There is nothing easy about a divorce, particularly when the couple has children. Both parents want to maintain a relationship with their children, helping and watching them grow. As a result, child custody can be a difficult issue for all involved. It’s helpful to understand how a court goes about making this tough decision.
Physical and legal custody
Physical custody is the court’s determination of how much time a child will spend with each parent. Often, one parent will be given primary physical custody of the child – this is where the child will live – while the other parent is granted visitation rights. But the actual arrangement will vary depending on the circumstances.
Legal custody refers to the parents’ rights to make decisions regarding the child’s health, education and well-being. Courts begin with the presumption that it is better to have both parents involved in significant decisions regarding the child and prefer to order joint legal custody. When they do, the parents both have an equal right in the decision-making process and must work together to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion.
Best interests of the child
When the court makes a decision on custody, its primary concern is what it concludes will be best for the child. This is its guiding principle and will determine the outcome of any custody hearing. The best interests of the child is a legal standard the court must follow, taking into account many different factors.
Among the factors required, the court considers how the health and safety of the child will be affected. It will investigate whether there is any history of abuse, either against the child or another person, and whether either parent has abused drugs or alcohol. The court will also look to the amount of contact the child had with each parent and the nature of that contact.
However, the court is not limited to these specific statutory factors. It may consider any other factor it deems relevant to ensure the best interests of the child are served. As such, each child custody hearing is unique. Seasoned counsel can help those with questions navigate the process.