How Is Child Custody Decided In Divorce?

By Bernadette A. Safrath
Custody, the most important issue, a divorce
children with father image by Marzanna Syncerz from

Divorcing parents are often concerned with who will get custody of their children. Parents can create their own custody arrangement. However, if they are unable to agree, a judge will make a determination regarding child custody.

Custody by Agreement

If parents are able to cooperate, they can agree to custody without court involvement. Custody negotiations are often done with assistance from the parties' attorneys or an impartial mediator. (Reference 2)

Custody Disputes

A judge will decide custody if the parents cannot agree. Courts examine several factors, including child's preference, "primary caretaker" and the "best interests of the child" standard.

Child's Preference

Courts do not always consider a child's preference when deciding custody. Only an older, more mature child, usually at least age 12, is asked to give his preference.

Primary Caretaker

The "primary caretaker" factor is examined when custody of younger children is at issue.The "primary caretaker" is the parent who is responsible for the majority of the care giving responsibilities, including preparing meals, bathing and dressing the child, healthcare needs and providing early education in reading, writing and math.

Best Interests of the Child Standard

The majority of the factors used by the court come from "the best interests of the child" standard. They include: (1) each parent's ability to provide a stable environment, (2) each parent's relationship with the child, (3) the child's age and (4) each parent's physical and mental health.