Things That a Court Considers Before Deciding Child Custody Arrangements
Did you know that very few custody arrangements require intervention from the courts? Fighting for custody is rare, but it does happen when the parents cannot come to an arrangement on their own. If you end up in this situation, there are a few things you need to know about how courts determine custody.
Each Parent’s Desire for Custody
One of the first things that any court will look at is whether or not the parent actually wants custody of the child. Of course, in most cases, both parents want custody. However, in some rare situations, one parent might want to try to force the other to share custody against their will. This is not actually possible. No judge will assign custody to an unwilling parent because there are concerns the parent would mistreat the unwanted child.
Each Parent’s Housing Situation
Since physical custody describes where a child will live, each parent’s housing plays a huge role in these decisions. Although courts do not award custody solely on who has the bigger home, they will want to carefully think about which one provides for the child’s needs. Some factors that might be considered include:
- How far the home is from the child’s school
- Whether the home is situated in a familiar area for the child
- How far the home is from other family members
- Whether the child has their own bedroom
- The overall condition and safety of the home
- Whether the home has adequate space
- Whether the housing is long term or temporary
Each Parent’s Ability to Parent Appropriately
In any custody decision, each party’s fitness to parent will be very carefully examined. This is essentially your ability to care for the child’s physical, mental, emotional, and social needs. Parents who have a history of being inappropriate, neglectful, or overbearing may find it harder to get custody. Proving that a parent is fit or unfit can be difficult since it is so subjective and may rely on hearsay or anecdotes. Some things that a divorce lawyer may use to prove a parent’s fitness include:
- Testimony from you, the child, or acquaintances
- Interviews with a child psychologist
- History of Social Services reports
- Social media posts concerning your child
- Your child’s behavior with each parent
The Child’s Own Preferences
In some cases, the court may ask the child themselves about custody arrangement preferences. This usually only occurs in situations where the child is old enough to articulate the reasons. Though the court might not award custody solely to the parent that the child prefers, it may at least award the parent slightly more custody. If you want to use your child’s preferences as a deciding factor in custody, there are a few things to keep in mind.
- Your child needs to be able to express their wishes directly to a judge or trained counselor. Just saying, “I know they’d rather be with me,” isn’t enough proof in court.
- The court tends to be unhappy with parents who use deception to convince their child to dislike the other parent.
- Bribing your child with toys or a lack of rules may not count as a valid reason for your child to prefer you.
- There is no set age limit, but the child must be mature enough to make decisions for themselves.
Each Parent’s Criminal Backgrounds
A criminal background will not disqualify a parent from pursuing custody. However, evidence of certain crimes can make the court concerned that the parent might put the child in dangerous or neglectful situations. Even being accused of crimes without actually being convicted can weigh into custody decisions. If there is credible risk to the child, the court can reduce custody. New Jersey custody laws forbid sex offenders from getting custody, but there are many other crimes that can impact custody decisions. Some crimes that may make it harder for a parent to gain custody include:
- Violent assault
- Domestic violence
- Firearm charges
- Abuse of minors
- Participating in organized crime
- Selling drugs
Amount of Time Spent With the Child
Since stability and ability to parent are a huge part of child custody decisions, the court often wants to consider how much time each parent spends with a child. When a parent has spent more time with the child, they can provide the familiar, reassuring environment that the child needs. So if you raised the child alone for the first few years while the other parent was not involved, your child custody lawyer may be able to argue you should get more custody.
You might also be able to argue for child custody if you are the primary caretaker while the other parent works all day. In addition to time spent caring for the child, the court might also consider the time spent interacting with the child. A parent who plans parent-child vacations, takes the child on special outings, or spends a lot of time at the child’s extracurricular activities may get more custody.
The Child’s Safety
Child custody isn’t just about each parent’s relationship with the child. New Jersey courts also focus on the children’s safety. Anything that could harm a child’s physical or mental health can affect custody decisions. Some reasons that a court might deny custody because of safety concerns include:
- The parent lives in a home without water, electricity, or other basic utilities.
- The parent cannot supervise the child on trips to and from school.
- The neighborhood one parent lives in has very high levels of violent crime.
- The child has been injured by a parent’s neglect before.
- The parent lives with a sex offender or other violent criminal.
- The parent has a history of domestic abuse and violence.
Other People Living With the Parent
A court making a custody decision does not just look at the parents themselves. It will also consider the types of people who would be living with the child. One of the first things that they consider will be siblings. In most cases, it is bad for a child’s mental health to be separated from their siblings, so custody may be awarded to the parent who has custody of other siblings. However, if the siblings are abusive to the child or if the parent has too many children to provide appropriate care, the court may prefer to place the child in a home without their siblings. Here are some other things the court might consider:
- Whether there are grandparents or other family members who can help with child care
- Your child’s relationship, or lack thereof, with stepsiblings and stepparents
- Whether romantic partners come and go frequently, leading to a sense of instability
- Roommates who may have a background that makes them a safety threat to the child
- The number of people in the home and whether it is of adequate size for the number of residents
Each Parent’s Financial Situation
The wealthier parent does not automatically get custody. However, the courts do look at a parent’s ability to provide for their child. Parents who have a better financial situation are often able to provide a more stable environment. They may also be able to provide better schooling, enrichment activities, health care, and other things that improve the child’s situation.
Ultimately, there are many factors that affect a custody order. You need a divorce lawyer who can assist you with navigating this situation and presenting appropriate proof for your case. The Law Office of Kelly Berton Rocco is trusted and reliable, and our team will assist you in finding the best solution for your family. Email us or call us at 201-343-0078 to schedule your consultation.