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Child Custody Orders and Judicial Authority
For many divorced and separated parents with children, there is a common answer as to why they ended up with the child custody and visitation arrangement they have: "the judge decided it." In other words, the judge chose the parenting arrangement based on his or her belief of what was in the child's best interest.
Judges do not always make the child custody decision or choose the parenting plan arrangement. In fact, more often than not, the judge will not make the child custody decision for the parents. It is usually when the parents are unable to reach an agreement on child custody that a judge will choose the parenting arrangement for them. If the judge makes the child custody decision for the parents, it is often referred to as a final judicial order or judgment on child custody.
Parents typically know what's best for their children, including decisions about child custody and visitation. The difficulty for the parents is often the inability to separate their own emotions and wishes from the needs of their child. Parents are typically given the greatest amount of flexibility in choosing a parenting plan that reflects the best interest of their child. However, when the parents are unable to come to an agreement on child custody and visitation, a judge will often handle the task of making the decision about child custody and will have a tremendous amount of leeway in choosing a parenting plan. This leaves vast room for a judge's interpretation of what is in a child's best interest and often leads to somewhat arbitrary judicial decisions regarding child custody and visitation.
When the court or judge chooses a parenting plan for the parents, it will usually result in one or both parents being disappointed or feeling a sense of loss. Typically, one parent feels as though he or she "won" child custody while the other parent feels that he or she "lost" child custody. It's also not uncommon that both parents are disappointed with the decision of a court or judge. It is rarely the case that both parents feel like they won when the court or judge makes the child custody decision.
To avoid an arbitrary decision made by the court, you would be wise to learn more about how child custody decisions are made and the laws in your particular state. How judges have ruled in the past and what influences his or her decisions is information that will be helpful to you. Additionally, you will want to explore alternative dispute resolution options such as child custody mediation, collaborative law, and arbitration. If you are seeking legal advice on how to proceed with your child custody case, you can consult a family law attorney in your area who spends a significant amount of time representing clients on child custody matters.
Joint or sole custody may be awarded based on the best interests of the child and other factors that include 1) the preference of the child, 2) the desire and ability of each parent to allow an open and loving relationship between the child and the other parent, 3) the child's health, safety and welfare, the nature and contact with both parents and 4) the history of alcohol and drug use. Marital misconduct may be considered.
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