When a couple with children decides to get a divorce, the issue of child custody must be addressed. In situations where parents reach a divorce agreement outside of court, custody and visitation rights are mostly determined by the parents themselves, usually with added input from attorneys, mediators or other counsel. However, when the parents cannot reach an agreement, the custody decision will ultimately be made in court. Here, the attorneys at Rodier Family Law discuss what the courts consider when determining child custody.
The Child’s “Best Interest”
When a divorce is disputed, and child custody is to be decided in family court, there are a number of factors that play a role in determining the outcome. The main consideration in these cases is always the child’s “best interest.” In the context of child custody cases, focusing on the child’s best interest means that all custody and visitation discussions and decisions are made with the ultimate goal of fostering and encouraging the child’s happiness, security, mental health, and emotional development into young adulthood.
The child’s best interest may be difficult to define. However, there are factors established within Maryland case law that are commonly used to determine what is ultimately best for the child. The mental and physical health of both parents, geographical considerations, possible adjustments to schools and communities, other children whose custody is relevant to this child’s situations and any opportunity for support or interaction with extended family members may all be taken into consideration when the court is determining whether sole custody or joint custody would best fulfill a child’s best interest.
The Situations of Each Parent
When a judge makes the determination regarding child custody, the court can award shared physical custody, or primary physical custody to one parent and parenting time (i.e. visitation) to the other. Additionally, the Court will determine the legal custody of the child, meaning which parent or parents will make decisions about matters such as the medical, educational, or religious upbringing of the minor child. Joint legal custodians are expected to make all legal decisions about the child together and by agreement after consultation; in the event that one parent has sole legal custody he or she is able to make legal decisions without consultation with and input from the other parent. There are factors that family courts will consider when determining custody. In addition to the willingness and desire to be involved in the child’s upbringing, some of the factors a court will consider when making a decision are:
- interaction and relationships with other members of each household,
- occupation and income of both parents,
- discipline styles and any pattern of physical or emotional abuse,
- involvement of additional non-marital relationships, and
- evidence or allegations of paternal alcohol or substance abuse.
The Child’s Own Wishes
In addition to parental considerations, the Court may consider the preference of the child in determining custody. This also plays a role in cases where people other than a child’s parents may wish to obtain custody, including relatives like grandparents, aunts and uncles, godparents or close family friends. Again, the most important consideration for the court is the best interest of the child, and there are some situations where a judge may decide that custody by a relative is in the child’s best interest.
Consult the Attorneys at Rodier Family Law for Your Child Custody Case
Issues pertaining to children involved with a separation or divorce, such as custody, visitation and child support, are often complicated, even when all parties are fully cooperative. In order to ensure that the best interests of both you and your children are met, it is imperative to have an experienced attorney that is committed to guiding you through all areas of custody. For more information about how Rodier Family Law can help, contact our Bel Air office today.