The main factors that influence who gets custody depends on what the parents agree to. If parents agree, the courts don’t get involved in child custody other than to formalize the agreement they put together in writing. However, if there is a disagreement, the following factors will influence who gets custody.
The Desires of the Parents
The very first thing that any judge is going to consider is what each parent has asked for and how the ask affects the child’s life. If both parents agree on the decision, a judge will not change it. If there are disagreements, a judge typically focuses on what’s in the best interest of the child and not the parents.
The Preferences of the Child
Some states will consider the preferences of the child, but usually not before the age of 12 or 13. Try to avoid asking your child what they want in this regard. Making them choose between parents is going to cause a lot of psychological damage. Even if they should want to choose one (such as due to abuse), it’s best to avoid putting them on the stand if you can.
The Relationship the Child Has with the Parents
Once a case gets to court, one of the factors that are important to consider is how close the child is to each of the parents. Which parent has always done the parenting for the child? Or if it was shared, which parent seems to be the parent that is primary in a crisis?
The Mental and Physical Health of the Parents
If one parent is clearly healthier in the ways that matter to the judge, they will often award custody accordingly. This does not mean that if you have issues such as depression, anxiety, and so forth – and are in counseling and getting treatment — that it’s going to be a negative factor for you.
The Work Situation of the Parents
Does the parent have the type of job that enables them to be with the kids, and if not, do they have a back-up plan? For example, it’s going to be hard for an army officer to have sole custody against a bank president who works regular hours without the cooperation of the other parent.
The Home Situation of the Parents
How the parents are living is important. Is the housing safe? Does the housing meet the basic legal requirements established in your state? Judges do consider finances in this situation too. For example, if one parent is living with parents while the other can afford to live on their own in a nice house and all else is equal, they may choose the best home situation.
The Involvement the Parents and Child Has with Their Community
Judges see community involvement an important factor in deciding custody. The main reason is that people who are involved in their community are less likely to have social issues and problems.
The Daily Care and Duties Each Parent Provides
Which parent seems to be the one who acts as the primary parent? Even if the primary parent doesn’t have the "best" home or "best" job, often judges will stick to what was before the divorce to avoid disrupting children. That’s the main reason stay-at-home parents often end up with custody even though they now must get a job.
The best thing parents can do is try to keep things as close to what they were like prior to the divorce. Children get used to how things are and disrupting that will cause them to lose trust and potentially act out in a bad way. If parents can come to an agreement and parenting plan on their own, it’s almost always better for everyone involved. If you’re having issues, consider talking to a mediator who can help you better understand what judges in your area will do in your situation before taking it all the way to court.