What is Child Custody and How is it Determined?

April 24, 2019

Determining child custody can be a very long and complicated process. There are many potential determining factors for child custody, and several of them are left up to the discretion of the judge.

While standards do exist, judges determine child custody on a case-by-case basis. Knowing the types of custody and determining factors will help you streamline the process the right way.

Speaking with an established child custody attorney is always our recommended first step if you even are considering divorce when and there is a child or children involved.

It is essential to know the two main differentiating child custody terms: Physical custody and Legal custody.

Physical Custody

Physical custody refers to the physical responsibility of taking care of the child’s needs. Someone physical custody provides adequate housing, home care, food, water, clothes, and other basic physical necessities required by the child.

Legal Custody

The physical custodial parent often shares legal custody with the non-custodial parent. Even a parent with full physical custody may equally share legal custody. This type of custody gives a parent the right to make decisions crucial life decisions. Legal custody decisions include schooling/education, religion, health care, and other parental matters.

Full Custody

When a parent is granted full custody over a child, this means they retain sole physical custody and sole legal custody. Judges often award full child custody to their mothers, especially in cases of unmarried child custody disputes. According to 2013 census data, only 1 in 6 custodial parents were fathers.

If the father cannot provide for the child’s physical needs adequately, the mother will often be given sole physical custody only. In this case, the father may still retain some legal custody in regards to major parental decisions. These types of situations are considered forms of joint custody.

Joint Custody

Joint Custody is a preferred custodial method. However, it is also the method that requires the most arbitration and deliberation in regards to the determining factors of child custody.

In this method, parents share some form of legal and physical custody based on several determining factors. While 50/50 joint custody is often considered the ideal result, we don’t live in a perfect world. Some parents may be unfit to hold an equal share of legal or physical custody.

Usually, joint custody means the child will spend an approximated equal amount of time with each parent at their own home. Supporters of equal joint custody believe spending equal time at each parent’s house is beneficial. They believe it lessens the effects of separation and reduces the feeling of loss.

However, opponents of equal joint custody believe bouncing between houses destroys the sense of “home.” They believe this affects their comfort and sense of identity. An often-taken alternate involves parents sharing equal legal custody but not physical custody.

Then, both parents agree to a liberal visitation schedule for the non-custodial parent. This method allows the child to establish a more permanent home while still spending equal time with each parent.

Split Custody

This method of awarding child custody requires there to be multiple children involved. Split custody is rarely preferred, as it consists of each parent gaining sole custody of at least one child.

Splitting up siblings isn’t usually something courts, parents, or children want. However, Split custody may be necessary in individual cases due to unique determining factors.

What are these determining factors, exactly? Things like parental living situations, connections to community or schools, relationships between parents and children, and more.

Let’s take a more detailed look at all the factors that may play a part in determining child custody.

What are the determining factors of child custody?

When determining child custody, keep in mind that the child’s life and quality of living is always the most important consideration. For this reason, several details and factors determine the best form of child custody.

Who is the primary caregiver?

Being a primary caregiver includes meeting daily needs like feeding, bathing, walking, taking to school, and other general care. In most cases (especially with younger children still breastfeeding), the mother is the primary caregiver.

What are the living accommodations?

This factor is a pretty obvious one. The more suitable a parent’s living situation is for their children, the more likely they will receive physical custody.

What are the parents’ financial resources?

Both parents may have a full-time job and other basic means to care for their child. However, one may be better suited than the other to care for the child due to their savings, benefits, or other sources of financial stability.

What is the relationship between the child/children and the parents?

If a child has a much stronger bond with one parent than the other, this can be a huge determining factor. Again, the child’s comfort and security are of utmost importance.

What is the relationship between the parents?

This question is also a very, very important determining factor. Parents who have a healthy, cooperative and respectful relationship are much more likely to receive at least some custody compared to a parent with a history of attempting to disrupt/destroy the other parent’s relationship with their child.

What opportunity does the child have to interact with extended family?

Does the child have a better opportunity to see their uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents, or other members of their extended family while living under the custody of one parent compared to the other? If so, this may be a factor in granting child custody.

Does the child have established connections to their school/community?

If one parent is to remain in the original family home (given that there was an established family home, to begin with), they may have a higher chance of gaining physical custody of the child. Removing a child from their school, friends, or community at large could be detrimental if they’ve formed a strong emotional bond.

What is the mental and physical health of both the parents and the child?

A parent with mental or physical health problems may result in a judge determining they aren’t fit to care for a child adequately. Inversely, a child with mental or physical health problems may require specific care/accommodations that can only be provided by one of the parents.

Is there evidence of physical or emotional abuse towards either the child or the other parent?

An abusive household is never right for a child. If there is evidence of abuse, emotional or physical, towards anyone in a given home, that parent will most likely be deemed unfit to receive child custody.

Is there evidence of substance abuse or addictions from either parent?

If a parent is found to have harmful drug or alcohol addictions or show signs of any substance abuse (even for prescribed medications), they could very well lose at least some of their child custody rights.

What do the parents want?

This factor is an easy determination. If a parent openly doesn’t want to receive custody and other parent does, the situation can quickly resolve itself. If both parents want full custody over their child or children, however, things can get more complicated. For this reason, it is always smart to consider seeking legal counsel/representation during the child custody process.

Most importantly, what does the child want?

Child Custody battles can often end up feeling more like a divorce dispute. Parents let their wants and desires take precedence over the child’s wants and desires. This is why children are allowed to voice their feelings and desires just as any parent is, especially the older and more dependent they are.

Seeking Legal Help for Child Custody

For divorcing parents, the well-being of your children is of paramount importance. Suddarth and Koor, LLC has been involved in countless custody and relocation cases. We have testified before the legislature as advocates for putting children first in divorce. We are experienced divorce and family law attorneys with experience in child custody and support.

We here at Suddarth and Koor can help you give your children a loving and stable home by advising you on essential matters.

Suddarth and Koor, LLC takes this very seriously, so we prioritize the child’s emotional health in every child custody case. We know the deep emotional needs a family has.

We provide creative solutions that can build something new and beneficial out of your current family situation. Contact us today for your free consultation!