Factors Affecting Child Custody and Visitation

When determining which parent should have primary custody, whether custody should be shared, and how much visitation each parent should have, courts must look at a number of factors. Of course, these factors vary from state to state, but the overall question is generally the same: “What is in the best interests of the child?" Answering the questions below will give you insight into the specific questions courts may ask to determine which parent (or both) should be granted custody.

Emotional Ties Between Child and Parents

The court will want to know which parent has the deepest emotional ties to the child. This can be shown by outside factors, like your tendency to care for your child's needs and your knowledge of your child's likes, interests, etc.

What are your child's favorite foods?
What are your child's favorite TV programs, stories, books, etc.?
How would you describe the child's relationship with you? With the other parent?
How has the child been affected by the divorce and, if negatively, how would you go about correcting this?
Do you feel your bond with the child is about equal to your former spouse's bond? If it is closer to one parent or the other, why? Have you done anything to try to make the bond between your former spouse and your child closer or further apart, and if so, why?
How does your child know that you love him/her? What will your child say about this, if asked?
Which of you is more apt to hear about your child's problem, triumphs, adventures (for example, comfort needed for a skinned knee, joy shared after winning a sports event, etc.)?

Daily Care and Guidance

This is subtly different than the emotional ties, because sometimes both parents may be emotionally involved in their child's life, but one or the other may be better at giving love, showing affection in an appropriate manner, and offering guidance and correction.

Who makes the child's meals?
Who bathes/dresses the child?
Who stays home from work when the child is sick? Why is it that this person stays home (work schedule flexibility, sick days easier to get off, etc.)?
Who arranged for nursery school enrollment/religious education?
What is each parent's present religious practice? What is the child's?
How are these decisions made with the other parent?
Who puts the child to bed?
How do you teach your child manners? How does your former spouse?
Describe a typical day with your child.
How does each parent handle the child's fears, if any?
What are the positive and negative points of each parent's parenting skills as you see them?
How do you show your child love and affection?
Is there anything about yourself that affects your ability to give love, affection, and guidance? How about the other parent?
What kinds of activities do you share with your child? How much time do you spend doing them?
How much involvement do you have in your child's school and extracurricular activities? How much time does the other parent spend?
What are the rules of the home? How is discipline handled and do you and the your former spouse agree or disagree about what form(s) of discipline should be used?
How is each parent's ability to discipline themselves; who comes first, the parent or the child?

Ability to Provide for the Child

These questions will help to determine which parent is in a better position to provide for the child. They also ask who has been putting the child's needs first. Often, one parent may have greater financial ability but less inclination, and these questions will help you consider that.

Who buys the child's clothes, toys, and other things?
Who arranges for and takes the child to doctor/dentist appointments? Who pays for these expenses?
Who arranges and pays for the babysitter or other child care?
Does the child have any special needs (medical, educational, speech, etc.)? How are these being treated, if at all, and who is responsible for that? Who is better able to deal with this?
How well do you manage money? How well do you feel your former spouse manages money?
What is the earning capacity of each party?
If you and the other parent are both employed, what arrangements have been made for when the child is not in school?

Stable Living Situation

Many studies have shown that a stable living situation can have an effect on a child's emotional and social development. These questions determine which parent can offer a more stable living situation.

Describe the home where the child currently lives most of the time.
Describe the home where you propose the child should live most of the time. Is it in the same geographical location? Same school district?
Who sleeps where in each home?
What is the address of the custodial home; the length of time in the home; and who lives there?
Give an explanation of residential changes, if any. How has the child adjusted to moving?
Is the current home environment safe/stable?
Which home will provide the child with the most love, affection, guidance, moral and spiritual training, educational, and personal fulfillment opportunities, yours or your former spouse's?
Where do your child's friends and relatives live?

The Family Unit

Another factor in child development is the support, love, and stability of the family unit. These questions relate to the child's relationship with others in the family, how stable those relationships are, and what sorts of influences the other members of the family may have on the child.

