Unmarried parents, divorced parents or parents who wish to divorce or legally separate must address where their children will live and who will be responsible for their financial care, upbringing and making decisions that will affect their well-being. Determining child custody can be one of the most difficult and complex areas of family law.
How is child custody determined? The answer to this question will vary depending on where the child and parents live, as well as the particular circumstances surrounding the case. Each state has its own implementation of child custody laws, with a primary focus on one key factor: the best interests of the child. Child custody laws are based around the principle of doing what is going to contribute to the physical and emotional well-being of the child. The goal will be to keep both parents as involved in a child's life as possible, as long as this is in the child's best interests.
What factors come into play when determining child custody?
When parents decide to divorce or
legally separate, they will have the opportunity to reach their own agreement regarding child custody, subject to court review and approval. If they cannot reach their own agreement, the court will intervene. When a judge rules upon a custody dispute, they will attempt to act in the child's best interests. This may include looking at the following issues:
- The home environment that each parent would provide;
- The health, lifestyle and financial standing of each parent;
- Past or current drug use, alcohol abuse or domestic violence by either parent;
- Any current custody agreement or informal arrangement currently in place;
- The child's relationship with each parent; and
- In some cases, the child's preference;
If the court determines that neither parent is capable of providing the child with a safe, stable and supportive home environment, it may appoint legal guardianship to another family member, such as a grandparent. Of all family law matters, child custody can be the most sensitive to deal with. Because this is potentially the most important legal issue you will face in your lifetime, it is important to involve an attorney who you feel will be able to provide you with the legal counsel and support you need. You can use our directory to compare lawyers who handle child custody cases near you.
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