The most important issue when considering child custody matters is who has principal custody of the child. In other words, which parent will the child primarily live with. When determining custody, the only concern for the courts is the best interests of the child. As such, in child custody cases, decisions are made with the goal of ensuring the physical, psychological and emotional safety, health, security and well-being of the child.
Along with child support, custody is one of the first things to consider upon separation. Custody can be obtained by way of a separation agreement or through court proceedings. Where the courts are asked to decide custody, they must do so with regards to the best interests of the child. The courts must consider all of the child’s circumstances and needs, including some of the following factors:
- The child’s health, security and emotional well-being;
- The wishes of the child, if appropriate to consider them;
- The mental and physical health of the parties seeking custody;
- The nature of the relationship between the child and the people in the child’s life;
- The ability of each person seeking custody to exercise his or her responsibilities providing care for the child;
- Any special needs the child may have and the ability of the parents to take care of those needs;
- Continuation of a stable home environment;
- Support and opportunity to interact with members of the extended family;
- The school and community where the child is to reside;
- The age and sex of the child;
- Whether there is a pattern of family violence in the home that would jeopardize the safety, security and well-being of the child;
- Civil or criminal proceedings that are relevant the safety, security and well-being of the child; and
- Any evidence of use of drugs, alcohol or child abuse.
In some cases, affidavits and character witnesses may also be used to establish how fit a parent is to care for the child. The court may consider evidence from the child’s teachers, evidence from other children or people who have lived with the parent, or friends.
Custody may be granted to one parent (sole custody) or to both parents (joint custody). Even where sole custody is granted, the non-custodial parent is still entitled to make inquiries and obtain information about the health, education and welfare of the child. The non-custodial parent may, through agreement or by way of court order, can have contact with the child, the terms of which can vary.
Disputes over custody can occur where one parent believes the other is not fit to care for the child and should have no contact, or supervised contact with the child. Other disputes may involve situations where one parent wishes to have more parenting time and thus desires joint custody. Other challenges can appear when one of the parents decides to move. For example, if one parent in a joint custody relationship must move, joint custody may no longer be possible due to physical distances between the parents. The courts resolve this by looking at the best interests of the child.
When child custody matters become contentious it is important not to lose sight of the best interests of your children. The family law lawyers at Acumen Law can help you navigate any custody issues keeping your child’s and your best interests in mind. For a free consultation, call 250-384-0100 (Victoria) or 604-685-8889 (Vancouver).