical health of the parents may be taken into consideration by the judge when trying to resolve a custody dispute. This is more the case with younger children and babies who generally have more physical needs. Preference may be given to a parent who is demonstrably physically able to care for the children.

Parents' finances

A judge usually examines the finances of both parents to determine who is better able to meet the material needs of the children such as clothing and food. Preference may be given to a parent who is better able to prove that financial resources are available to adequately provide for the children

Children's choice

Older children may have preferences regarding which parent they would rather live with. The judge may, therefore, inquire as to their preferences and use their responses in coming up with a final determination.

Due to the complicated nature of custody disputes, it is important to engage the services of a lawyer early in the process. At Hendershot, Cannon & Hisey, we have expert lawyers available to help you with your custody case. For more information, contact us today