What Courts Look for When Making Child Custody Decisions

Decisions regarding child custody are some of the most vital and delicate issues within family law, profoundly affecting the family members concerned. Amidst parental separation or divorce, the question of who will hold custody over the children arises, bringing with it an emotionally and legally nuanced process. The courts are tasked with navigating this delicate decision, aiming for outcomes that serve the child's welfare, considering a range of factors unique to each case.

Navigating the complexities of child custody proceedings can be overwhelming and emotionally challenging for parents. Seeking legal representation from a knowledgeable family law lawyer is crucial in protecting parental rights and advocating for the child's best interests in court.

At Nichols Dixon, we assist parents during challenging times. Contact our Norman, OK, team today at (405) 294-1511.

What Is Child Custody?

Child custody refers to the legal responsibility for the care and control of minor children, typically following the separation or divorce of their parents. When parents are no longer together, a court can establish an order to determine the terms of custody, outlining each parent's rights and responsibilities regarding the child's upbringing. Child custody arrangements can also be established in cases where parents were never married or when other circumstances necessitate legal intervention to determine custody.

The types of custody that can be awarded include the following:

  • Legal custody: Legal custody involves the right to make critical choices about a child's well-being. These choices encompass the child's education, healthcare, religious upbringing, and other critical facets of daily life.
  • Physical custody: Physical custody involves determining where the child will reside daily. It addresses the child's living arrangements and the allocation of time spent with each parent. The parent with physical custody is responsible for the child's daily care and supervision.

Legal and physical custody can both be awarded as joint or sole.

Below is an overview of what these arrangements mean:

  • Joint custody: In joint custody arrangements, both parents share the responsibility for making decisions about the child's upbringing and share physical custody. This type of arrangement promotes ongoing involvement from both parents in the child's life.
  • Sole custody: When a court awards sole custody, one parent has the full authority to make decisions about the child's upbringing, including their primary residency. Although the other parent may retain the right to spend time with the child through visitation, they are not granted shared power in decision-making processes.

The Best Interests of the Child Standard

In custody matters, the "best interest of the child" standard is the guiding principle for courts in determining custody arrangements. This standard places the child's physical, mental, and moral welfare at the forefront of decision-making, prioritizing their well-being above all other considerations. The best interest standard is a legal concept and a fundamental principle rooted in the belief that children deserve to be raised in environments that nurture their growth and development.

Applying the Best Interest Standard in Custody Cases

The best interest of the child standard is applied in custody matters in Oklahoma, as it is in many other jurisdictions, to ensure that custody decisions serve the child's best interests. Judges meticulously evaluate various factors to ascertain the most suitable custody arrangement to foster the child's well-being and development.

These considerations encompass several crucial aspects, including the following:

  • The relationship between the child and each parent: Courts assess the quality and nature of the child's relationship with each parent, recognizing the significance of maintaining strong bonds with both caregivers.
  • The ability of each parent to provide for the child’s needs: Judges examine each parent's capacity to meet the child's physical, emotional, and educational requirements. This evaluation encompasses housing stability, financial resources, access to healthcare, and the ability to provide a nurturing and supportive environment conducive to the child's growth and development.
  • The mental and physical health of each parent: Each parent's mental and physical well-being is carefully considered, as these factors can significantly impact their ability to parent the child effectively. Courts assess whether any health issues or disabilities may affect a parent's capacity to provide adequate care and support.
  • The child’s wishes: Children aged 12 and older can express their preferences regarding custody arrangements. While not determinative, the child's wishes may carry weight in custody decisions, particularly if the court finds their preferences reasonable and in their best interests.
  • Any history of domestic violence or substance abuse: Courts must thoroughly evaluate any history of domestic violence or substance abuse by either parent, as these issues pose significant risks to the child's safety and well-being. Factors such as protective orders, criminal convictions, or documented instances of abuse or neglect are scrutinized in custody proceedings.

Navigating the complexities of child custody cases can be overwhelming, but you don't have to face it alone. An attorney can provide guidance, support, and advocacy. They can seek a favorable result by gathering evidence, preparing legal arguments, negotiating settlements, and representing you in court.

To schedule a consultation with one of our Norman lawyers at Nichols Dixon, please call (405) 294-1511 or complete an online form today.