When the courts are tasked with determining child custody and visitation for a minor child in a family law matter, their primary concern is what orders will be in the best interests of the child. For the courts, “the best interests” is a specific phrase meaning that all custody and visitation orders must promote the child’s health and well-being above all else. This means that the courts will balance the child’s relationship with each parent against the challenges of dividing custodial time between both parties. In other words, as far as the family courts are concerned, the child’s needs come first.
As you begin deciding how you would like to proceed when asking the court to make child custody and visitation orders, it is important that you remember that your success depends on how well you plan for your child/children’s happiness and comfort. When making decisions about your children during a divorce or custody proceeding, you should make every attempt to set aside your personal feelings and concerns and instead focus on how you can ease your child through this difficult transition.
How the Court Decides
First and foremost, the court will make its final custody and visitation orders based on the reasonable preferences of the child (if the child is of age to adequately express their wishes and concerns) and/or the health and safety needs of the child. The court will also consider the mental health and physical health of the parents, as well as any and all religious and cultural considerations. The child’s ties to extended family and the community are also considered, as are the child’s ability to maintain stability in both residence and schooling. The court will delve deeply into your family’s dynamics to ensure the child will not be exposed to substance abuse or physical/emotional abuse while in the custody of either parent. The court may also allow testimony from grandparents, extended family, and any other community connections (coaches, teachers, mentors) that could impact the child’s custody and visitation schedule.
Coming to an Agreement
When preparing to request a custody and visitation order from the court, it is important that you prioritize your child’s interests and wellbeing, while also accounting for evolving needs and future expectations. You should explore developing a parenting plan, either alone or in cooperation with the other parent. A parenting plan can map out a course of action that will allow you and the children of the relationship to better cope with the separation. In some cases, mediation can help parents quickly develop a mutually agreed upon parenting plan which can ease both parties and children during subsequent court proceedings.
When attempting to work out a parenting schedule, aim for cooperation and calm. Try to remove any feelings of animosity or defensiveness when communicating with the other parent and try to keep an open mind. While you may not be able to agree on an ideal parenting plan, if you keep the lines of communication open you will have a better chance of coming to a decision that is acceptable to both parents while also helping the child cope with separated parents.
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