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What Issues are Considered When Establishing a Custody Order?

The best way of establishing a custody arrangement is for the parents themselves to discuss what is best for their child(ren) and to work out a mutually-agreeable parenting arrangement that best serves their family needs and schedules.

Alternatives to court litigation include the use of the services of a Mediator or a Parent Coordinator to assist in the parties’ achieving this goal.  Custody arrangements often change as the children grow older, schedules change, etc.

If the parties are unable to achieve a parenting arrangement that they both can agree to, then the court will make this decision for them.  The goal of the court is to do what is in the “best interest” of the children at all times.  The court will consider all relevant factors, including the parent’s work schedules, the parent’s involvement with the children (including activities, education, etc.), the school district for the children, the ages of the children, the living arrangements of the parents, special needs of the children, concerns for the physical and emotional health of the children, etc.

The older and more mature a child is, the more persuasive that child’s wishes about custody will be in the court’s decision making.  While there is not a “magic age” that a child reaches that will allow the child to dictate the custody schedule, it is to be expected that more weight will be given to the wishes of a 14 year old child than may be given to the wishes of a 7 year old child.

Nonetheless, the court will listen to what a child has to say provided that the child is competent to testify.  The parenting arrangement must “make sense” for the children and the parents, and be in the best interests of the children.

There are times that a court will appoint a child psychologist to evaluate the parents and children to assist in the determination of what is in the best interests of the children.  This cost is usually allocated between the parents, often based upon their respective incomes.  The cost is also often dependent on the total income of the parents if the court uses a sliding scale to determine the cost of the evaluation.