Child Custody in Divorce

Divorce can be challenging. Sorting out property issues and disconnecting your life from your spouse’s can be a hassle. But the emotional impact of these challenges pales in comparison to the importance of child custody.

Figuring out which parent will have custody of the children, or if both parents will share custody equally, can be the most difficult part of a divorce.

Most parents simply want what’s best for their children, but their interpretation of their children’s best interests often differs. This is where courts come into play. Judges help parents determine what type of custody is best for the children.

Of course, the uncertainty of how a judge may rule prompts parents to ask questions about child custody. These include: Does one parent usually get sole custody? What do courts consider when determining who gets custody?


Typical Child Custody Arrangements in Divorce

Many divorces end with both parents sharing custody of their children. This arrangement is often called joint custody, though it may vary based on state laws.

Depending on the state, joint custody may appear in a few different forms, including:

  • Joint physical custody. In this scenario, the children of a divorced couple will spend time with each parent. Often, divorce filings will specify the exact dates the child will stay with each parent.
  • Joint legal custody. Here, both parents share responsibility for making decisions about education, health care, and other important steps in their children’s life.
  • Joint legal and physical custody. This combines elements of both forms of joint custody.

Thus, depending on the circumstances and state laws, divorced couples may have some flexibility when deciding how best to divide their child-raising responsibilities.


Factors Courts Often Consider When Determining Who Gets Child Custody

Courts are generally guided by the “best interests” of the child standard in determining custody, which may be broken down into a variety of factors.

The factors courts will use in making that determination may vary by state, but courts generally look at several factors when determining child custody in divorce, including:

  • The emotional bond between the child and each parent
  • The child’s preference (if the child is relatively old)
  • The effect on the child’s health and education
  • The mental and physical health of each parent
  • Any history of child abuse

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