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What Do Courts Consider When Deciding on Child Custody?

California Child custody negotiations are complex and stressful procedures, and it’s essential that divorcing parents know what goes into a child custody ruling. The judge reviewing a child custody case has a legal obligation to rule in the best interests of the child. Once the court becomes involved in a child custody agreement, the state has a stake in the ruling, so the judge will need to ensure his or her ruling focuses on the best interests of the couple’s children.

Some factors may cause a judge to lean toward one parent or the other, while the parents’ past actions may also influence the judge’s decision. The number of children involved, their ages, their schools, medical issues, and a host of other factors may complicate a ruling even further. Different factors concerning the parents also come into play.

Parental Factors

Generally, the two most important factors the court considers when judging a parent’s fitness for custody are the parent’s employment situation and living arrangements. For example, one parent may make more than enough money to cover a child’s living expenses but need to travel for work often, so the court may consider this as not in the child’s best interests for an everyday living situation.

A divorcing couple’s living situation will likely change with a divorce and this can affect child custody. Additionally, a child custody agreement has the potential to influence a subsequent property division. The parent who remains in the family home may receive custody in the custody negotiation, or the parent who wins custody may receive the family home in the divorce. The court will determine which living situation offers the most stability for the couple’s children.

The judge reviewing a child custody case will also want a firm understanding of each parent’s relationships with their children. For example, a parent who has never been very involved with a child’s life may display a sudden interest in spending more time with a child when divorce happens. This feeling may be genuine in many cases from the shock of an ending marriage and uncertainty for the future, but a judge will want to ensure this isn’t simply a means for one parent to win over the other in the custody negotiation.

Kids’ Factors

The ages of the couple’s children can also influence a child custody agreement. For example, a nursing infant will need the mother’s care more than the father’s for simple biological reasons, so the father would have to offer significant evidence showing the mother’s unfitness as a caregiver to win sole custody of an infant.

Children’s medical issues may also play an important role. For example, if a child has a chronic condition or disability that requires special treatment, one parent who lives closer to the child’s doctor or treatment center would likely have a better chance of securing custody than the parent who lives farther away. The court will also try to disrupt children’s everyday routines as little as possible and tend to rule in favor of keeping them in the same school districts when possible.

Custody and Child Support

A child custody agreement also includes stipulations for child support. For example, parents who share joint custody of their kids and spend equal time with them may not need to worry about child support, but spousal support may come into play in the divorce agreement if one spouse earns significantly more than the other. If one parent will need assistance covering the children’s basic living expenses, then joint custody may not preclude child support. If one parent receives more custody than the other, the noncustodial parent will likely need to pay child support.

Ultimately, a judge reviewing a child custody case will want to ensure that the children involved have functional relationships with both parents, if possible. Many factors go into a custody agreement, and an experienced San Francisco divorce attorney can help you better understand your position if you are anticipating a divorce in the near future.