What does a judge consider if we can’t agree on custody?

If custody goes to court, you should keep this in mind: the focus on the best interests of the child in determining with whom your child will reside in essence forces the court to direct its attention principally to you and your spouse The court, therefore, will carefully examine your conduct in the past and, based on your past history, the court will predict how you will behave in the future.

The trial judge is given wide discretion in his or her determination. Appellate review is very limited in this kind of litigation, as the courts of appeal are unwilling to substitute their judgment of the facts for the trial judge who presided over the proceedings. If the issue of custody is put before a judge, the judge will render a custody decision based on the “best interests” of the child.

There are many, many factors considered by judges in determining the best interests of a child, most of which are straightforward and self-evident.

The judge can consider all those things that might impinge on the development of the child’s physical, mental, emotional, moral, and spiritual faculties. In considering the child’s developmental needs, the judge will take into account:

  • a child’s age into
  • the mental and physical well-being (or lack of it) of each parent
  • each parent’s caretaking capacities and the home environment that each parent could provide to the child
  • the role of each parent thus far in taking care of the child
  • the child’s relationship to each parent
  • the time available to each parent to be with the child, as the judge may wish to maximize the child’s time with a parent as opposed to a babysitter or daycare center
  • the environment that the parent can create for the child
  • the presence of siblings in the family and the siblings’ relationship to each parent and to each other
  • prior bad acts of either parent (as, for instance, abuse and neglect)
  • parental drug or alcohol problems
  • religious factors
  • the willingness of each parent to keep the other parent involved in the child’s life and to facilitate the other parent’s access to the child
  • each parent’s adult relationships including non-marital sexual relations.

But remember that the weight the judge gives to any of these factors is completely within the judge’s prerogative. Case law, North Carolina General Statutes sections 50-13.1 through 50-13.9, and Chapter 50A of the statutes, the latter known as the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act, provide the parameters for judicial actions regarding child custody, in addition to testimony regarding the facts and circumstances surrounding your case.

Any parent, relative, or other person, agency, organization, or institution claiming custody of a minor child may bring an action in court. Filing a complaint, counterclaim, or motion in the cause in a prior pending action are the usual methods for putting custody before the court.

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