When most people talk about fighting over child custody, they are referring to the custody battle parents encounter as they go through a divorce process. However, custody concerns can arise well before divorce, or between parents who never marry.
Often, parents who separate begin fighting over custody issues well before their divorce finalizes. In some cases, the custody agreement parents reach during separation continues to function well after divorce, but not always. If you or someone you love faces hard custody decisions during a separation, it is important to understand how courts decide custody issues so you can build a strong legal strategy to protect your rights and the best interests of the child you love.
Understanding your child's best interests
In simple terms, courts make custody decisions based on what they believe are a child's best interests. The child's best interests are not always in line with the parents' interests, and this can put both parents at odds with the court, in some cases. In a separation, parents may be working hard to repair their relationship or discern whether repairing it is possible, and separation does not always lead to divorce.
During separation, parents still retain their parental rights, but those rights are often not as important to courts as the needs of the child. These needs may include:
- The home where the child lives
- Special care the child requires
- The child's education
- The child's relationships with others
- Cultural and religious practices
Courts may also consider the health and well-being of the individual parents. This includes examining:
- The mental and physical health of parents
- Evidence of dangerous or illegal behavior, particularly in the presence of the child
- Evidence of physical, sexual, emotional abuse
As you look at the custody options that you have available, it is helpful to know how a court may respond and the types of custody agreements that a court is likely to approve.
Protecting your rights with a clear strategy
Successful custody agreements typically involve careful, thoughtful compromises, especially those between separated parents who may or may not move on to divorce. Ultimately, you must strike a balance between providing what is best for your child and protecting your rights as a parent, with the understanding that the child's needs take priority.
As you build your custody plan, be sure to consider the outcome that you hope to achieve. The more clearly you understand your goals and the obstacles standing in your way, the more time and energy you have to invest in examining your relationship with your child's parent and providing the child you love with best life you can.