Obviously, divorce and child custody matters are fraught with intense emotions, because they deal with the most personal and important relationships in life – your family. But if you allow emotion to rule the day, you just may find yourself at a disadvantage in a child custody proceeding.
If you are in the midst of a divorce and getting as much time with your child as possible is an important concern, it is helpful to know the law and how it works in the real world. Understanding what the law says, what is important to a judge, and how this all will play out ultimately in court (or in mediation) can save you a lot of time, energy, and potential heartbreak in the long-run. So read on and arm yourself with information that will make your custody proceedings less of a mystery, and give you the best chance of getting the time with your child that you desire.
Legal Definitions That Are Helpful to Know
It may help if you start off understanding a few legal definitions that will be referenced throughout this article and throughout your case.
Primary Residential Parent (PRP): This is the parent with whom the child spends more time with as compared to the other parent.
Alternative Residential Parent (ARP): This is the parent who has less residential time with the child or children. It can be significantly less time or slightly less time, but the resulting designation is still the same.
Legal Custody: As opposed to PRP and ARP, the designation of a parent having primary legal custody refers to the parent to whom the court has bestowed primary authority to make decisions regarding the child’s upbringing. This doesn’t generally refer to the day-to-day decisions of life like what the child will wear to school that day, but to more major decisions like where they will go to school, what religion they will be raised in, and what doctor they will see.
Understand the Law
If you ask a lawyer, they will likely tell you that the most important thing that law school did for them was “teach [them] to think like a lawyer.” The reason for this is because good old common sense does not always cut it in the legal arena. Most people think that if they make a good, fair, and impassioned argument to the court that they will “win” or get what they want. But they are basing the potential effectiveness of their argument on what they think sounds logical and fair – and in law, this is not always the case.
The most important consideration in a custody hearing is the best interests of the child, and there are several factors that judges take into consideration when making this determination. So it will help you, your lawyer, and the judge if you acquaint yourself with those factors. This will result in more realistic expectations and better communication with your lawyer.
Factors Used to Determine the Best Interest of the Child
Here is a brief summary of the factors that judges always have in mind when listening to custody arguments in court.
- The judge will look at the quality of the relationship between each parent and the child. The stronger and more stable the bond, the better.
- The judge will look at which parent is more likely to encourage a strong parent-child relationship with the other parent (consistent with the best interest of the child), and who is more likely to abide by the rules that the court lays out in the custody order. In other words, if you typically interfere with your child’s relationship with your co-parent for no legally sound reason, then the judge is not likely to look kindly at you as PRP. Likewise, if you routinely ignore court orders and can’t exhibit common decency toward your ex-spouse, you are not likely to be favored as PRP.
- Each parent in a Tennessee divorce is required to attend a parenting education seminar. If either parent refuses to attend, that will likely count against them.
- Each parent’s ability and track record of providing the essential needs of life for the child is also considered. This includes food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and education among other things.
- Which parent has been the primary caregiver to the child thus far? In other words, who has taken on the majority of parenting responsibilities in the past?
- The judge will consider the emotional attachments to each parent as well. Which parent-child relationship has the strongest emotional ties, love, and affection?
- The emotional needs and development of the child is another consideration.
- The moral, physical, mental, and emotional fitness of the parent as it relates to the ability to parent the child. In some cases, the court may order an examination of either parent if it is necessary to help make a determination of mental and emotional fitness.
- The court will look at other people that live in, or are likely to visit, the parent’s home. The court will inquire as to whether these people are good influences on the child as well as considering the child’s relationship and affection towards these people.
- The stability and continuity of the child’s life. How long has the child lived in a stable environment, and would it be in their best interests to remain predominantly in that environment?
- Physical or emotional abuse. The court will look at any abuse that has occurred while in the care of either parent. This abuse can be abuse of the child or the trauma of the child witnessing the abuse of another.
- If the child is over 12 years of age, the court will hear their preference as to whom they want to live with. If a child under 12 wants to be heard, the judge may allow them to express their preference. However, greater weight is given to older children.
- The judge will consider each parent’s job schedule.
- The judge will additionally consider any other factors deemed relevant by the court.
Be Ready to Prove It
So in a nutshell, the best way to get a good result in your child custody case is to learn the above factors and be ready to prove that you are the better choice for each factor if that is, in fact, the case. Collect as much evidence and proof of each factor that you can, hand it over to your attorney and be ready to provide the proof in court. Likewise, if you believe that the other parent has behaved inappropriately or is not fit for any reason, be ready to prove that, too.
And finally, don’t date while your custody case is pending. Show the court that your children are your first priority, and don’t muddy the waters by introducing a stranger into your life that the judge could be weary of.
Get Help for Your Child Custody Case
If this is an issue that is close to your heart, don’t go it alone. Speak with an experienced attorney at Batson Nolan PLC who knows how to help you get the best results possible in your case. To speak with an experienced attorney at our offices in Clarksville or Springfield in confidence, please call us or inquire online today.