As with many of the legal tenets associated with divorce, child custody laws vary from state to state. There are, however, a few basic principles that all states currently comply with when determining how and where a child of separated/divorced parents will reside and be reared.
The phrase typically associated with the determination of which parent will be granted custody of a child (or children) is the “best interests of the child.” This is what a judge seeks to find during the course of divorce proceedings. When sole custody is granted, the norm now is to pick the parent that exhibits the most suitable living situation for the child (the best scenario for a child’s mindset and tangible needs). This differs greatly than the method used up until roughly 40 years ago, where the mother was routinely, and almost automatically, granted full custody. Unless it was proven that the mother was grossly unfit to care for her child, she would usually be deemed the sole custodian.
Numerous states (such as Alabama, California (when both parents agree) , Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire) currently favor splitting custody between the two parents, in what is known as “joint custody,” it if clearly seems to be in the child’s best interests. One reason this incarnation of custody has come into fashion is due to the ways that society has evolved over time. Obviously many mothers have full time jobs now and fathers are more interested in playing a bigger part in their kids’ upbringing than in past decades. Joint, or “shared,” custody doesn’t strictly apply to ‘where a child lives,’ but can also affect various legalities related to how a child is brought up (schooling options, childcare, religious instruction, inheritance, etc.)
When it comes time for the court to make the final decisions regarding child custody, the court is usually open to hearing what options the parents have constructed on their own (with the aide of their consul). The goal is for a mutually satisfiable conclusion to be reached, that obviously is in the ‘best interests of the child,’ but also leaves both parents feeling that they will receive adequate and appropriate time with their offspring. Hence, (legal) mediation is ideal as a general consensus can be reached by both parties – without having to drag this portion of the divorce through the actual courtroom, in what can often be a contentious and highly unpleasant experience. In fact, certain states (such as Texas) make it compulsory to undergo mediation, to avoid just such unfortunate situations. Some states utilize “specialized courts” ( as opposed to general courts that see a variety of different types of cases) when dealing with custody; this issue is not treated lightly since a child’s well being is concerned.
Individual judges may either require or strongly urge parents to take part in courses designed specifically for dealing with post-divorce child upbringing. Clearly the divorce is just the beginning of a new faction of life, for both parents and the children, and there will be significant changes that are necessary to adapt to.
Another substantial development in the world of child custody hearings over the years is the inclusion of information from and opinions of other concerned parties. In addition to child psychologists that may offer important insight into what would behoove a child the most in terms of lodgings and care, the courts are recognizing input from grandparents and other relevant relatives. Hearing from stepparents, that may be a consistent and influential part of a child’s new living set up, can be very useful to the court as well.
Even under the best circumstances, divorce will always be a trying time, to various extents. This is of course true for any children in the equation as well. If you are going through a divorce and the issue of child custody pertains to you, just remember that what is of most importance is what truly is in the ‘best interests of the child.’ When both parents fully consider this, arriving at a fair and unanimously beneficial custody agreement is achievable.