My wife always spills the pancake batter when making breakfast! My ex fed my child cereal at 10 pm!
As a divorce and child custody attorney, I get to hear many details into a person’s life. You have been dealing with your husband/wife or your child’s other parent for many years, if not decades. Understandably, by the time you have come to me you are frustrated and at your wits end. When I initially meet clients, they usually want to tell me everything from the beginning or are hesitant to tell me anything at all.
While it is important for me to know the details about your case, there are certain factors that the courts must consider when deciding parenting time, or “custody.” Judges are to make child custody decisions in the best interest of the child, or children.
While this can include many factors, certain factors will be more relevant than others.
- Criminal History– Does your spouse or ex have a criminal history? Do you or your new partner have a criminal history? This is especially important if the charges relate to Domestic Violence or Child Abuse. Drug and Alcohol charges will be relevant as well.
- Drug or Alcohol Use- If your spouse or ex has a history of using drugs or abusing alcohol, this may impact their ability to make sound decisions for your child. The judge is not going to be alarmed if they have an occasional drink or take prescribed medication. Heavy drinking or illegal drug use will likely affect their ability to have parenting time. Usually, drug and alcohol testing can be ordered by the court. However, be aware that if it ordered for one party, many times the judge will order it for both parties.
- DCS involvement- When the Department of Child Safety has investigated you or your ex, or anyone involved with your child, you should let your attorney know. These reports can be very helpful to the judge, whether the charges were substantiated or not. Additionally, if one party is misusing or making false reports to DCS, the Courts may consider this negatively.
- Mental Health- Are both parents mentally fit to take care of the child? If you or your ex have a mental health issue, whether currently or in the past, you should tell your attorney. If the issue is being addressed with a health care provider, it will likely not be a factor. However, if a party is not receiving treatment, it could affect a parenting time order.
- Parent/Child Relationship- How does your child get along with each parent? Does the child refuse to see or spend time with a parent? What kind of involvement does each parent have in the child’s life? These are factors the court will consider when determining child custody.
- Child/Extended Family Relationship- If you have a new spouse, partner, step-children or other children, the judge will want to know how your child gets along with each of them. Grandparent and extended family relationships may be considered as well.
- Child’s Wishes- In Arizona, a child cannot choose which parent they want to live with, regardless of age. However, once a child is mature enough to have input, usually around the age of 12, most judges will consider their wishes. A child interview can be requested to determine what the child’s wishes are.
- Child’s home, school and community- The judges are required to consider how your child is doing in these areas. Let your attorney know about your child’s grades, behavior at home, or any community activities they are involved in.
- Which parent allows meaningful contact- If you or your ex are constantly denying the other parent time with your child, the courts are required to consider the reasoning behind this. This does not apply if a parent reasonably believes they are protecting the child from any type of harm. Courts will also consider whether a parent has used any type of duress or coercion to gain parenting time.
- Parenting Class- At the beginning of any family law case, each party is required to complete a parenting class. In addition, judges will sometimes order the parties to complete a high conflict parenting class, anger management class or co-parenting class. The judges take these classes seriously and will not be happy with a party who does not comply. The classes usually can be completed online and cost a small fee.
While this list is certainly not exhaustive and there may be other relevant issues in your case, this is a good idea of what judges will consider when making a child custody determination. If any of the above factors apply to your case, you should tell your attorney. If there is something that you feel that is important that is not included on this list, don’t be afraid to tell your attorney. I would always rather have too much information than not enough. It is never good to learn of important facts or details after a hearing or trial.
For more information, contact family law attorney Brittany Skinner at firstname.lastname@example.org