Factors Used to Determine the Custody of Children

What Factors Determine Who Gets Custody of a Child?

Young boy smiling in a booster seat
Know which factors are considered when determining the custody of children. Photo © Jupiterimages/Getty Images

"Who will get custody of our children, me or my ex?" That's the million-dollar question every parent fighting for child custody wants to know. And while it's impossible to predict exactly how the judge will rule in your case, you can anticipate that the judge has one goal in mind: determining your children's best interests.

The Best-Interests Standard & Child Custody

Many parents find this legal jargon confusing.

Don't all parents want what's best for their children? For the most part, yes. However, in the majority of contested child custody cases, it falls to the judge to determine what would be best for the children, despite both parents' good intentions and competing wishes.

Factors Used to Determine the Custody of Children 

While there's no Magic 8 Ball, you can expect the judge to consider the following factors before making a decision: 

  • Your children's ages. While there's no hard-and-fast rule, courts generally prefer to maintain consistency, especially for young children. As children grow older, the courts tend to be more willing to consider alternative arrangements. 
  • The wishes of each parent. The courts will want to know what each of you prefer. While that doesn't mean your wish will be granted, you should expect the judge to ask for each parent's preferences. 
  • The quality of the relationship between the children and each parent.
  • The mental and physical health of each parent, as well as the children. 
  • The willingness of each parent to support and facilitate the children's ongoing relationship with the other parent. This matters to the court because they want to know that neither of you will stand in the way of your children's relationship with your ex.
  • Whether either parent has been providing the majority of the children's care up to this point. In some jurisdictions, the courts will look to maintain consistency. So if one parent provides the bulk of care while the other travels much of the time, for example, that could impact the judge's decision. 
  • The ability of each parent to provide a stable, loving environment. In many cases, the court will ask each parent to submit to a child custody evaluation to learn more about this aspect of the case before making a decision.
  • The living accommodations of each parent's home. In some cases, the courts may want to know that the children will each have their own room.
  • Each parent's ability to provide for the children's physical needs, emotional wellness, and medical care. The court may also consider the opinions of character witnesses on behalf of each parent.
  • The level of adjustment and attachment between the children and their home, school environment, and community/neighborhood.
  • How the children will be affected by either continuing the current custody arrangement or disrupting the arrangement.
  • The children's wishes (if they are considered old enough and able to express their own desires).
  • Any confirmed evidence of domestic violence, abuse, or neglect by either parent.
  • Whether false allegations of abuse or neglect have been brought by either parent against the other.

While these factors are generally considered in determining custody of a child, the specific criteria used varies from state to state. To learn more about what to expect in your case, research the child custody laws in your state.