There are two types of custody that must be determined in every case: Physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody is the amount of time each parent will be with the child. Legal custody is the parent’s right to make decisions about a child’s health, education and welfare. Each type of custody can be sole, primary or joint.
it is common for a court to name one parent as the primary physical custodian. In this case the other parent will be given specific times for custody and visitation. In other cases, both parents will have joint physical custody.
How does the court make custody decisions? The court will attempt to determine “the best interest of the child.” The factors that the court may consider in determining what is in the best interest of the child vary from state to state but typically include the following:
- The wishes of the parents
- Each parent’s ability to be an effective parent
- The interaction of the child with his or her parents, siblings, or others who may have an effect on the child’s best interests
- The wishes of the child
- Any history of domestic violence that may exist
- Any evidence of drug or alcohol abuse on the part of either parent
- The physical and mental health of each parent
- Each parent’s willingness to allow the child frequent, continuing, and meaningful contact with the other parent
Because judges have significant discretion when making decisions about child custody, it is critical for anyone involved in a child custody dispute to retain an attorney familiar with child custody law in their jurisdiction.