One of the most challenging parts of a divorce is determining custody of children. In most cases, if the parent agrees on a plan for child custody, a court will rubber stamp it unless it seems that the plan doesn’t take into account the interests of the child.

If you and your ex are unable to come to an agreement, though, the court will take into account various factors when deciding custody. Judges generally prefer to give joint custody and will give sole custody only if one parent is found unfit. Here are five important factors that judges will take into account when deciding child custody.

The Child’s Preference

If your child is considered to be old enough to express a preference, then the judge will take it into account. Mostly, the child is considered of sufficient age if they are twelve or older. Older teens in particular are likely to be asked what they would prefer by the court. This doesn’t mean that it overrules the wishes of the parents, but it does matter. They will also pay attention to the child’s reasons; is it because they don’t want to move away from their friends? Are they a senior who doesn’t want to change schools?

Each Parent’s Ability to Provide

A very important consideration is your ability to provide the child with food and shelter. Child support is designed to ensure that children are provided for financially. However, a judge might take into account specific circumstances. For example, if one parent is staying in the family home, whilst the other is buying a small condo close to their job, the judge may favor the parent who has the larger home with more space. If, on the other hand, you sell the home as part of the divorce and then both move to smaller houses, this will not be clear cut. Another thing a judge takes into account is healthcare (a parent with good health insurance might be favored).

Each Parent’s Ability to Raise and Educate the Child

This is highly subjective and the sort of thing you should get your lawyers’ advice on in order to make the best argument. The law requires that judges take into account “love and affection,” which is even more subjective and, often worse, the idea of you and your spouse’s morality, if it affects the welfare of the child. Additionally, a judge might take into account the amount of effort already put into raising the child. This can be used to favor stay-at-home spouses.

The Distance Between your Residences

A judge may take into account how far apart you and your ex live when deciding child custody and visitation. What this most often means is that if you have chosen to move a good distance away, the judge is likely to order less frequent periods of physical custody that last longer. This way, the child is not having to spend as much time traveling. This might mean, for example, the child spends most of the school year with one parent and then the entire summer with the other.

Stability in Child Custody

The last of the big five issues is the stability of the child’s situation. This means that the court will try to limit major changes. A parent who is moving out of state is less likely to get custody. The court will try to keep your child in the same school, especially if they have been in that school for a while. They might also take into account how stable the proposed custodial home is. For this reason, marrying your new partner or planning to can be helpful as it’s seen as more stable.

None of these factors are the most important, and courts might consider others. It’s obviously better to come up with your own arrangements. But, if your split is less than amicable, expect to have to address these when determining custody and visitation. For more advice and help dealing with your custody case, and your divorce in general, contact Ellender Law Firm today.