How is Child Custody Adjudicated in Family Court?

One of the most contentious issues that can come up in any family court case is that of child custody. Obviously, most parents want to be involved in their child’s upbringing, but when the issue of child custody is being adjudicated, there are no guarantees. Moreover, anyone who isn’t familiar with family law may be confused about how a court comes to a determination about custody in the first place.

                The legal standard for determining who gets custody of a child in a family court dispute is, theoretically, quite simple: the judge makes the determination as to what would be in the best interests of the child and uses their best judgment to award custody as they see fit. In practice, what exactly constitutes “the best interests of the child” is up for considerable debate, and includes factors like: the income and lifestyle of the person(s) seeking custody; their ability/willingness to care for a minor child; the possibility of needing to relocate geographically;  the ability of the custodian to foster a meaningful relationship between the other parent and the child; residence of siblings and step-siblings; in cases of shared parenting, the strain on the child’s lifestyle to move between both parents’ homes; and more. The same standard is also used when deciding whether to award visitation rights to the parent who is not awarded custody.

Normally, child custody comes up in divorce cases where the couple has minor children that need to be cared for, although there are other situations where child custody or visitation issues might need to be adjudicated. For example, if both of a child’s parents die or their living parents are determined to be unfit to care for the child, a court will need to determine who, if anyone, would be an appropriate custodian. Grandparents, cousins, and even people who aren’t family members of the child may apply for custody or visitation rights, depending on their specific circumstances.

Custody proceedings can be emotionally draining and expensive.  If you’re fighting for custody or visitation for your child, you should contact an attorney who is experienced in handling family court matters.  An attorney can analyze your situation and recommend the process that will work best for you.  If you have questions about the best approach for you and your family, contact Heather A. Fig, Attorney at Law, PLLC.  Heather Fig is an experienced litigation attorney in the area of family and divorce as well as a mediator for over 15 years.  To schedule a consultation, call our office at 631-419-6111 or fill out our contact form.  

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