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What factors do courts consider in making child custody determinations?

Child custody determination is a critical aspect of divorce for couples with minor children, and it is important to understand how the process generally works, how judges make decisions, before entering into the process. Working with an attorney who has a firm handle on child custody law and proceedings can help ensure a parent has the best possible chance of a favorable outcome.

Legal advocacy in the context of child custody is different than advocacy in the context of property division. While spouses seek to ensure their property interests are fairly and impartially applied to the division of marital assets and debts in divorce, child custody decisions are made based upon the best interests of the child. That means that advocating for a parent in child custody proceedings is really about advocating for the child’s interests in an ongoing relationship with the parent.  

Family court judges consider a variety of factors when determining what is in the best interests of the child. These include:

  • The child’s relationship with each parent and each parent’s ability to provide proper care for the child
  • Any special needs the child may have and each parent’s ability to provide for these needs
  • The effect of potential changes on the child
  • The willingness of each parent to encourage the child to have a positive, ongoing relationship with one another
  • The ability of the parents to cooperate with one another and to make joint decisions about the child
  • Any history of abuse and its impact on the child’s relationship with the abusing parent

Family court judges may also weigh any other factor they consider relevant to the child’s best interests. Under New Hampshire law, judges work on the presumption that joint legal custody—or decision-making responsibility—is in the best interests of minor children when parents agree to it or when either parent requests it. That presumption can be overcome. Each case is different, of course, and joint custody doesn’t always make sense for every couple.

Working with an experienced attorney in child custody proceedings is important to ensure the court has all the information it needs to make a fair and impartial decision about a child’s best interests. This is especially important in contentious cases where false allegations or exaggerations are made in an effort to paint a parent in an unfavorable light. 

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