Under ideal circumstances, divorcing parents can work together to design a custody agreement that functions well for both parties while providing children with the best possible care. Unfortunately, factors may arise that prevent parents from coming to an arrangement that works for all involved. In these instances, custody decisions may be left up to the court.
While it’s natural to feel stressed during custody proceedings, partners should be conscious of the fact that their statements and actions during this time can have an impact on the judge’s final decision. Keep reading to learn how courts decide custody cases and what can be used against you when determining your family’s future.
How the Court Decides Custody
If a child’s parents disagree about custody arrangements, they may opt to leave the decision up to the court. While some cases are settled in internal court mediation services, others are decided by a judge. In the event that the court is making custody determinations, they may opt to seek advice and information from experts.
Additionally, a judge may order an investigation by social services or another agency. The goal is to assess both parents and determine whether factors exist in their lives that pose a physical, mental, emotional, or moral danger to the child.
Factors Impacting Custody Decisions
Courts consider numerous factors when determining what custody arrangement is in a child’s best interest. Evaluators may start by assessing the role parents have played in their kids’ lives so far.
They may also investigate to determine whether children have been in danger from a parent in the past. Parents with a history of using drugs or driving drunk could be at risk of losing primary custody. The goal is to determine if parents are physically and emotionally capable of caring for the child.
Additionally, courts are likely to take the views of the child into account. For example, the judge may seek to determine whether children feel comfortable with parents or if they seem scared or frustrated in their presence. Additionally, courts will assess whether the child has a relationship with other children in the home and whether they wish to remain at the same school.
Finally, the way parents behave and treat each other during a custody dispute can have an effect on the judge’s decision. Here are some of the factors that can make an impact on custody decisions:
Tempers often get heated during a custody battle. While you might be frustrated with your ex-husband or wife, the truth is that engaging in loud and disruptive disagreements can jeopardize your chances of winning custody.
In particular, judges will be critical of parents who fight loudly or frequently in front of their children or engage in physical altercations. If either party has been convicted of a domestic violence offense or suffers from a substance abuse problem, these issues may be considered when assigning custody.
For best results, avoid getting into screaming matches and try to resolve interpersonal issues by email, so you have a paper record of the dispute and solution.
It’s not just arguing with your spouse that can affect your odds of securing custody. In fact, speaking with others about your former partner can also put you at a disadvantage.
Because courts may call on family members and friends to testify at a custody hearing, it’s possible for your words to be used against you, especially if you maligned your spouse in front of your children.
For best results, avoid talking about your divorce in public and refrain from posting negative comments on social media.
It’s normal to want to start dating again once divorce proceedings have been initiated — and in some cases, new romantic partners contribute to the decision to separate. Still, it’s important to avoid allowing your children to interact with new partners until custody arrangements have been finalized.
Along with causing confusion for children, the presence of new partners can result in increased tension and ire with your ex-spouse. The last thing you want is your co-parent trying to sabotage your custody goals out of frustration. Additionally, judges have been known to penalize parents who move in with a significant other while divorce proceedings are ongoing.
Child Support Payments
It doesn’t matter if the court ordered you to pay support or you agreed to the arrangement with your spouse on your own — neglecting to make timely payments can leave you at a disadvantage in custody cases.
If you fail to make court-ordered payments, you risk being held in contempt. On the other hand, refusing to pay child support when you agreed to do so may cause the judge to view you as an uncaring or uncommitted parent.
Additionally, parents should strive to meet all non-financial obligations related to their kids. For example, if you said you’d pick a child up from school or drop them off at a particular time, be sure to abide by the terms of the agreement.
Similarly, parents need to adhere to any existing visitation agreements. While you might be tempted to keep your child from your ex out of spite or a feeling that your ex is an irresponsible parent, doing so can leave you at a disadvantage. Unless you believe your spouse represents a direct threat to your child, it’s best that you allow them to visit.
Taking the Child Out of State
Just because your child is in your care doesn’t mean you can take them out of the state. If you plan to go on a vacation with your child, be sure to inform the other parent in writing. Doing this prevents your ex from making an allegation that you were trying to kidnap your child.
Trust JacksonWhite Law With Your Family’s Future
Family law issues are complicated, and the stress of navigating divorce and custody agreements can lead to poor decision-making. At JacksonWhite Law, we offer legal advice and services to help parents through this trying time. Whether you need help securing custody or dealing with child support issues, you can count on our experienced team to help.
Call the Family Law Team at (480) 467-4348 to discuss your case today.