Parenting After Divorce: How Should Child Custody Be Decided?

Posted on: 3 December 2020

Before a divorce is final, parents of minor children are encouraged to create a plan that addresses child custody and visitation, if needed. To get an idea of what to expect and how these things are decided, read on.

Forms of Custody

Parents are generally free to make an agreement that best serves the needs of their child. You don't have to deprive your child of time with ether parent just because of a divorce and that is the idea behind child custody methods like bird's nesting and 50/.50 parenting. With birds' nesting, one parent at a time lives with the child for a set period while the other parent lives elsewhere. They then switch roles. Throughout all, the child stays in one place. 50/50 parenting is similar but the child is the one that moves from parent to parent. It allows the child to spend about 50% of the time with each parent. Neither of these two methods is as common as joint custody, however. The word joint means joint legal custody and is meant to highlight that both parents have as much legal responsibility for the child as the other. The child may, however, only reside with one parent most of the time. With joint custody, one parent is provided with visitation.

When Parents Don't Agree

A lot is done to avoid having a relative stranger (the judge) from having to make the custody decision for a family. When parents are not in agreement on this issue, the judge may order the parents to participate in mediation. Here, a neutral third-party mediation expert attempts to lead the parents toward a compromise while keeping the best interests of the child in mind. If there is still no resolution, the judge may have to have some more information before making a decision. Child studies or child custody evaluations are sometimes ordered. A mental health expert skilled in parent-child interactions observes the situation using interviews and play (if age appropriate) to arrive at a suggestion for the judge to follow.

Another method that might help the judge make a decision is to take the wishes of the child into account. This usually only occurs with children of a certain age though various states have different philosophies on questioning a child about custody issues. Overall, judges look for a custodial parent that will encourage the child to spend time with the other parent and who is mentally and physically fit to parent.

Child custody issues are difficult and emotional. Speak to a family attorney to find out more.


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