What is the child's relationship to other siblings?
What is the child's relationship with you and your former spouse?
What future home is proposed by the petitioning party, and what future relationships would that involve?
Do you have any immediate prospects of remarriage or a continuing relationship with a person who will be significant in the child's life? If so, describe that person's relationship with the child and how that may affect all of the matters discussed above.
The moral fitness of you and your former spouse, as well as any other persons who may become involved in the child's life as a result of this custody award.
Has there been any drug and/or alcohol abuse around the child? If so, how much, what treatment has been sought, and what has that individual's response been to that treatment?
Is foul language used by either party in front of the child? If so, what effect has that language had on the child?
What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses or your moral beliefs/failings? What are the other parent's?
Have there been any allegations of physical or sexual abuse of this child or any other children by either parent or anyone with whom they associate? Have these allegations been confirmed/resolved? What was the outcome?
Have there been any allegations of spousal abuse by either spouse? Have these allegations been confirmed? What was the outcome?
Does either party have a driving record (excessive violations, DUI's, or reckless and/or careless driving convictions)?
What has the child's exposure to moral issues been and how has the child responded to them?

Health of the Parents

Obviously, caring for a child can be more difficult if one of the parents has compromised physical or mental health. These questions will identify issues affecting this factor.

Describe the physical health of the parents.
State the mental health history of the parents.
Are there any short term or long term mental health concerns for either parent?

Child's Home, School, and Community Involvement

Again, this is a list of questions that relate to outside evidence of how a child is doing. These questions relate to the child's performance in school, their behavior, and their involvement in the community. These answers may help a court understand how the child is handling the divorce, the custody arrangements, etc.

What school does your child attend?
What is your child's attendance record like?
What is your child's academic record like?
What is your child's attitude towards school?
In what extracurricular activities does your child participate? What involvement do you or your former spouse have in these activities, if any?
What are your child's responsibilities at home (cleans room, does dishes, mows grass, etc.)? What is the parent's involvement in your child's responsibilities?
Does the child have a juvenile arrest record?
Does the child have close relationship with friends in the area?

Child's Reasonable Preferences

If your child is old enough to express a preference, a court will sometimes want to hear what your child's preference would be. This is not always a deciding factor for courts because judges understand that parents may attempt to bribe children with more lenient discipline or other benefits in order to curry favor. Nevertheless, it is a factor and these questions may be important in a closely matched set of parents.

Do you feel the child has a preference in who he/she would like to live with on a primary basis?
How do you feel your child would react if a change in custody occurs?
Does the other parent want this change of custody? Why or why not?
Do you want this change of custody? Why or why not?

Encouraging a Relationship with the Other Parent

Courts want children to have two parents. If you or your spouse have expressed a desire to keep the child from the other parent, this could be a big factor in the court's custody determination and may have an affect on visitation, as well.

What is your proposed visitation schedule?
Do you talk about the other parent in front of your child? If so, in what manner?
How do you and the other parent get along with each other?

Domestic violence

Courts want to know children will be in safe environments. If there is a history of domestic violence, whether in front of the children or not, that can be another very big factor in a judge's determination of custody or visitation.

Has either parent physically threatened the other?
Has either parent struck the other?
Did the child witness or hear these threats?
Other than appropriate discipline, has either parent struck or beaten the child?

Other Factors

There are always some miscellaneous questions that a judge may want to ask you. These are just a few, but there could be many others.

Are you aware of the availability of joint custody? What is your understanding of what joint custody is? Are you for it or against it?
Are there any other questions that have not been asked that you think the court should know about in making a custody determination? What are they and why are they important?
List the five (5) best and five (5) worst things your spouse might be able to say about you concerning your parenting abilities and your relationship with your child.
List the five (5) best and five (5) worst things you are able to say about your spouse concerning his/her parenting abilities and his/her relationship with the child.

There is no such thing as an exhaustive list of questions that judges may ask you, and no definitive answers that can be given to ensure the outcome you are looking for. When in doubt, it is always in your best interest (and the interest of your children) to contact a qualified, experienced attorney who can help you with your custody and visitation issues.

Provided by HG.org

Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication at the time it was written. It is not intended to provide legal advice or suggest a guaranteed outcome as individual situations will differ and the law may have changed since publication. Readers considering legal action should consult with an experienced lawyer to understand current laws and.how they may affect a case.

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