Determining each parent’s right to child custody and visitation is often the most stressful portion of any divorce. In an ideal world, both parents would be able to agree on a child custody arrangement that meets their children’s needs. However, this isn’t always possible.
In contested cases, the court will evaluate the family’s situation and come up with a custody arrangement that is in the best interest of the child.
Since every family is different, there is no set formula for determining child custody. Usually, though, judges consider the following factors:
Parental character: The court will look to see whether a parent is honest, responsible and caring. Further, the court will want to ensure that the parent has a stable work record and a good reputation in his or her community. A criminal record or a history of drug or alcohol abuse can have a serious negative impact here.
Home environment: The court will make sure that the parent’s home is safe and fit for children. Many judges consider live-in boyfriends or girlfriends to be a negative factor, especially soon after a divorce.
Finances: The court will not give a preference to one parent simply because he or she is richer than the other. However, it will want to ensure that the custodial parent will be able to provide for the child’s basic needs
Contacts with the other parent: Judges prefer to award primary custody to parents who are likely to actively foster their children’s relationship with the non-custodial parent.
Family togetherness: In most cases, the court will try to keep siblings together.
Histories of abuse: Unsurprisingly, the court takes claims of domestic violence very seriously. It is not necessary for the child to have been the victim of abuse, or even to have witnessed it.
Child’s Preference: If the child is mature enough, some judges will take the child’s wishes into consideration. However, the child’s wishes are merely advisory. The court will not make a custody decision based solely on the child’s preferences.
If you are seeking custody in a contested action, it’s important to discuss these factors with your attorney at the outset of your case. Your attorney will help you understand how the custody factors might play out in your case, and what you can do to mitigate any negative information.
Source: Arkansas Legal Services Partnership, “Child Custody and Visitation.”