New York, NY- Half of the marriages in the U.S. end in divorce, and for the couple this can be an emotionally charged time. On top of wrangling with the many emotions that a divorce gives rise to, a couple must also grapple with the pragmatic issues of divorce like dividing the couple’s property and assets. Money can cause a great deal of acrimony but the one of the most difficult aspects of divorce can be deciding which parent a couple’s children will live with.

Some parents, even when their divorce is contentious can resolve their custody issues either through mutual agreement with a little assistance from a divorce attorney or a family judge. But there are many couples who are unable to determine child custody without intervention of the courts.

When one person files for divorce, they must state in their initial what child custody they are seeking, whether they would like sole custody or joint custody. Each parent can contest what custody their estranged spouse is seeking and must hash out the details through mediation or in family court.

Courts are not shy about awarding sole custody to one parent if the other is deemed unfit to care for the child. If one spouse has a history or drug or alcohol abuse or has faced charges of child abuse or neglect, the courts would place the child with the stable parent. Even when a court awards sole physical custody to one parent, they often award joint legal custody so each parent has a say in how their child is raised.

Joint legal custody and joint physical custody are the most common arrangements and allows custody; both parents make important decisions about the child’s upbringing, education and healthcare. Both parents get to spend time with their child, and must work on making their own schedule for visitations and living arrangements. Issues over who gets custody for key holidays and other important life events can be problematic, but these issues can be resolved by a family judge if a couple cannot reach a satisfactory agreement.

With joint physical custody, a child may spend equal time living with each parent. Some couples decide that one parent will have custody during the week while the other parent will have custody over the weekend.

The exact custody arrangement depends on the circumstances in each case, but judges will always make their decision with the best interest of the child in mind.  When determining child custody, the courts will take into consideration the following:

  • The child’s age, gender, mental and physical health
  • The parent’s mental health
  • Parental history and social factors
  • The bond between parent and child
  • The parent’s ability to provide food, shelter, clothing and medical care
  • Whether the parent getting custody is able to provide continuity in the child’s education, home, community ties and religious upbringing
  • The child’s wishes

When divorce is imminent, parents should keep the best interest of their child in mind; child custody should not be used as way for one parent to get back at the other. A divorce attorney can offer sound advice on child custody issues and help a couple reach an agreed settlement.