By Robert E. Fravel, Esq.
Few things are more confusing to litigants than trying to understand why a judge didn’t grant them full custody of their child. For parents involved in custody disputes, the matter seems cut and dry in their minds – “My child loves me more, the child should live with me.” Or “He/she doesn’t care about the child like I do, the child should live with me.” However, in the eyes of the court, the waters are a bit muddier. Under the current child custody law, the court considers 16 explicitly listed factors when deciding a custody dispute:
1. Which parent/party is more likely to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact between the child and the other party;
2. The present and past abuse/violence committed by a party and the continued risk of harm to the child, along with which party can provide safeguards for the child;
3. Parental duties performed by each party;
4. Stability in the child’s education, family life and community;
5. Readily available extended family for support;
6. The child’s sibling relationships;
7. The preference of the child (taking into account the child’s age and maturity);
8. Any attempts by one parent/party to turn the child against the other parent/party;
9. Which parent/party is more likely to maintain a “loving, stable, consistent and nurturing relationship with the child”;
10. Which parent/party is more likely to attend to the various daily needs of the child (physical, emotional, developmental, educational, special, etc.);
11. Proximity of the residences of the parents/parties;
12. The ability of the parent/party to care for the child or make appropriate child care arrangements;
13. The level of conflict/hostility between the parents/parties and their ability to cooperate with one another;
14. The history of drug or alcohol abuse of a parent/party or a member of the parent/party’s household;
15. The mental and physical condition of the parent/party or any member of the household;
16. Any other relevant factor (this is court’s catch-all category).
As you can see, a court’s custody determination takes into account much more than just “Which party loves the child more”. Hiring an experienced family law attorney to help you navigate the complex child custody legal landscape can be invaluable. Don’t make the mistake of trying to navigate these waters on your own.