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Child Custody in a Divorce – What is Best for the Children?
In most states, a court’s decision about child custody during a divorce used to be simple to make. The judge would give custody to the mom. The dad got alternating weekend visitation. Now, custody decisions are drastically more complex. Many states have adopted a standard called “best interests of the child.” Judges are required to weigh a list of factors to determine which parent is the proper custodian of the children. The level of complexity in custody decisions has drastically risen and decisions are no longer clear-cut.
Florida is one state that places an emphasis on the protection of children involved in a divorce. The best interests of the child are the guiding principles in Florida. Domestic relations law of the state outline a list of factors a judge must consider in every custody decision: 1. the child's school and home history; 2. the permanence of the child’s proposed home; 3. the continuity of the child’s situation; 4. the parent’s ability to provide the necessities of life; 5. love, affection, and existing ties with either parent; 6. any history of domestic violence; and 7. the parent most likely to promote the child’s continued contact and relationship with the other parent.
There are two factors that appear to be most important: 6. the history of domestic violence and 7. the parent most likely to promote the child’s continued contact and relationship with the other parent. The importance of considering domestic violence is obvious. If a child is awarded to a violent parent, the safety of that child might be compromised. But most people are not aware of and do not understand why factor #7 is so important: the parent most likely to promote the child’s continued contact and relationship with the other parent. And because there is so little awareness of this factor, it presents both a great opportunity and great danger for parents seeking custody of their child. The “best interests of the child” standard was developed by lawyers, judges, child psychologists, and social workers. It represents a balancing of interests and is designed to benefit the child. The states that have adopted this standard believe a child should have a continuing bond with both parents, even after a divorce. And that mutual bond is best promoted by a parent that promotes visitation with the non-custodial parent.
The parent that appears to promote the child’s contact with the other parent will get a strong preference in a custody decision. The parent that refuses visitation with the other parent will hurt themselves in a custody decision. Cooperation with visitation can take many forms. A suggested pattern of conduct includes: avoiding discussions of adult – divorce issues with the children, making reasonable arrangements for weekly visitation, openness about sharing holidays with the children, and participating in joint decision making about major children’s issues.
If you are contemplating divorce, you should educate yourself about how courts and judges make decisions. By educating yourself, you can make sure a judge will look favorably at your behavior. A divorce does not have to be a guessing game. The educated spouse will always get a more favorable outcome.
Copyright 2005 The Divorce Center P.A.
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