Child custody guidelines are one of the most important issues for a divorcing couple. In almost every case, it is best if the divorcing couple can come to a custody agreement amongst themselves, rather than turning to the court to make a decision for them. Not only is litigating the issue of child custody much more expensive, but if you leave it up to a judge to decide, you may not end up with a result that works for your family. However, if you and your spouse truly cannot come to a custody agreement amongst yourself, the court will step in and make a decision for you. Once the court sets forth a custody arrangement, you are generally bound to follow it- and failure to do so could bring with it serious sanctions.
How a Court Determines Child Custody
Unfortunately, there is not one simple answer to how a court determines custody because each state has different child custody guidelines. In every case, however, the aim of a child custody agreement is to act in the best interests of the child. This means the court will consider a number of factors, all designed to make sure that the child ends up with the best possible upbringing.
There are several main custody arrangements the court can decide on. The court can opt for:
- Shared custody: Both parents have substantially equal access to the child, or close to equal access to the child. This is often the best option when it is reasonable, as the child then has equal access to both parents and doesn't feel cut off from one parent or the other.
- Primary custody: When a parent is given primary custody, the child lives with him or her for most of the time, but spends some time with the other parent as well. The stereotypical idea of a divorced dad who gets his kids every other weekend is an example of a primary custody situation.
- Sole custody: When one parent has almost sole access to the child, it is referred to as sole custody. This generally occurs only in cases where there is a good reason for cutting off the other parent's access to the child, such as in cases where abuse or neglect is an issue. The other parent may have limited visitation rights, supervised visitation or no visitation at all.
When a court litigates a custody decision, things have almost always gotten ugly by that point, since you and your spouse obviously haven't been able to work together to agree. As such, it is essential you have the help of an unbiased attorney, both to help keep your emotions in check and to help make sure you present the best case possible in court so you don't risk losing access to your child.