When married parents get divorced or unmarried parents split up, the court will try to determine the “best interests” of the children in order to decide custody and visitation rights for the parents. To figure this out, the court considers a series of “best interest” factors set out in the law. These include:
- the physical, emotional, mental, religious, and social needs of the child;
- the capability and desire of each parent to meet these needs;
- the child’s preference if the child is old enough and mature enough to form a preference;
- the love and affection existing between the child and each parent;
- the length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and whether it is a good idea to keep the same environment;
- the willingness and ability of each parent to help with and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the other parent and the child, (except when the other parent has committed domestic violence or sexually assaulted the parent or child, and the court finds that a continuing relationship will harm the parent or the child or make them unsafe);
- any evidence of domestic violence, child abuse, or child neglect in the proposed custodial household, or a history of violence between the parents;
- evidence that substance abuse by either parent or other members of the household directly affects the child’s well-being; and
- other factors that the court considers
The two main parts of a custody order are a parenting schedule, and authority to make decisions for the children.
- The parenting schedule sets out specific days and times for children to be with each It also covers who will transport the children, where the transfer will happen, and who will pay for any travel necessary for visits.
- Authority to make decisions for the children includes how decisions will be made on health, education, and social issues for This part of the custody order determines whether the parents will make these decisions together, or whether one parent has the right to decide these matters.
Custody and visitation orders also cover matters like travel, conditions for visitation, PFDs, taxes, and health insurance. The court decides all of these issues based on the children’s best interests.