One of the most important decisions divorcing parents must make relates to child custody. When deciding who should have custody, there are various factors to consider.

Although parents may want to make a decision based on selfish reasons, it is important they consider what is in the best interests of the child.

Basic custody decisions

According to the California Courts, parents should work together to come up with a parenting plan, but a judge will make the decision if the parents are unable to do so. They need to decide on both legal and physical custody and determine if one person will have custody or both will share custody.

If parents decide that the child will live mainly with one parent, the other parent will have visitation, or time-share. Visitation may be set up as a regular schedule or open-ended. If there are concerns about the child’s safety, a judge may order supervised visitation or, in rarer circumstances, no visitation.

Best interests factors

Whether parents or a judge determines the custody agreement, the decision should consider best interests of the child. According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, best interests factors include those that relate to the child’s needs and the parents’ capacity to provide. Common factors include

  • Physical and mental health of all parties
  • The child’s current relationships with each parent, siblings, grandparents and caregivers
  • The ability of each parent to provide for basic needs like food, shelter and health care
  • Existence of abuse or violence

Custody decisions may also vary based on the child’s age. For example, keeping a routine and minimizing change is more important for younger children.