Last time, we continued our discussion of the various factors courts take into consideration when making custody decisions. We left off with the point that courts are supposed to look toward ensuring that any residential arrangement encourages each parent to maintain a strong relationship with the child. Courts are directed to pay careful attention to statutory parenting plan restrictions.
When statutory restrictions do not bar a parent from having physical custody of a child, there are other factors courts are supposed to considers, such as the child’s relationship with each parent, any existing agreements between the parents or other adults seeking physical custody; the emotional needs of the child, each parent’s employment schedule, and, to an extent, the wishes of the child.
Courts are generally free to assign an appropriate weight of consideration to each factor, though the strength, nature and stability of the child’s relationship with each parent is supposed to be given the greatest weight. Courts are allowed to order a physical custody arrangement in which a child alternates between households, though any such arrangement must ensure brief and substantially equal intervals of time. The distance of each parent’s residence from one another can impact whether such an arrangement is in the best interests of a child. Courts are also able to include in the terms of physical custody arrangements terms which help ensure residential arrangements work out smoothly.
Because of the fluidity of the considerations involved in child custody determinations and the degree of discretion family law judges enjoy, it is critical to work with an experienced attorney who can help highlight the factors that best represent a parent’s interests. As we’ve previously mentioned, child custody proceedings are primarily about the interests of the child, and only secondarily about the interests of the parents, but having a strong advocate can still make a difference.