Court orders joint custody under 'best interests of the child'

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Child custody and visitation issues in family court can be confusing for many parents. The concept of “custody” generally involves two separate categories–legal custody and physical custody. That alone can take some time for a divorcing parent to grasp. Decision-making power for the child’s major life activities (like education or health care issues) may differ from physical custody, which involves whom the child lives with. Often, a family court may award joint custody, meaning that parents share the responsibilities jointly.

But the decision of the court generally involves an assessment of the best interests of the child based upon the unique circumstances of each case. That standard also can be hard to grasp for some parents. Courts weigh various factors in analyzing the facts of a divorce situation in child custody and visitation issues–and those facts are analyzed through a lens known as the best interests standard.

A recent story from the East Coast highlights how one judge used the best interests standard in arriving at a child custody decision. While our Columbia, Missouri area readers may know that family law is generally a matter for each state, the overall principle of the best interests of the child is used in family law decisions across the country.

A divorcing couple reportedly had spent most of their time together quarreling. When the marriage ultimately broke down, the estranged couple had a contested dispute over custody of their son. Each spouse sought a restraining order against the other at some point–requests that were denied.

When the parties argued in family court, the wife asked for sole custody of her son based upon her fears over her estranged husband’s alleged behavior. The court reportedly listened to the argument. But in the end, awarded joint custody. The judge reportedly noted that the couple quarreled often, but that changed somewhat during a 13-month separation.

The court found that the two parents were able to communicate about their child during the separation leading to the divorce. The judge reasoned that awarding sole custody to either parent would serve more to punish the child, and granted joint custody in the best interests of the child.

Source: Carroll County Times, “Legal Matters: Child custody case offers insight on the motive of judges,” Donna Engle, April 28, 2013

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