Factors in Determining Child Custody

By Laura Reynolds
Factors, Child Custody
DRW & Associates

Child custody cases are uncomfortable for everyone. Parents are adversaries, the child is caught in the middle and the judge has to make a decision that won't make anyone completely happy. These factors generally influence that decision.

Best Interests

The "best interests" of the child, including personal safety, psychological welfare and cultural familiarity and educational opportunity, is always the primary consideration in decisions affecting custody and visitation.

Primary Caretaker

Another primary factor is which parent acts--and will have the ability to act in future--as caretaker in everyday family, educational and recreational activities.

Child's Preferences

Most states make provision for the child's wishes above a certain age, most often somewhere from 10 to 14 years old. Judges take into consideration the child's maturity, its best interest and any criminal record of parents.

Out-of-Court Agreements

Parties to custody cases often bring informal agreements or settlements negotiated out of court that are often accepted if they are in the best interests of the child.

Unmarried Parents

In most states, the mother is considered the primary caregiver if parents are not married and is generally awarded custody unless some other consideration is present.

Other Considerations

Third-party petitions by parties other than parents might be considered by the court. State laws vary widely concerning factors such as religion and alternative lifestyles, but consideration of these factors is always secondary to the best interests of the child.

About the Author

An avid perennial gardener and old house owner, Laura Reynolds has had careers in teaching and juvenile justice. A retired municipal judgem Reynolds holds a degree in communications from Northern Illinois University. Her six children and stepchildren served as subjects of editorials during her tenure as a local newspaper editor.