Divorce is one of the hardest experiences a family may have to go through. While everyone hopes for an amicable separation, such ideal situations rarely work out: an ensuing court battle over custody arrangements puts the parents head-to-head in a fight for the right to spend time with their children. Kids at or above the age of 12 are allowed to express their personal preferences with the judge privately, but — as the 1993 movie about divorce Mrs. Doubtfire proved — there are other factors that come into play.
Kids are expensive. There’s a reason many people try to wait until they’re fully established before having them — joint incomes offer a lot more leeway when it comes to raising a child. When that income inevitably gets separated again due to divorce proceedings, it’s not always right down the middle. As a result, the court needs to ensure that a parent’s financial status and financial resources can provide enough support (covering food and shelter at the very least) to care for a child.
Research shows that around 6 million people in the country are 90 days or more behind on their car payments; histories of debt point not only to a parent’s financial situation but also to their responsibility as an adult — it can cause a judge to question your ability to care for a living thing if you can barely handle your own monthly bills.
This factor extends both ways: if a parent is disabled, caring for a child on their own will become inherently more difficult; if the child is disabled, the parent may not be equipped to deal with their special needs. For example, around 3.6 million people over the age of 15 require the use of wheelchair. Certain living conditions — such as the home’s accessibility, the parent’s working hours, etc. — may make it impossible to manage the extra time and effort involved. While the parent-child relationship (and how close they are) is absolutely taken into account, it isn’t always enough to balance the safety factors.
Stability of the Home
Providing a stable home is one of the most important aspects of deciding child custody agreements. This certainly relates to financial situations (such as if the parent is constantly between jobs or works a rotating, inconsistent schedule), but also to personal problems. If the parent is an addict or an alcoholic, it will be much harder to convince the judge that the home is safe for a child — even if the child is a teenager and wants to live there. Previous arrests or convictions can have a major impact on this as well: the average drunk driver has driven drunk around 80 times before their first arrest, so a DUI or DWI on a criminal record does little to persuade the court that your home is a safe and healthy environment for a child to be in.
The main goal of the court is to consider the best interests of the child; they determine who the primary caregiver is (a.k.a who bathes them, feeds them, who takes the time to help them with their homework or read before bedtime, etc.), and then take the above factors into account. Unfortunately, even love has its limits — if a parent is not financially stable, cannot provide a safe environment for or tend to the specific needs of their children, a judge will almost always side against them.