The primary question that must be addressed in determining child custody and visitation is: “What is in the best interest of the child?” When the parents of a child cannot get along with each other well enough to live in the same home together with the child, some custodial and visitation arrangement must be established. In many circumstances, the parents are able to come to an agreement. Theses agreements are presumed to be in the child’s best interest and are routinely approved by the court. Frequently, however, the parents cannot come to an agreement and so the court must make a determination as to who will be the primary caregiver of the child and what visitation rights are to be given to the non-custodial parent.
There are many factors which the court is to consider in making this determination such as:
The age of the child, the physical and mental condition of the child, the ongoing developmental needs of the child, the age of the parents and their physical and mental condition, the child’s needs, the ability of each parent to provide for the child’s needs, the ability of each parent to maintain close family and social ties, the willingness of each parent to assure that the other parent will be able to have an active role in the child’s life.
The court may also seek out the child’s preference in the matter, but this is not generally the case and is rarely the determining factor. The court also must consider any instances of abuse which may have occurred in the family.
In cases where there is abuse or neglect by one of the parents, the court may severely limit the visitation by a non-custodial parent. This may be in the form of very short visitation timeframes or visitation supervised by either the custodial parent or a third party. These are rare circumstances and the action is taken only when the court believes extended unsupervised visitation poses a threat to the child’s safety and well-being. Additionally, if the court finds both parents have either abused or neglected the child, the court may grant custody to another party, such as an extended family member or foster care, to ensure the safety and well-being of the child.