In child custody cases, one crucial job of any family court judge is to ensure the well-being of any minors affected by a divorce. This can be difficult in the best circumstance. In divorce cases, parents are typically at odds and offer differing perspectives on what they feel is best for the children. Because of this, they sometimes rely on the insight of other professionals. What judges look for in child custody cases may depend on those insights, among other factors.
In certain cases, the judge may order an evaluation for the child, which is administered by a forensic child psychologist or a similarly qualified expert. As every situation is different, measures such as this are particularly valuable. The insight these professionals provide can help the judge see potential risks and rewards of custody decisions.
What Judges Look for in Child Custody Cases
Just like every divorce case is different, so is every judge. Though there are certain legal standards and formulas every California family court judge must consider, they are still humans. They are doing their best to consider all the factors in front of them and make the best ruling based on those factors.
When parents go through divorce, they often lose trust in one another in matters regarding their children and rarely agree on custody issues. If a judge orders a child custody evaluation, the purpose is to determine whether the child’s welfare, safety, and health are at risk and whether one parent is better fit to have custody than the other.
When these battles go to court, there are certain things the judge will look for as they make their decision. Consider the following factors judges look at when making their decision.
- Attitude the child has toward the parent. It is vital for each parent to cultivate positive relationships between their child and all parties. In cases where one parent encourages the child to hate the other, such behavior can cause emotional distress for the child. When children are acting out before parental visits or verbally expressing concern, it is possible that there is damage to the relationship with that parent that needs to be repaired. The children’s concerns must be taken into consideration, and action must be taken when necessary. In court cases, the judge will consider how the child feels toward the parent, whether they are afraid of either parent and their comfort level with the parents.
- Social functioning. Building memories and positive interactions with parents involves the child having social activities that take part in with each parent. When either parent is against taking part in such activities, they often skip out on their activity time, which can be destructive to the child’s well-being. Judges will often look at the details of a parent’s social activities and issues and consider the effect they will have on the child. For instance, a parent who rarely leaves the house and refuses to have any interaction with their neighbors may send up a red flag with the judge.
- Psychiatric illness. Judges will look at whether a parent suffers from any type of psychiatric issue that may create a risk to the child’s welfare when deciding on custody. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the parent cannot have custody or will lose time with their child, but they will need to show the judge verification that they are receiving treatment. Avoiding or refusing treatment for psychological illnesses is very dangerous for the parent and the child, but when a parent is active in their medication use and mental health treatment, it typically has a positive influence on all parties involved.
- Substance abuse. When a parent has a problem with prescription drugs, illegal drugs, or alcohol, it will almost certainly affect a judge’s decision on child custody. If one parent realizes that this is an issue after custody is awarded, they may get a change in their custody order. As marijuana has been legalized for medical or recreational use in different parts of the country, judges have had to modify the way marijuana use affects their decisions. They may still order restrictions on the use of the drug, though, to ensure the child’s safety. They may also order substance abuse assessments to determine the extent of the parent’s abuse.
- Domestic violence. If a judge knows that a child has witnessed physical or emotional abuse by one parent towards another, they will take that into consideration for custody. In fact, regardless of whether the child has witnessed the abuse, domestic violence is never acceptable in the eyes of the judge. Any type of abuse can have a negative effect on the physical and emotional well-being of the abusive parent and the child. Parents who wish to resolve such situations can use resources such as changes to child custody orders, domestic violence classes, counseling for the abusive parent, and restraining orders.
- Child abuse. If a parent has any type of history abusing the child in the current situation or any other children, it may influence the judge’s decision. Child services may have records of past child abuse or neglect if they had been involved in making the determination of whether abuse occurred. If child services are involved in the current scenario, they will typically issue an immediate safety plan that can be presented in court.
- Conflict resolution methods employed between parents for custody. A judge will often look at how cooperative each parent has been as they went through the divorce and whether either one refused to communicate or compromise. When parents make every situation into a battle, it can have a negative effect on the welfare of the child. It is crucial for them to see their parents working together to resolve issues.
- Childcare history. The parent’s record of ensuring the welfare of their child or relying too much on the other parent to handle childcare responsibilities is a factor the judge may consider in a custody case. If a judge sees that a parent is constantly placing their parenting responsibilities on other family members, this may also affect their decision on custody.
- Being sensitive to the child’s needs. The judge will look at how well a parent understands and responds to the needs of a child. Children need each parent to hear their needs and care for them. This may become more difficult as the child spends time split between two households, but they must feel comfortable communicating in each home.
- Setting age-appropriate restrictions. Curfew times for teenagers and the types of television and movies that children are allowed to watch may have an influence on the judge’s decision. These limits are often issues on which parents don’t agree, but they should make an effort to reach a compromise as co-parents. When one parent is extremely lax with age-based restrictions, it may be a red flag to a judge.
Have an Experienced Attorney on your Side
If you are facing the difficult issue of child custody, you likely have many questions about whether the judge will side with you or your former spouse, especially if your divorce has been a contentious one. The knowledgeable attorneys at Khalaf Law Group have walked clients through these complicated legal cases many times and handle each client with compassion and understanding. Visit our website today to find out how we can help you protect your child’s best interests.