Child Custody: Shared or Customized?
A Case-By-Case Determination
Many individuals believe that subsequent to a divorce, children should split time equally between parents. At first, it may appear fair for parents to share guardianship of their children. However, when making a child custody decision, family law courts generally review matters on a case-by-case basis.
Specifically, courts look to the “best interests” of children when making custody determinations. However, this does not mean that in all cases equal parenting is in the best interests of a particular child.
What is in the best interests of a child? Under New Jersey divorce statutes, courts consider various factors, including:
- The parents’ ability to cooperate in matters relating to the child
- The child’s relationship with his or her parents and siblings
- The safety of the child
- The preference of the child
- The parents’ ability to communicate with one another
These are just a few of the issues that a family court examines when determining the custody status of a child.
Every family is unique, and family roles are ever-evolving. In this day and age, women do not necessarily stay at home as a primary caregiver. Therefore, when a family goes through a divorce, it may not be a good idea for a court to use hard-and-fast rules about shared guardianship. A simplified plan may create inadequate arrangements for a child, which are not in his or her best interests.
Furthermore, many serious issues can complicate custody issues for a family. Family courts look for home situations that may not be healthy. For instance, if a parent regularly abuses drugs or alcohol, it would probably not be in a child’s best interests to live with that particular adult.
What if one parent has a history of emotional or physical abuse? In these cases, shared physical custody between parents would not be safe. Most family courts would not permit a child to stay with an abusive relative.
Customized Child Custody
In the end, a “one size fits all” approach to a family law decision is not adequate for every parent and child. Judges, family law attorneys and counselors need to customize each case with an arrangement that is based upon the specific wellbeing of the children in question. Courts usually do a thorough investigation in making a determination. Because so many different elements factor into an overall custody assessment, it is advisable to seek the help of an experienced family law attorney in approaching a child custody case.