What Factors Does the Court Use to Determine Child Custody?

If you’re involved in a child custody case, you may find yourself wondering how a judge can possibly determine such an intimate decision as child custody. After all, the judge doesn’t know you personally; he or she only knows what is presented in court. Other professionals (licensed social workers, court appointed attorneys) also make recommendations to the judge.

These professionals have a list of factors that they use to determine child custody cases. The factors are the same in every case, but their particular application or significance may change from case to case.

Best Interests of the Child

Ohio Law requires the court to determine child custody by using a “best interests of the child” standard. In fact, this standard is so engrained in child custody cases that a judge would be committing an abuse of discretion if he or she failed to act in the best interests of the child. (An abuse of discretion for a judge is similar to legal malpractice for a lawyer.)

Specific Factors

In order to determine the child’s “best interest” Ohio law outlines specific factors that the court must consider when either naming a residential parent, or considering shared parenting (joint custody). Each factor is described below, followed by an example or a description of the factor.

1. The parents’ wishes.

The parents may have a general agreement regarding child custody.

2. The child’s wishes.

The child may want to live with his or her mother or father. There is no age at which a child may decide a custody issue. The child’s wishes are one factor out of many that may be considered. It is not advisable for a parent to ask a child about the child’s wishes.

3. The child’s relationships with his or her parents, siblings, and other persons that would be affected by a proposed custody order.

If the child has a particularly close bond with a stepbrother or stepsister, the court may award custody to the parent of that sibling.

4. The child’s performance at school and adjustment to the community.

If a child is doing particularly well at a certain school, the court may choose to award primary custody to the parent living in that school district.

5. Physical and mental health of everyone close to the child.

A court will consider the physical and mental health of everyone who has a relationship with the child. For example, if one parent is physically unable to care for the child full-time, the court may be reluctant to award that parent primary physical custody.

6. Which parent will be more likely to foster a relationship with the other parent.

Courts recognize that it is usually in the best interests of the child to have relationships with both parents. Thus a court will consider whether one parent seems unlikely to allow the child to have contact with the other parent.

7. Whether the parent is current on child support obligations.

One parent may be behind in child support payments.

8. The parents’ criminal records.

One parent may have a history of violence or substance abuse.

9. Whether one parent has denied another parent the right to see the child.

One parent may have disobeyed a court ordered parenting plan.

10. Whether a parent is planning to move out of the state.

A court is interested in making sure the child has a sense of consistency. The reason for a potential move is important.

Additional factors are considered when determining whether or not shared parenting is in the child’s best interest include:

11. What the ability is of the parents to make joint decisions.

A court wants to assess the level of conflict in everyday decisions.

12. Whether each parent encourages a relationship between the child and the other parent.

This shows the court that both parties are working to help the child.

13. Whether either party has been physically or mentally abusive toward a family member.

Evidence of abuse might also be a sign of mental or substance abuse issues.

14. The geographic distance between the parents’ homes.

The greater the distance, the more difficult joint decision making becomes.

15. The recommendations by the child care professionals involved.

These vary based on the above criteria.

The court will weigh these factors, and perhaps others, to reach a child custody determination. None of these factors by itself is enough to determine the outcome of the case. Each case is different, so each factor may be given different weight in different cases. For example, the wishes of a well-adjusted child who is close to the age of majority may have more influence than the wishes of an easily persuaded five-year-old. Or everyone close the child may be in perfect mental and physical health, making that factor relatively unimportant.

How We Help

Because of the highly individualized nature in which courts make child custody determinations, it is hard to predict with certainty the outcome of a particular child custody case. However, you can make sure the court knows all of the relevant information by enlisting the experienced attorneys at Crowe & Welch.

Categories: Family Law